Eavesdrop: Philip Nobel

Eavesdrop: Philip Nobel

 If the party (or, rather, the event) is the crucible of gossip—as we learned via the Libeskinds when last we met—and gossip, as we all know so well by now, is nothing less than the very lifeblood of our community, then where do our hallowed institutions fit in? Our museums, say, or—blessed be its name—the AIA? This week, I am happy to report, their role is to supply us with gossip.

It is not very often, even in this season of its national convention (that annual gossip-heavy gathering that is convening as I write), that one’s thoughts turn to the AIA. The New York Chapter, with its spanky exhibition space and cheery leadership under Rick Bell, has made major inroads in the architecture culture of the city, sure, but the national HQ, sidelined in Washington, D.C., rarely makes a splash. Except, of course, when it is planning to squander your hard-earned dues on television or radio spots—a controversy as amusing as it is venerable. But in the last few weeks, as the organization prepared to pack up for its Los Angeles lollapalooza, before the first parties and prayer breakfasts, the AIA itself was rocked by changes that might—if anyone was looking and if those looking actually cared—amount to scandal.

Since the beginning of May, a total of eleven staffers have left the organization, taking with them what one insider calls an “astounding” amount of institutional memory. Only in one case, apparently—the departure last month of long-time COO Jim Dinegar—was this outflux directly related to the new regime of CEO Christine McEntee, a talented administrator and veteran of seven successful years running the American College of Cardiology, whom, even the disgruntled agree, will eventually put the paddles to the heart of the moribund institution. (In an internal May 25 memo to all staff, McEntee wrote, “I will outline the operational systems and supporting structure necessary to enhance and deliver member value shortly after the convention in Los Angeles.” Clear!) Rather, the beef among the departing minions is as old as the hills: low pay and no chance of advancement. “We couldn’t wait around for changes to be made when we all had bills to pay,” says another recent quitter. As for the impact on the place—to wit: will it become even more ineffectual?—we should withhold judgment. Scott Frank, AIA press guy, says rumors that the hemorrhage will put the AIA in the ER are “overstated.”

In other news, from snazzier yet still profoundly institutional climes, I would like to ask one simple question: Which recent National Design Awards winner is an inveterate and incurable pothead? His airy ways always made his employees suspicious—until he was caught red-handed in the office with a bag of his everyday herbal inspiration. The prospect of this stoner posing with Laura Bush at the upcoming winners’ photo shoot is too delicious. And no, kids—the evidence of his ashram Arcologies notwithstanding—it isn’t Paolo Soleri.