A growing number of architects are imploring the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the nation’s second-largest, to reinstate longtime AIA Chicago executive vice president Zurich Esposito after he was abruptly dismissed under what are currently murky-at-best circumstances earlier this month.
Esposito had helmed the AIA Chicago for nearly 15 years and, under his leadership, the organization had grown and thrived. Among his signature accomplishments was the establishment of both a Diversity Scholarship and the LGBTQI+ Alliance, the only AIA member group in the U.S. dedicated to supporting LGBTQI+ architects and designers. Before serving as the chapter’s top chief, the Mexico-born Esposito acted as a program director for AIA Chicago and vice president of development at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, now known as the Chicago Architecture Center, or CAC.
A Change.org petition condemning the decision of the AIA Chicago’s board of directors and calling for Esposito’s dismissal to be reversed has, as of this writing, received, 263 signatories in just over 24 hours, and considering the evident fondness for Esposito, that number is likely to grow. The petition was started by Mark Schmieding, director of Digital Practice at Goettsch Partners, and has received support from fellow architects and designers including Carol Ross Barney, Juan Moreno, Lynn Osmond, Scott Sarver, and others.
Noting that Esposito’s “unique ideas pushed the chapter forward by creating more programs, forming diverse and expansive interest groups, and producing top-rated materials, like the highly regarded Chicago Architect magazine,” the petition goes on to say that the sudden ousting “demonstrates questionable and inexperienced behavior” on the part of the board.
“Those actions not only failed Zurich, an invaluable advocate for all of us, but they failed the entire design community as well,” the petition reads.
Schmieding explained to AN that his reasons for starting the petition were twofold.
“I consider Zurich to be a valuable asset to my AIA chapter, and he is one of the reasons I had become more active in recent years,” said Schmieding. Secondly, he stated that: “I don’t believe something that valuable should be taken from me or my colleagues without a valid reason given, or at a minimum sufficient communication on the matter. Neither of which happened in this case. They can state privacy as a reason, whereas I personally think it is subterfuge.”
Esposito has been asked by AN for comment. We will update this story accordingly if we hear back.
As are most people, local media outlets are somewhat in the dark regarding Esposito’s shock dismissal, and concrete information has been sparse. The sudden exit garnered an August 13 headline in Crain’s Chicago Business, which shared a brief statement that AIA Chicago had sent to its members earlier in the day:
“The AIA Chicago Board of Directors is writing to inform you that Zurich Esposito, AIA Chicago executive vice president, is no longer with AIA Chicago, effective Aug. 13, 2020. We thank Zurich for his 14 years of service to the organization and the architecture and design community.”
The statement noted that a search for a successor to Esposito would commence “in the coming weeks.”
A more recent Crain’s dispatch addressed the growing furor and puzzlement over Esposito’s dismissal but, weeks later, it remains unclear why exactly he was discharged in such a rash fashion. It does appear that Esposito has since lawyered up although his attorney, Nancy Temple, has not responded to requests for comment. Chapter members in leadership positions, including president April Hughes, have also remained mum.
“I’m just sort of gobsmacked about his departure. Why you eliminate that kind of talent is beyond me,” Jim McDonough, executive director of the Alphawood Foundation, told Crain’s.
AN will continue to update this story as we learn more.