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Take Five: Listening to You

By Robert Ivy, FAIA

EVP/Chief Executive Officer

It’s a fragile time for architects. That’s what I hear as I travel around the country, talking to AIA members and allied professionals.

For my first several months as CEO, I needed to stay fairly close to Washington, learning about the programs and people already in place around the Institute—from 1735 New York Avenue to the components. This summer, however, I’ve begun to meet you where you work, in your offices or at local gatherings like design celebrations and conventions. Call it “Listening to the Institute,” a focused tour that will be ongoing throughout my tenure. I’ve already heard a lot.

At DesignDC 2011 in late June, I fielded questions after my presentation, including an inquiry about the AIA’s advocacy efforts and the effectiveness of our political action committee, ArchiPAC. At the federal, state, and local levels, government advocacy really works. Could we have a larger PAC? Certainly. But, a week doesn’t pass that we aren’t lobbying on behalf of the membership, and it pays off. To cite just one current example: As a participating member of the Clinton Global Initiative, the AIA is developing a database of stalled building projects nationwide that make economic sense but which lack the financing to be completed. This database will be shared with potential investors in the coming months.

At the AIA Mississippi 2011 Convention earlier this month, it was fascinating to see architects from a small, largely rural state taking on topics at the leading edge of practice. How smaller practices, for example, can benefit from tax deductions provided by sustainable design through 179(d) was one such topic of discussion. Another was, how do architects enter the international marketplace, such as China? Yet another: What have our volunteers done in responding to national disasters and what can they do in the future?

Listening to the educational sessions and subsequent conversation reinforced how many issues we all face. It also reminded me that, as a group, and thanks in large part to the efforts of our components, we remain remarkably up-to-date and conversant with the issues affecting us, wherever we live and practice.

At a breakfast, there was a lot of spirited discussion about what might be ahead. Most talked about existing jobs for this year, but expressed concern about 2012, as state and local public coffers dry up. The work currently on the books included a creative blend of offerings, from rehabilitation projects with an emphasis on sustainability in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, to university research facilities (one of the most active building types, together with schools nationwide), to large-scale convention facilities whose financing has been hung up in the economic doldrums (see Clinton Global Initiative above).

In New York and Boston, large firms seem to be gaining new work and pulling out of the recession, with some companies actively recruiting and hiring for the first time in three years. Firm principals cited large-scale work in Saudi Arabia, Korea, Vietnam, and, of course, China. Mid-sized firms, by contrast, continue to struggle. The AIA’s comprehensive compensation study, due out in August, should clarify the picture for practices of all sizes.

While electronic communication benefits us, allowing instant, worldwide conversations and information exchange, I find value in face-to-face interaction, just as you find value in seeing each other. Networking just may be the single most important benefit of membership--the AIA connects.

What you hear at AIA gatherings or in your own neighborhoods may differ from what I’m hearing. Always feel free to share. I look forward to seeing you in person and learning from your own stories how we can better help one another during this fragile time.


Robert Ivy, FAIA

Photography by Noah Kalina


Back to AIArchitect July 22, 2011

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