Ten years ago, Alan Hansen formed the Loudoun County Design Cabinet through the County’s Department of Economic Development in an effort to promote high-quality, environmentally sustainable, and culturally respectful architectural and landscape design in one the fastest-growing communities in not only Virginia—but also our Nation.  Design Cabinet members include planners, architects, landscape architects, and engineers who, in volunteer collaboration, resolve community design challenges that arise when an agrarian county steeped in historical significance faces sweeping cultural and economic change.

On December 19, 2012, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors formally recognized the Design Cabinet’s service with a Resolution of Commendation.  The resolution, presented by Chairman Scott K. York at a meeting held to celebrate the Cabinet’s ten-year anniversary, lauded members’ – “gracious and devoted service to the county,” as well as their “skilled advice, mentorship and overall contributions towards making Loudoun a community of highest quality design.”  The resolution specifically honored Alan Hansen for recognizing “more than a decade ago” that the County needed a mechanism “to recognize and encourage the highest quality architectural and landscape design during a time of unprecedented commercial and residential growth.”

Mentored in his early professional years at Kerns Group Architects, P.C., Alan grew to value volunteer service to his community and to the AIA.  When he left Washington, D.C. in 1987 and opened his own practice in rural—but rapidly growing—Loudoun County, Virginia, he noted that the County did not formally recognize design excellence in planning or architecture.  After Alan shared his vision with the County Administrator, the County eagerly agreed to facilitate such a program and asked Alan to assemble a roster of design professionals who would serve as the County’s first Cabinet members.  This roster included professional contacts from Alan’s 25 years with the AIA and 15 years in the County.

“Great communities don’t just happen,” says Alan of his community involvement.  “Skilled design professionals, preferably stakeholders, need to take the time to understand what a community wants to be ‘when it grows up’ and stay out in front of the continuous but changing economic pressures.  Loudoun is an exceptional community for business and for living, in part because of the emphasis on and attention to, design excellence.  We’re fortunate that the leadership of Loudoun County Government understood this a decade ago when we were founded, and we appreciate their continued support today.”

The Cabinet has created two mechanisms that recognize and encourage design excellence:  the annual Signatures of Loudoun competition and the design charrettes.  The highly visible, community-centric Signatures of Loudoun competition recognizes outstanding design throughout the County; in addition, high school students enthusiastically participate in the competition by commenting on the entries and selecting the recipient of a Students’ Choice Award.  Winning entries are published in local media and prominently displayed in libraries, government offices, and retail centers to raise public awareness.  During the design charrettes, the all-volunteer Cabinet provides design guidance to a particular community during a 3.5-hour collaboration that tackles a critical design issue.  By mid-2012, the Cabinet has completed 24 charrettes countywide.

In addition to the recognition of his efforts from the Board of Supervisors, Alan has also recently received highest accolades from the AIA: elevation to the Institute’s College of Fellows.  Developed to honor architects who have significantly contributed to architecture and society and who have achieved a standard of excellence in the profession, the Fellowship recognizes not only the achievements of architects as individuals, but also their contribution to architecture and society on a national scale.  Submitting for consideration of Fellowship in the “Service to Society” category, Alan described his efforts to create and foster the Loudoun County Design Cabinet.  As one of three architects from Virginia to receive the Fellowship, Alan will be honored at an investiture ceremony at the 2013 National AIA Convention in Denver on June 21, 2013.  The 2013 Jury of Fellows elevated 122 AIA members to the College of Fellows.  Only 3,000 AIA members out of more than 85,000 have been distinguished with this honor.

Having received these honors, Alan—and the Cabinet—will continue to volunteer their time and talents for Loudoun County; in fact, the Cabinet is now accepting nominations for its ninth annual Signatures of Loudoun Design Excellence Awards.  The 2013 award categories include a revised “Interiors” description to highlight well-designed interiors from commercial and residential spaces.  The Cabinet invites nominations from the public, as well as developers and architects.  Entries must be received by Friday, March 1.

The County now solicits the expertise of the Design Cabinet on issues that range from the renovation of a bucolic general store, to the analysis of a major university’s plan to move a satellite campus to the County, to the review of the Zoning Ordinance.  A valuable resource that has become indispensable to its community, the Cabinet is the product of Alan’s commitment to the role of Citizen Architect—and is a prototype for municipalities everywhere.

Having successfully set the Design Cabinet in motion, Alan encourages every architect in a community without a design recognition mechanism to create one as a Citizen Architect, thereby embracing the AIA’s national initiative to promote design excellence through collaboration with community decision-makers.