Practicing ArchitecturePracticing Architecture
Take Five: Speak Up
By Robert Ivy, FAIA
Say the word “advocacy” and some of you might shrug. What does it mean, anyhow? The term sounds so abstract, so ambiguous. Advocacy for the environment? Advocacy for better schools? For too many of us (and I’ll admit that the word doesn’t grab me by the throat) the attitude is to leave “advocacy” to others. We’re just too busy.
What a wrong-headed notion! Actually, every architect must advocate or speak up for his or her work every day. It’s a fundamental fact that if we don’t care and cannot express ourselves about what we do, how can our clients appreciate our work, much less the public?
But beyond that, what should advocacy mean to you? To answer that question, look beyond the confines of your office. Is your city in need of improved planning or zoning, or is your state threatened with legislation that could limit your ability to practice? At the federal level, consider the dire need to jump-start the economy, as hundreds of worthwhile projects are stalled simply for lack of financing.
Once you start paying attention to how the world outside of our profession affects our profession, you’ll quickly agree that someone needs to speak up for architects. Who is our best spokesperson? Look in the mirror—that person is you.
Despite the tendency of architects to love design and to work on projects—with our heads tilted toward a computer screen—it is clear that many of your fellow architects already agree with the need to advocate. Some 1,200 of you now serve in elected or appointed positions in towns, cities, and states. You regularly testify before local commissions or boards. You lobby the U.S. Congress.
And don’t tell me that our collective efforts are for naught. We have succeeded at all different levels of the AIA. Here are just two examples from Washington, DC: Last year, after a five-year slog in which 6,000 stalwart AIA members sent almost 20,000 messages to the U.S. Congress, AIA celebrated the repeal of a 3-percent tax-withholding law. Speaking up paid big dividends.
And just last week, following the AIA’s strenuous opposition and hundreds of comments from the architectural community, the Small Business Administration (SBA) dramatically reduced its proposed increase to the size standard for architects eligible for small business set-asides. The original SBA plan would have been devastating to many small firms and sole practitioners.
At the state level, the TSA (Texas Society of Architects) stood up to oppose legislation last year that would have allowed stock school plans. In Texas, hundreds of architects made human connections and spoke up for a more enlightened approach to educational design.
Yes, but…those were hundreds, or even thousands of architects facing Goliath. What can you, as a single individual, accomplish?
You may not have met Paul Renker, AIA, from Tampa, Fla. He single-handedly blew the whistle on a burdensome federal regulation that hit architects in the pocketbook by letting the government retain 10 percent of their fees. Armed with that knowledge, the AIA advocated for change, engaged the Small Business Administration (SBA), and then Congress, and we won. In this case, one individual speaking up made all the difference.
All advocacy efforts need not be a battleground. In fact, in 2012, we have much to be excited about and to speak up in favor of, whether it’s advancement of the new International Green Construction Code (IGCC), or tax incentives for better-designed buildings, or an easing of the financial markets to allow the better flow of credit for stalled projects. The upcoming 2012 AIA Grassroots Leadership and Legislative Conference in Washington, DC, in March will explore these areas and more. In your hometown, it might be a plan for a park system that could lead to a healthier city. Only you can know and care. And only you can speak up.
If these few words have encouraged you to become an advocate, go to the re-launched Issues and Advocacy page on aia.org for more information and consider joining our monthly virtual advocacy call, where you can hear the latest from our advocacy team and guest speakers, including members of Congress.
But especially, use the talents you have perfected to speak up for your own work as an architect and expand your point of view beyond the four walls of your office. Join your fellow architects in advocacy—consider it an aspect of design. Then speak up. AIA needs strong advocates for architecture and you are a crucial part of the AIA team.