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Discussions at the AIA Florida Convention July 2012, AIA Repositioning

During the AIA Florida convention July 18-21, 2012, Jane Kolleeny, AIA consultant to the repositioning initiative, discussed the repositioning with 19 architects in individual and small group gatherings. She also presented the repositioning during an associates meeting held at the convention.

The following key observations were documented during those meetings.

Key Observations

Emerging Professionals and Schools

  • Florida is not a state with an abundance of emerging professionals—it is a place people go to retire and the architecture demographic reflects that. The convention included Puerto Rico and there were a number of Spanish-speaking architects represented.
  • Some architects felt the way AIA can embrace the younger generation is to get them quickly into leadership positions within AIA—allowing the older generation to learn from them on how they wish to do things and how they might reposition the AIA for generations to come. The idea of pairing old and young together in many contexts has been suggested as a viable way to encourage cross-generational learning.
  • One academic felt the 8 years after architects graduate and go into practice is a time when AIA could step in and provide valuable support to emerging professionals, in the form of training for the ARE exam, networking, job banks, and training for professional practice. If AIA were positioned to help with these early stages of the career, it would make itself invaluable to these emerging professions as their careers evolve.
  • Some of the forms and rituals within convention programs commonly observed in AIA are old fashioned and unappealing to the younger generation. It would be wise to consider restyling some things to appeal to a wider audience.
  • There was a lot of conversation about the nature of architectural education today, that few academics are licensed professionals, which skews the training student architects receive. One member felt that NAB and NCARB, along with the AIA, needs to flex its collective muscle to change the rules in schools so that licensure is a precondition of teaching credentials and that practice subjects be a required part of the curriculum, or a school could lose its accreditation.
  • Architects feel that firms that hire fresh out of school architects, or interns, not only get less expensive labor but also they should accept a duty to mentor that architect and that this idea of supporting the profession is implicit to the success of the profession going forward.
  • Somehow academia and professional practice need to link together and align. We are doing a disservice to the students to prepare them in a way that is not realistic to what they will face in the marketplace. AIA might take a pivotal role in making this link and providing resources for that first 8 years out of school, when emerging professionals need the most support, where they lack the training, the money, and the enthusiasm they need to transition successfully from theory to practice.
  • There were numerous academics interviewed at this convention. The academic community in Florida is pretty closely linked to AIA. Several academics felt AIA should undertake to find and interview some architecture students who are not yet part of AIAS, which could provide interesting input to the process.

Role of the Architect

  • Is the profession a servant to society and clients or are architects there to dictate what’s valuable to society and clients? Architects by and large seem to think they know it all and wish to dictate their wisdom—as one architect called it “the fountain headache.” Still others feel the role of architect is one of service.
  • The pins, medallions, and other ornaments signal important services, honors and benchmarks that validate architects’ professional aspirations and achievements. No one argues that architects are one of the hardest working professions, and the credentializing through design awards and personal awards provides meaningful recognition and honor to a profession that gets little credit where credit is due. Many architects serve on school boards, city councils, volunteer their services during disasters, and share their skills with little regard for compensation, something that sometimes works to their disadvantage. The citizen architect image is part of the emotional value that AIA can endorse and encourage.

Key Themes

Lead with Emotion

  • Many architects define the emotionalism of the profession as being about serving their clients—finding a good solution for a client that satisfies his or her needs and provides the greatest emotional gratification. Others feel that AIA’s job is not to be positioned on the inspiration side and still others objected to the word “emotion”—feeling enthusiasm, passion, or inspiration might be better. Others feel the design awards are a key emotional driver and they feel AIA should embrace design more significantly as a core value. Yet others feel the citizen architect theme demonstrates emotional motivation, as architects as a group are keenly interested in helping others. Lastly, others felt it was not the place of AIA to concern itself with emotional issues.
  • One architect pointed out that “leading with emotion” expressed a negative—that it suggested AIA has been doing it wrong and we lack emotion and now we need to right the wrong—that “leading with emotion” should be a subset not a primary theme.

Focus on Outcomes

  • With respect to the key theme of focusing on outcomes and benefits rather than process, some architects feel their problem-solving process is extremely important too, easily as important as provable benefits of good design. They stated that their problem-solving skills are a hidden added value to successful design, and that the performance of projects could never excel if it weren’t for a highly proficient problem solving process on the front end. In addition, good design does not always loan itself to a spreadsheet of outcomes and benefits that can be proven, but is more visceral and undefinable.

Focus on Core Values

  • As a jack of all trades who leads the design team, an architect needs to know a lot about a lot of things, especially in this day and age of complex building systems, technologies, and product choices. How can the AIA hone in on core values, narrowing its focus, when the profession itself speaks to a broader spectrum of need? This was expressed by several architects.

Guide the Conversation (Interface with the Public)

  • For AIA to take a primary role in advocating architecture to the public continues to be a very powerful request on the part of membership. Some feel we need to engage in social media and not rely on old-fashioned avenues of communication.
  • Many architects continue to extoll the value of AIA making a case for architects to the public, presenting a more accurate picture of what architects really do—not the elitist stereotype but the profession that looks after the health, safety, and welfare of the built environment. Many brought up the ad campaign, which they thought was very good; while others brought up HGTV and Extreme Home Makeover—why are these programs empty of the architect? One felt a TV channel ought to be dedicated to architecture, citing a life-changing movie he saw about Buckminster Fuller and content he views on YouTube, which has lots of architectural content.

Role of the AIA

  • Conversations weighing on both sides of the equation with respect to AIA’s future direction—should it be an association for architects who practice architecture or should it be an association for those trained as architects who practice in a multitude of disciplines—continue to be debated with rationales existing for both perspectives.
  • Some members feel AIA is too heavily focused on large firms, especially given that the bulk of membership is from the smaller firms and feels AIA needs to reposition itself in line with small firm needs.
  • Many members feel AIA is really ready for change; and yet they realize that changing is hard and would be like navigating a huge ship in troubled waters. There is excitement but nervousness about whether AIA can change and what exactly that change might be. Also, a feeling of “let’s see” if we can really make this happen.

Learn more about the AIA’s repositioning initiative at


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