IIDA Leaders Breakfast Houston: Focused on the Future of Design

On a typical morning of Leaders Breakfast, attendees listen to an individual at the podium accepting the Leadership Award of Excellence. The honors are usually bestowed upon someone described as a trailblazer who has paved a way within the design community. But this year, IIDA Leaders Breakfast Houston has decided not to give the award to an individual, but to an organization that is a recognizable force within their community. The IIDA Texas Oklahoma Chapter has selected the Rice Design Alliance (RDA) as this year’s recipient. Chosen for their community outreach in advancing architecture, urban design, and the built environment throughout the Houston region, the chapter’s values on education and the future of the design community align with RDA’s values; the chapter cites RDA’s diverse membership involvement for anyone interested in design and their educational programming as the main reason for receiving the honor.

RDA was formed in 1972 by a small group of academicians, Rice School of Architecture alumni and civic-minded citizens under the leadership of David Crane, FAIA. Since then, RDA has emerged as the preeminent public forum in Houston for conversation and programming of design and the built environment. Its membership has grown in the thousands and includes those in the design communities, as well as those who have a personal interest in architecture and urban planning. The association embraces diverse people, professions, and points of view within their organization.

RDA is a forerunner in sponsoring lectures, symposiums, architecture tours, grant competitions, and national design competitions, to name a few.  With education being the cornerstone of RDA, their civic forums are a vehicle for examining issues that affect Houstonians and the city. These discussions allow the public to gather information about current issues and to join the dialogue with experts.  Along with their rich programming, their 33-year-old publication, Cite: The Architecture + Design Review is one of their most recognizable contributions to the community. The publication has been the only consistent voice of architectural criticism in Houston and one of the few sources for thoughtful, well-researched analysis in architecture, design, and infrastructure.

Keeping up with the importance of education and the future of Houston, RDA formed rdAGENTS, RDA’s young professional group. Each August, the rdAGENTS host an all-day design charette where architects and designers propose solutions to community issues. On a somewhat smaller scale, the design charettes sponsored by dAGENTS also bring lasting improvements to public spaces and provide opportunities for collaboration.

With the same educational values as RDA, the Texas Oklahoma Chapter understands the importance of educating and involving the youth of the cities. As one of the only cities within the Leaders Breakfast organizations to do so, the chapter delivers all profits from the Breakfast to the Texas Oklahoma Education Fund. So far the chapter has raised over $125,000 from Leaders Breakfast profits to support three tuition reimbursement scholarships worth $4,000 each and one study abroad scholarship also worth $4,000. To date, the fund has awarded students in the interior design field over 32 scholarships totaling $100,000. The Texas Oklahoma Chapter also pays for students to attend their annual Student Conference and celebrated its fifteenth one this year.

This year, the chapter introduced a Special Initiatives Grant to support faculty and students by providing funding resources in three categories: research, educational experience, and educational tools. Up to $3,000 will be awarded from this grant.


Support the Texas Oklahoma Education Fund and attend Leaders Breakfast in Houston. Learn more about RDA.

Translating Architecture through Radio

Frances Anderton’s background reads like a plot of a summer novel. Early childhood in England, renovating a casa colonica in Florence, studying the Haveli in Jaipur, writing for magazines in Los Angeles – and, it all leads to one of today’s most influential architectural radio shows. Anderton is this year’s recipient of the Leadership Award of Excellence at the IIDA Leaders Breakfast Los Angeles. As executive producer and host of radio show and blog DnA: Design and Architecture, Anderton’s path to the award stems from a meaningful past that has led her to becoming a preeminent voice on exploring what matters in our designed world.

Growing up in Bath, England, where her childhood backdrop was that of a Jane Austin drama, Anderton lived in Georgian houses that her father would purchase and remodel, creating interiors as modern of a style as possible in neoclassical houses. It was this way of living that sparked her love for design, giving her a strong sense of how one’s environment can shape the quality of life.

During her early years, Anderton spent a year in Florence, Italy, renovating a farmhouse. Later, she studied at the University College London and soon transferred to the Bartlett School of Architecture. She concluded that while she loved architecture, she “did not have the personality or requisite skill set to be an architect.”

Drawn to communications, Anderton found her way to becoming an editor at the London-based Architectural Review magazine. In 1987, her first assignment was to travel to Los Angeles, California, to produce a special issue on emerging architecture on the West Coast. In 1991, she moved to L.A. to become editor-in-chief of LA Architect.

On arriving, the region was shaken up by the 1992 Rodney King riots, which lead to the founding of Which Way, L.A.?, a public radio show hosted by the esteemed journalist Warren Olney. Anderton felt there was much to learn about how cities work from this show and went on to become the show’s producer while continuing her design journalism. In 2002, the two tracks merged when DnA: Design And Architecture was launched. She believes her knowledge of politics and current affairs gives her a unique vantage point on architecture and design.

Anderton credits her late father for her interest in architectural landscape and her success in the media sector of the architectural world. She believes that due to his lack of a formal architectural education, he would speak about architecture and buildings in a language one could understand. She feels she owes her “desire to ‘translate’ architecture and design to the public — through DnA and other archi-writing — to this exposure to very different ways of talking about buildings.”

In addition to offering her voice on air, Anderton writes for many publications and has served as L.A. correspondent for Dwell and The New York Times. Her most recent book is Grand Illusion: A Story of Ambition, and Its Limits, on L.A.’s Bunker Hill, based on a studio she co-taught at USC School of Architecture with Frank Gehry and partners, the architects of numerous landmarks including the Walt Disney Concert Hall.  Most recently, she curated “Sink or Swim: Designing for a Sea Change,” an exhibition of photographs about resilient architecture.


Learn more about Leaders Breakfast, the annual IIDA series event that celebrates design’s importance in the global marketplace. Upcoming speakers include writer Cheryl Strayed and Jonathan Perelman, vice president of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures.

When a Chemist and Environmentalist Meet

How do a biophysical chemist and a steadfast environmentalist find their way to accepting one of the top honors in the commercial interior design industry? The two honorees of the Leadership Award of Excellence at this year’s IIDA Leaders Breakfast San Francisco are renowned in this industry, but not how the general audience is involved. Their journeys are separated by their personal feats and intertwined by their commitment to advocating for reducing the use of harmful flame retardant chemicals in the products and furniture of which the industry’s designers and representatives create, sell, and use in their everyday lives.

Arlene Blum, Ph. D., executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute, and Judy Levin, director of the Center for Environmental Health’s (CEH) Pollution Prevention, joined efforts in 2012 to revise the outdated standard which allowed the use of harmful flame retardant chemicals in furniture and baby product foam across the U.S. and Canada. The same toxic chemical Blum successfully helped remove from children’s pajamas in 1978 had continued to be used in furniture. Advocating for the supply and demand of healthier furniture, Blum continued her efforts on working with and educating furniture and foam manufacturers, which she initially started in 2006. Meanwhile, Levin took the other side of the message and began educating the designers and purchasers.  Levin has successfully enlisted an impressive list of purchasing companies such as Facebook, Kaiser Permanente, HDR Architecture, and Perkins+Will to express their desire to buy retardant-free furniture using the “Purchasers Pledge.”

With the support of California’s governor, Jerry Brown, and a California-based flame retardant coalition, co-led by Levin and the CEH, the California furniture flammability standard was finally changed so that flame retardants are no longer needed in furniture and baby products. Along with furniture, these requirements have also led to ability of manufacturers to meet the new standards without the use of toxic flame retardants in mattress pads and children’s products such as changing pads and strollers. In 2010, the Green Science Policy Institute’s work helped prevent a new standard that would have led to flame retardants in pillows mattress pads and comforters – another huge victory for the public’s health, environment, as well as fire safety. The new furniture flammability standard in California has become a de facto national standard.

Blum and Levin first collaborated in 2008 on preventing a new requirement that would have led to flame retardants in electronics enclosures. At the time, Levin was developing an ecolabel (EPEAT) for electronic devices by developing criteria to restrict the use of harmful flame retardant chemicals, all the while Blum worked on the international standards that would promote the use of flame retardants in electronics worldwide. The two, along with a small but active group of allies, are responsible for thwarting international standards that would have led to the use of billions of pounds of flame retardants in electronics cases around the world.

Most recently, Blum and Levin collaborated to prevent new and potentially harmful furniture flammability standards which are under consideration by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. In 2014, CEH co-sponsored a bill that now requires manufacturers who sell furniture in California to label their products for the presence or absence of flame retardant chemicals. A bill to require the labeling of flame retardants in children’s products is in progress and will be voted on by this September. The Green Science Policy Institute continues to educate purchasers, designers, retailers, and manufacturers to reduce the use of whole classes of harmful chemicals.

Read more about the honorees:
How Dangerous Is Your Couch?
Kicking Toxic Chemicals Out Of The Office: An Easy Guide To Going Flame Retardant Free 
VIDEO: A Flame Retardant That Came With Its Own Threat to Health
Are You Safe on that Sofa?
Green Science Policy Institute Consumer Resources
Six Classes: A Webinar Series on Chemicals of Concern
Major Producers Eliminating Flame Retardant Chemicals as Major Buyers Are Demanding Flame Retardant-Free Furniture


Learn more about IIDA Leaders Breakfast and purchase your tickets!