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A Letter From 2021 Foundation President, Sean Phelan


“Please contribute….to the Architectural Foundation of Greater Rochester (AFGR). “

“In doing so you will be supporting the Foundation’s efforts to ‘advance and enhance the profession of Architecture’ through its support of scholarships, educational programs, and public outreach efforts to educate the public-at-large on the intrinsic value architects bring to the communities in which they reside and serve; and to support and encourage a most diverse group of young practitioners and students through the award of academic scholarships.”


That sentence underlines the path set by AFGR President Emeritus Rich Pospula, AIA in January 2020 when he generously assumed the organization’s board presidency upon the passing of Tom Zimmerman, FAIA. It has also established an aspirational agenda for all AFGR efforts, clearly articulating the Foundation’s overarching mission – “to educate the public on the intrinsic value of architects….and support and encourage young practitioners and students (of all ages) …”.

The AFGR’s tangible, visible accomplishments are already well-known in the Rochester region. Along with AIA Rochester, the AFGR services a geographic footprint that encompasses our seven-county region, ambles down to the southwest to include Alfred, and, through Executive Director Linda Hewitt’s collaboration, spends a lot of time supporting Buffalo’s AIA Chapter too. Annual AFGR highlights include an Awards Dinner, Golf Event, the underwriting of a “Women in Architecture” program, and other design-focused programs.

Since 2009, those efforts – and generous donations (see below) – have fueled the distribution of over $150,000 in the form of 70 academic scholarships.

“Please contribute……SWBR Architects, M/E Engineering, & Marathon Engineering did just that!”

In honor of Tom Zimmerman’s design career and his own AFGR development leadership, in March 2020 SWBR, M/E Engineering, and Marathon Engineering donated a combined $15,500 to the Foundation, joining AIA National, Bergmann Associates, the Myron Starks Foundation, the “Women in Architecture’s” long-standing anonymous underwriter, and several other preexisting donors. Their explicit desire to play a role in educating the next generation of Rochester designers and support the collaborative Rochester design community “marketplace" was announced during the first surge of the COVID-19 pandemic and assignment of much of the design community to their home offices, as well as in the midst of a roiling presidential campaign. Consequently, they knowingly accepted the lack of publicity that would normally accompany such a gift – a further expression of support and confidence in the AFGR that will empower us as we move forward.

“Please contribute……and be part of the Rochester design conversation!”

Even before COVID-19, the jet-fuel-like, change-accelerant, in early as 2019, the Spanish architect and thinker Fran Silvestre asserted, “architecture will change completely in the next 10-20 years. The conception of what architecture is will completely change. What we do nowadays will be old-fashioned in the future. The relationship between the landscape, environment and the technology will change our vision that we are not citizens and we are Argonauts…..”

Furthermore, in the offices of TMD Studio Limited, their leaders argue that “architecture as we know it is likely to disappear” … pointing to the incorporation of virtual and immersive architecture, BIM, parametric design, sustainability, and smart cities and big data, … and predicting "in the future, the role of architects may be very different …..Specialists in, for example, environmental science and social anthropology will become active team members in design studios, working on complex projects that require knowledge in different fields. It is reasonable to expect that the emergence of specialists…will eliminate many of the job profiles currently existing in the construction industry.”

Will the Rochester design community experience such a distinct transformative moment? Maybe not on an individual level, but there is no denying that we are already experiencing the turbulence of Silvestre and TMD Studio’s lists, along with social justice and shifting urban and suburban office space and residential demographic patterns.

With support of underwriters and donors, at AFGR and AIA Rochester, we believe in our professional lifetimes there will never be as pivotal and as important a time as now for our efforts to: 1) help educate our best new designers, 2) fund the full vetting of these conversations with our partners in the broader design community, and 3) to highlight and promote Alfred, FLCC, MCC and RIT’s design programs.

“Please contribute……and help pick up the mantle!”

In 2021 AFGR and AIA Rochester volunteers will be challenged to pick up the mantle so clearly articulated by Tom Zimmerman and Rich Pospula, to “promote and enhance the practice of architecture as a regional cultural, artistic, educational, and business resource….”

For more information about the AFGR, AIA Rochester, and how you can play a role in the conversation and our financial development efforts, visit our websites:


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