Repositioning the AIA

I joined the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in July 2003 still reeling over the excitement of getting my license to practice architecture. I was so excited to publicly share my achievement after logging the hours and the tests with “three letters after my name”. For me, this meant I was entering a new stage in my professional career. I believed in the professional community of architects I was joining. While I was correct—I had entered a new stage—I was also naïve.

“It’s time to shift the conversation. Away from what the AIA does and towards why we do it and why it matters.” as presented in the Repositioning Presentation

Almost ten years later, I have experienced moments of frustration with the AIA despite my strong belief that it serves to improve the profession for members and the public. In that time I have grown as a professional, attended countless hours of continuing education (much more than required), and had my wrist slapped once or twice. I have even brought my children (and parents once) to an AIA Convention. I learned that to be effective I had to respect the system and organization. While I value the work and efforts of the AIA, I admit it has been a long time since I felt that rush—the moment where I said to myself, “Wow, you go AIA, what you do is cool.”

I felt that energy again this past Thursday as the AIA presented their work on repositioning developed with numerous conversations, meetings, hard work and the brainpower of  LaPlaca Cohen and Pentagram at the Grassroots Leadership Conference. The message is quite simple: let’s focus less on what the AIA does and more on why we do it and why it matters. This is more than an organization shifting slightly to show only their good side in a picture. This is a fundamental shift to focus on the energy and purpose of members, the impact designers have on the built environment, and that the AIA is positioning itself to support the work of its members rather than just speaking for them.

Video: The AIA Manifesto

“This is what drives us.”

The choice of the word drive is correct. Architects are driven. We undertake efforts big and small to change our environment. I am energized by the idea that the AIA is going not only jump on the ride with us, but hopefully increase our momentum. I believe the repositioning will allow the AIA to react quicker to trends and issues, express and promote the hundreds of events that happen in its components every week, and focus on the timely work architects do every day.

It reminds me of the first of my many late night conversations this week. We were trying to break down why the skills of an architect are more unique than any other thinker out there. It came down to this:

  • Architects have vision.
  • Architects communicate this vision in a unique, compelling, and empathic way.
  • Architects know how to executive and actually build the vision.

Architects are, to use Seth Kahan‘s phrase, practical visionaries. We see and we do.

I believe the repositioning of the AIA acknowledges the seeing and doing, but more importantly expresses the essence of why we do what we do. They presented a vision. As we all know, the action is the next step, and I am eager to see more hard work to come. But I am ready for the challenge if it reinforces our place as America’s architects, and I am ready to see the AIA drive this message forward.

Hey, let’s drive together.



Written by

Emily is an Architect, Mother of 2, and Somerville, MA resident.

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