Having vision is essential to creating direction, purpose and goals for an organization. It serves to motivate and helps people feel essential to its success. Organizations also need leaders who embrace that vision with the conviction that it can be achieved, while inspiring others to do the same – leaders like Michigan Architectural Foundation (MAF) Board Member and Treasurer Carl Roehling, FAIA.
Carl first became involved with MAF in the early 1980s, when he joined the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Michigan board. At that time, the boards of MAF and AIA Michigan were one and the same, MAF had few assets of its own, and was essentially a tax-deductible vehicle for assembling contributions for AIA Michigan.
After MAF raised more than $350,000 for the restoration of Detroit’s historic Beaubien House (the former headquarters of AIA Michigan, AIA Detroit and MAF), Carl and his fellow board members began formulating the vision for a foundation that could focus on architecture (as opposed to AIA, which focuses on architects), have its own endowment, and contribute to the profession indirectly regardless of the economic environment.
According to Carl’s mentor, close friend, and fellow MAF Trustee Leslie D. Tincknell, FAIAE, it was Carl who brought the board’s vision to life. “Carl mapped out a strategy for how MAF could grow and accomplish its goals, energizing and empowering MAF’s volunteer board members to help him move the foundation forward, and truly making MAF what it is today. Over the years, Carl has continually infused energy into ensuring MAF and its programs are the best they can be. His involvement with MAF has made an incredible difference in its trajectory, and we are grateful for his dedication.”
In what ways has Carl seen MAF grow the most over the years? He reflected that “MAF’s impact has grown dramatically. Today, through our communications efforts, we’re effectively reaching Michigan residents with our mission of advancing awareness of how architecture enriches life. MAF supports more architectural education, awareness, and preservation programs than ever. In the beginning, MAF did not have two dimes to rub together, but now has a $2 million endowment. It has developed into an independent organization, with a loyal and growing base of donors and advocates. Our goal is to expand on our success, give more grants and scholarships, and continue to positively impact our communities.”
Of MAF’s programs, Carl is particularly passionate about MAF’s Evans Graham Preservation Award, which he co-founded with the late preservationists Ralph and Jeanne Graham (who also were close personal friends, and godparents to one of his children). “The Evans Graham award has helped preserve some of Michigan’s most important historic architecture,” said Carl, “and has grown exponentially due to the involvement of Evans Graham jury chair Park Smith, the Graham’s son Bill Graham, and Annie Graham. We just increased the award to $15,000 for 2021, ensuring it remains one of the largest bricks and mortar historic preservation grants in Michigan.”
Carl feels MAF’s greatest potential lies in connecting with children. A prime example is the impact created by MAF’s Rae Dumke Fund. The fund, led by retired AIA Michigan Executive Director Rae Dumke, supported the creation of the ‘Build Imagination’ architecture books collection and also features STEAM-based educational toys for children. “I see first-hand how excited my own grandchildren are to explore architecture through these materials. Over the coming years, if we can inspire half of Michigan’s 2.1 million children to think about architecture and the built environment in some way, we will have succeeded.”
As with his fellow board members, Carl’s involvement with MAF is on a volunteer basis. While it takes hard work and commitment to continue to grow MAF’s endowment and program reach year after year, for Carl, it is effort well spent. “My reward is the personal relationships I have formed with those who share my passion for helping make fellow residents aware of the beauty and relevance of Michigan’s architecture. MAF has also given me a wonderful opportunity to practice my idealism and activism for architecture, and make a contribution beyond the traditional AIA programs.”
When asked how he thinks architecture enriches life, Carl makes a compelling case for the connection between architecture, emotion, and experiences. “Throughout my involvement with MAF and my career as an architect, I have come to deeply appreciate how architecture impacts every area of our lives. Think of the places where you’ve experienced the times of your life, and how you felt while you were there. Architecture can inspire you to learn in a well-designed school, to heal in a healthcare environment, to feel connected to the past in an historic structure, and have pride in your community through distinctive municipal buildings. That’s the power of architecture.”