Profile: Bob Bullis, AIA

Profile: Bob Bullis, AIA

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Contributed by:
Ezra Loh
Assoc. AIA

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Profile: Bob Bullis, AIA

He’s been described as an “Architect’s Architect” with architectural experience in design, project management, consultation, academia, and most recently as the director of client relations with Rogers-O’Brien Construction. Bob has been active in organizing events such as the AIA Dallas and Greater Dallas Planning Council’s “Choices for a 21st Century Dallas: Connecting People and Opportunities.” This mobility summit, held last fall, spotlighted urban issues of connectivity, transportation, mobility, and the far-reaching impacts these issues currently have on Dallas and North Texas.

As president-elect for AIA Dallas in 2015, Bob continues to focus his efforts on the influence the chapter and its members have on the local community, while understanding the constraints and challenges our city currently faces. Also an advocate for the younger generation of architects and designers, Bob is a firm believer in creating opportunities for success among those eager to learn and stay connected in the profession. He sees diversity, change, and forward-thinking strategies as a win for AIA: The combination of different viewpoints, cultures, interests, and activities are the unique elements that create connectivity within the city.

We met up with Bob for lunch on the heels of the mobility summit to talk about issues impacting both Dallas and the region.

You’ve served on the board of directors for AIA Dallas for some time. What are your immediate goals as president of AIA Dallas?

AIA Dallas must be seen as relevant organization and we must claim our seat at the table, providing context to the conversation and planning/design expertise to our political leaders and the greater community. This was the mission of the recent mobility summit. There are ongoing conversations in the news (such as the ongoing highway debates), the economic divide between North Dallas and the southern sector, and the impact our schools have on growth and economic opportunity for our residents. Organizationally, we need to keep an open mind and, regardless of how we feel as individuals, we must try to understand the opposing argument and practice empathy in our listening, our response, and our actions. As architects we are trained to be big picture thinkers and strategic planners. We have the ability to define clarity of vision and to effectively communicate this vision to the public. I am certain our members and our chapter leadership will rise to the occasion.

How can AIA Dallas continue to expand its presence in the community and stay relevant on current issues like mobility, transportation, and public infrastructure in North Texas?

Several years ago, AIA Dallas leadership took an introspective look at our chapter, soliciting feedback from membership on the effectiveness of the organization. The outcome of this strategic planning exercise is the implementation of programs that focus on key areas of communication, education, advocacy, and networks. The AIA Dallas Springboard website was launched January 2014 under the leadership of 2014 President Lisa Lamkin, AIA and past President Kirk Teske, AIA. Through the website, we provide our members with a voice and a platform to engage the community, both AIA Dallas and the larger community. In 2014 we re-engaged our public policy committee and took our seat at the table, becoming advocates and champions for building a better Dallas. It is my belief that our public policy efforts should continue to be a consistent and positive voice on communitywide issues. From our home at Dallas Center for Architecture (DCFA), located in the heart of the Dallas central business district, we are well positioned to be a resource to politicians, community builders, benefactors, and clients alike.

Speaking of current events, AIA Dallas recently hosted a mobility summit here in Dallas. You are a big proponent of the mobility issues and increasing the urban fabric and walkability and connectivity of our neighborhoods. What are some of the topics covered and how do we stay relevant in the discussion and discourse?

It has been said that the next four years will change the face of Dallas as we know it. Dallas and Texas are leading the nation in job and population growth and the investments in our communities are unparalleled. The highways and development projects we build over the next four years will be the communities of our children’s children. The stakes are high and we must lead the discussions and ensure the development is responsible, sustainable, and equitable. Understandably, this good economy has created a series of complex issues that we must respond to, including the impacts of transportation, education, economics, and overall well-being of our communities. As one of our keynote speakers from the mobility summit, Jeff Tumlin, pointed out, we are on the “cusp” of becoming a true U.S. destination city in terms of our amenities, attractions, and public infrastructure. We need to be very clear about what our visions and goals for Dallas entail and need to have significant metrics and quantitative data to support these decisions. Big picture: If we can continue the civility of our discussions and are steadfast in focusing the conversation on mobility and public infrastructure, we will hopefully get the details correct.

On a national level, what types of things can AIA Dallas continue doing to leverage our place at the table regarding great U.S. cities?

AIA Dallas is the seventh largest AIA chapter with nearly 2,000 members. Because of our size, we are a member of the Big Sibs network—those chapters having 1,000 or more members. Through the years AIA Dallas has consistently advocated for a more responsive and engaged national organization. Through the recent AIA National Repositioning initiative, your local board actively lobbied for ongoing regional representation at the national board level. The Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) and Latinos in Architecture (LiA), both birthed here in Dallas, have gone national and been picked up as committees in other chapters. Our young architects and associate members (the future leaders or our chapter) have earned top awards in recent years at the National AIA level: Derwin Broughton, AIA and Jennifer Workman, AIA, both 2013 Young Architects Award winners; Lorena Toffer, 2014 AIA Young Architect, and Anna Guerra, Assoc. AIA 2014 Associate AIA Award recipient. These recent successes are not sustainable unless we continue to reach out to our younger member base, ensure their AIA fees are affordable, give them a seat at the leadership table, and ensure they have buy-in from our firms to allow them work flexibility so they can attend committee lunches and events.

As Jeff Tumlin pointed out in his keynote speech at the mobility summit, one of the key characteristics of unique, vibrant cities often lies in the business, social, and economic aspects of engaging the younger demographic in a community. How do you see those aspects playing out in Dallas?

It is important to both enlist and retain the young, creative talent this city currently has to offer. They are our future and they will continue to shape the growth and culture of our communities—and as architects they are empowered to do just that! Downtown Dallas is attracting young talent largely due to its “downtown” address and 24-7 lifestyle, rich with social interaction. I am the father of a 23-year-old millennial who aspires to live downtown. He is representative of his generation as he hates to drive. Multimodal transportation options are a requirement of his generation. To him, the warning “Don’t text and drive” simply provides him with the option NOT to drive. We must be about the business of creating choices in transportation and, closer to home, a shower in our offices for those employees who choose to cycle to work.

In regards to the profession, what advice do you have for the younger generation of architects in our community?

A good friend once said that architecture students just out of school should “work to design their career as they would one of their buildings.” As I look back on my career, I see the wisdom in these words. Every decision has a consequence. There is a cause and an effect that should be carefully considered with each move. I also believe it is important for those beginning their journey in architecture to focus on the quality and strength of the relationships they are building. Search out mentors and, as time progresses, give back by becoming a mentor. AIA offers the opportunity to network, to hone leadership skills, to support and advocate for good design, and to embrace community.

What types of hobbies do you enjoy in your free time?

In retrospect I can say I am a builder of stuff, love to garden and work in the yard. I live an active lifestyle, am an avid high school football fan and, yes, I do paint on occasion. One day in the not-too-distant future, you will find me on a boardwalk somewhere, a paintbrush in hand, hawking watercolors to tourists and drinking margaritas.

You have some very captivating and beautiful water coloring/architectural delineations. Many of these have won prestigious Ken Roberts Memorial Competition awards. What drove you to embrace this technique of graphic communication?

My interest started in high school as an art student. It was a complete disaster. It wasn’t until my years spent in architecture graduate school where the late-Richard Ferrier taught a watercolor course that I learned to pick up a brush and use it effectively. I was determined to do all my graduate projects in some form of watercolor presentation. I accomplished this goal and became quite good at it along the way. In the end, I believe it’s about being committed to a goal, vision, or cause, and working hard to realize the very dream that lives within you.


Interview by Ezra Loh, Associate AIA, intern with Corgan Associates Inc.