The brief missive that appeared on the AIA Chicago website August 13 was mystifying.
Posted by the board of directors of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, it announced that executive vice president Zurich Esposito, the group’s highest ranking staff member, and its widely popular leader for the past 14 years, “is no longer with AIA Chicago,” effective that day.
It included a perfunctory thanks to Esposito for his service, and also said the organization is “focused on the future” and will be launching a national search for his replacement. The closing paragraph noted that “AIA Chicago is proud to be the collective voice of architects in our community.”
Basically, boilerplate for nothing to see here, let’s move right on, without any reference to why he was out.
It didn’t take long for the actual collective voice of the architectural community to respond. Architect Mark Schmieding posted a petition headlined “Call to reverse dismissal of Zurich Esposito from AIA Chicago” at Change.org. It quickly attracted about 300 (and counting) signatures from the likes of James Goettsch and John Vinci.
The petition expresses “utmost concern” with Esposito’s “abrupt removal.” It says that “he has worked diligently to transform the AIA Chicago chapter into one of the most reputable and active” in the country, expanding programming and membership, and “producing top rated materials,” like Chicago Architect magazine. “Zurich is like our statesman,” it notes, “dramatically raising the organization’s visibility and stature.”
Neither the AIA board nor Esposito responded to requests for comment, but a former employer, Chicago Architecture Center president and CEO Lynn Osmond, told me that in his 11 years at CAC, Esposito did a “fabulous” job. “He was in charge of programs and was also my vice president of development, and was excellent—a great thinker and great partner. And then he left to go to AIA, where he’s also been a great leader for the architecture profession.”
Osmond said she was “surprised and quite frankly appalled when I heard of the parting of ways between he and the AIA.” That’s a reaction echoed by numerous others, including Alphawood Foundation executive director James McDonough, who said Esposito’s departure from AIA is “a true loss, and totally baffling.”
This week, the board informed members that former AIA president John Syvertsen will step in as Esposito’s interim replacement. In the same message, the board wrote this: “We know there has been a considerable amount of inquiry regarding the departure of our former Executive Vice President. The decision made by the Board of Directors was thoroughly and carefully considered. Out of respect for all parties, additional details will not be shared.” v