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If some Mobile or New Orleans architects figure out smart new ways to design buildings against hurricanes, how best can that knowledge be spread to architects in other Gulf Coast communities? When young architects are being laid off in a recession, what is an effective way to help them endure and eventually succeed in the field? What technological or cultural changes might disrupt architecture the way Uber and Lyft  disrupted transportation, and what’s the best way to prepare?

Those are the kinds of challenges for which Memphis architect Josh Flowers designs solutions and strategies. 

His body of work — for creating and leading such programming — is so substantial that he has just been elevated as a fellow in the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

Being able to put “FAIA” behind one’s name is a big deal among architects. Only 3 percent of AIA’s 90,000 members have attained the designation. Flowers was among 152 AIA members this year elevated to the College of Fellows. He becomes one of only 16 living Memphis architects who are AIA fellows.

The 40-year-old is both an architect and an attorney. He works as general counsel for HBG Design, headquartered atop the Once Commerce Square tower in Downtown Memphis.

He designed buildings early in his career. “Now, I see it more as designing strategy,” Flowers said Friday. “I’m still using design-thinking but not applying it in a traditional way. It’s about design-thinking regardless of how you apply it.”

Relatively few architects engage with and contribute to the national architecture industry as much as Flowers. He’s a past president of AIA Memphis and president-elect of AIA Tennessee.

Beyond fulfilling the responsibilities of those offices, Flowers has shown a passion for promoting architecture education, mentoring young architects and creating collaboration in professional communities across the U.S.

‘A rock star in AIA’

In 2014, he was recipient of an AIA Young Architects award.

“Josh is a rock star in AIA,” Mark Weaver, a principal at HBG Design and also an AIA fellow, said in a prepared statement. “… It’s terrific to see Josh’s commitment to the AIA and his focus on advancing careers in architecture being honored so appropriately.”

Flowers started working with AIA Memphis during the Great Recession. “We  had a lot of people at the time who were young architects, laid off,” he recalled. “I was getting a lot of questions about helping them if they are starting their own firm and things like that.  “Then we were trying to see if there’s a way we can do more than helping one or two individuals in Memphis, and reaching out to more of the national organizations.”

He has also promoted continuing education in architecture “so once architects are practicing there’s a way to advance their skills and look at all the ways design is changing and taking advantage of opportunities.”

Designing smarter

He recently help lead a “practice innovation lab” in Washington. “Bringing together 60 of the most promising architects around the country … and we asked them to look at the problem of how we are practicing differently. We got several outcomes looking at the next five years,” Flowers said.

Flowers also helped develop a design symposium about how regional architecture is done differently from place to place. The symposium spread from University of Memphis to Tulane to University of Arkansas to Auburn. Much of the focus has been on resilience.

“Projects on the Gulf Coast have to be designed differently,” he said. “When we have a natural occurrence (like a hurricane), it doesn’t mean a whole city gets displace if you’re designing smarter.

“What are the lessons learned from Katrina and New Orleans? How do we spread that work to the rest of the region?”
Other architects may design an award-winning building and derive great satisfaction from that lasting achievement. Flowers feels good about designing strategies and solutions that help both architects and communities, also for the long-term.

He said, “Now that we’re out of the recession and you can see those young architects who were laid off starting their own firms and working on significant projects in their communities, it is good to see the result of that work.”

Flowers and the other 151 new class of fellows will be honored in June at an investiture ceremony at the AIA Conference on Architecture 2018 in New York City.