Practicing ArchitecturePracticing Architecture
When AIA President Jeff Potter, FAIA, and I introduced the Repositioning the Institute initiative, we launched a year-long effort to help all of us hear each other better, talk more effectively with one another across generations, and, finally, communicate with our collaborators and with the public audiences we serve.
Our first activity, asking about your perceptions and observations, yielded nearly 11,000 responses. Helping us understand and prioritize the insights we received are international design and branding powerhouse Pentagram and LaPlaca Cohen, a strategic marketing firm employed by major cultural organizations. What’s meaningful in the results at this early stage of analysis is the consistency with which we agree on the pressing issues facing us as members of this profession.
I’ve asked Arthur Cohen, the principal leading the research effort, to summarize some of the initial key findings. We’re moving forward toward our goals to better clarify what architects do and build understanding and appreciation of our vital roles.
Robert Ivy, FAIA
EVP/Chief Executive Officer
Learning, Reflecting, and Building: Repositioning the Architects and the AIA
By Arthur Cohen
What is the role and voice of the AIA in the social, economic, and creative context of early-21st-century America? To address such an ambitious and broad-ranging question, the AIA has asked the consulting team of Pentagram and LaPlaca Cohen to spearhead a yearlong repositioning initiative, leading to a refocused and clearly articulated messaging approach, as well a reconsideration of the visual representation of the AIA’s identity.
The process underway is one of the most expansive and comprehensive ever undertaken by a professional association. Its first phase, now nearing completion, includes a thorough assessment of the channels and methods through which the AIA communicates to its members and the outside world, and the resulting perceptions generated. In addition to an audit of the AIA’s many informational and promotional materials (both physical and online), we’ve been conducting numerous one-on-one conversations and small group interviews with members, senior leadership, elected representatives, and board members as well as online surveys through which many of you have shared your thoughts. Thus far, over 11,000 individuals have participated in this effort.
Once this internal assessment is complete, we will be shifting the focus to the outside, and engaging a diverse range of thought leaders across the country, whose expertise in design, economic development, business, lifestyle trends, and other related issues will provide an indispensible point of reference and contrast to the perspectives gleaned from within the architectural community. Moving forward, our team will then begin to build the framework for the strategic and graphic approach to defining and positioning the AIA of the future.
LaPlaca Cohen and Pentagram bring to this project extensive experience in strategic identity projects for architectural, cultural, and design-related clients, which include some of the nation’s most renowned architecture schools. This assignment for the AIA synthesizes our collective knowledge and provides a national, institutional platform not only to address long-standing challenges within the organization, but also to help the AIA to claim its rightful position as leader, bellwether, and beacon for a profession that has undergone radical transformation in recent years. As all of our discussions have demonstrated, the AIA is at a critical juncture—perhaps the most significant in its 150-year history—as the voice of architecture in America.
What kinds of observations and insights have been cited most frequently in the research so far? Concerns include:
• A basic lack of awareness and understanding among the general public about what architects do and what added value they provide
• Distorted perceptions generated by a small handful of high-profile “starchitects” that may further distance the profession from the public at large
• Lack of understanding of and targeted resources for younger architects, who are now questioning of the value of AIA membership and licensure
• Absence of a consistent expression of the ideals and personal passion that inspired most architects’ decision to join the profession
• Lack of preparedness seen when architects entering the profession are confronted with issues related to business and financial-related issues
• Inability to articulate the value and benefit of architecture to prospective clients and others outside the profession
• Difficulty navigating through the vast quantities of information the AIA currently provides to its membership.
Sound familiar? Stay tuned as together we learn and share more such insights, and then build solutions to provide you with the tools you need to help you succeed. It’s a daunting task, but the will, resources, and commitment are in place to seize this moment of opportunity and build a model for the future of the AIA.