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Discussions with Emerging Professionals June 2012, AIA Repositioning

During the weeks of June 11 and June 18, 2012, Jane Kolleeny, AIA consultant to the repositioning initiative, spoke with emerging professionals as well as a liaison to young architects about the AIA’s repositioning initiative.

The following key observations were documented during those meetings.

Key Observations

  • As change permeates the profession, architects in training are pursuing nontraditional pathways for their careers. Seventy percent of architecture school graduates don’t get licensed—what are they doing? Many seek alternative career paths because compensation is better outside architecture, job security is more assured, even working for allied professionals like contractors is appealing due to security and compensation. Emerging professionals feel AIA needs to embrace not just the traditional career path but be open to a variety of career paths to stay relevant in the future. There is a greater acceptance of architects in nontraditional paths in both the public and in the profession.
  • Emerging professionals feel the entire profession is endangered, not just the AIA. AIA may lead the effort for repositioning, but if the profession isn’t holistically preserved, it won’t be good for anyone. The profession needs to stay alive and together.
  • Humanitarian design, disaster work, and volunteering to better the community are enormous priorities among this group. Younger architects are less interested in making money and more interested in doing something meaningful for society. They are interested in social justice and cutting-edge design. Some feel the AIA does not reflect those issues. How can young architects successfully engage these career paths—is there a way to reward them—like legal aid programs or student loan forgiveness.
  • There’s quite a bit of anti-AIA sentiment at the universities, often perpetuated by the professors themselves. The AIA should embrace academics within its membership to bring the two distinct areas of practice and academia together. If the academics who teach the emerging professionals are encouraged and valued within the AIA, it will impact the students in a major way, which will be a future necessity for AIA’s survival.
  • Some emerging professionals expressed frustration that AIA only gives them lip service with respect to the issues that are of importance to them, rather than really responding to their interests and needs.
  • The term “intern,” which is used for unlicensed architects, is an insult and deceptive. For an architect going for licensure to be called an intern when that person has a master’s degree and several years of professional experience sends the wrong message about their level of competency. If the profession were realigned like doctors, instead of schooling for 4–5 years with internship on one’s own, internship would be rolled into the degree, like an 8-year program. Architects could call themselves architects during residency. It would incentivize architects to mentor interns instead of treating new architects as potential competition.
  • There is an issue in the workplace with regard to being a female practicing architect. While employers are not supposed to ask, they do ask if a potential employee who is a woman intends to have a family. Women are not willing to stick around to take on that battle. In architecture, there is a very archaic mentality about the work/life balance and having a family. A woman would have to leave her job to have a baby. Flex hours, part-timers, and alternative hour work models are less commonplace in architecture than in other professions. It’s the same in architecture school—stringent curriculum, more hours than normal and that’s expected. The younger generation is not tolerating this workplace mindset. The values of GenX and their managers differ. In the years to come it will be interesting to see how these reconcile. Many younger generation architects are starting out on their own because they don’t like the office culture.
  • Colleges need to bring business, management, construction, legal (contracts), and social studies disciplines into the curriculum to prepare emerging architects for the work they will encounter after graduation.
  • The profession is largely made up of architects who are problem-solvers, work on computers all day, and don’t communicate well. This is the studio mentality the schools teach and encourage. With respect to entering the workforce, architects need to learn how to communicate with clients and they have not been encouraged or trained to do that. Architects are cerebral and speak in “archi-speak” instead of communicating in words that make sense to clients.
  • While the value of architects is invisible to the public, they are in fact critical to society, being the prime profession involved in the health, safety, and welfare of people with respect to the built environment. Space and shelter are used by all. Buildings are intellectual property—but they are not considered that way. Nobody knows who has designed a building and the architect becomes invisible in the public realm.
  • Several interviewees remarked that the days of master builder architect are over for a variety of reasons—because contractors and other consultants take greater portions of the design services but also because design has become so technologically complex that architects can’t possibly know it all. In fact, architects feel overwhelmed by the abundance of information they need to absorb to stay current. Instead of fighting this transition, it would be best to think of architects as collaborators rather than the master builders. That was the stated conclusion at the YAF 20th anniversary event before Grassroots earlier this year. Setting up partnerships with other associations that represent the building trades is a good idea. Also, implementing the tools to get ahead within practices, like BIM and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), are trends that need to be accepted and implemented in professional practice.
  • An architect’s training is great preparation for public service. Long held to be the realm of lawyers, the world of public service and public office is beginning to embrace architects, and institutions are appreciating how architect’s problem-solving skills do well in the public realm.
  • The major portion of architecture firms are small; thus AIA should emphasize the value of the tools and resources small firms practices require. YAF found in their survey that young architects are interested in starting their own firms so their programming is oriented that way, a further impetus for a small firm focus. Younger generation architects don’t like the firm culture evident in the old-guard way of doing things and want to create a firm culture to their liking.
  • AIA does not make it easy to appreciate the vast resources it makes available to its members and the profession. Successfully communicating AIA’s value is a high priority.
  • AIA’s benefits among emerging professionals were cited as advocacy, networking, education, mentoring, and awards programs. AIA pays attention to regulatory changes and “has your back”—collectively the profession can go further with the strength in numbers of AIA members.
  • AIA’s identity stands for endurance, and stability, which is a good thing. However, the world is changing and these qualities need to be fluid and up-to-date. Some feel there is wisdom in playing off AIA’s longevity rather than trying to go trendy and modern with respect to branding. The logo is distinctive but doesn’t say anything about what architects do. Overall, the organization needs to be more outward-facing, rather than gilded and self-serving
  • There seems to be a disconnect between what architects think their purpose is and the public’s perception of that purpose, or lack of perception. There’s the romantic notion that architects play an elevated role in creating the spaces people live work and play in, yet few members of the public are aware of this value. Architects haven’t done a good job of marketing their purpose. An architect-designed space can be something wonderful—it affects one’s experience, how we remember things. Yet architects are underpaid and don’t value their own services, often offering it for free or at reduced rates to get and keep work. And the public thinks architects are overpaid and expensive. How did this disconnect happen?

Learn more about the AIA’s repositioning initiative at


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