Practicing ArchitecturePracticing Architecture
AIA 2012 Institute Update:
Institute and CACE Leadership on the Road Ahead
In the May 19 AIA Business Meeting at the AIA Convention in Washington, D.C, AIA President Jeff Potter, FAIA, EVP/Chief Executive Officer Robert Ivy, FAIA, and CACE (Council of Architectural Component Executives) Director Vicki Long reviewed the past months and months ahead in the annual “Institute Update.”
Ivy began his presentation with the simple idea that now is a time of profound change within the Institute and beyond, as evidenced by the ambitious repositioning effort the AIA announced in April, the demographic transitions that will soon remake the AIA’s membership base, and the still-struggling economy that has left architects unmoored in an unstable financial climate for the last few years. The other AIA leaders mentioned some of these issues as well, as well as plenty of others in making the case that ours is a profession in transition.
Jeff Potter, FAIA
In his report to convention attendees, Jeff Potter described a speech that he had made less than a week earlier that took place in uniquely Washington setting. On the Monday before the convention, and upon invitation from the White House, the AIA Board of Directors crossed 17th St. (from the AIA national component building) to Alfred Mullett’s Second Empire Eisenhower Executive Office Building. There, officials from the White House and from HUD, the DOT, and the EPA briefed them on a variety of federal design and construction issues. “What impressed me the most was not only how much they knew about the AIA, but of the practice of architecture,” Potter said. “They are keenly aware of us, what our interests are, and the many ways we can interface with them.”
“No one could remember another time when the entire board of directors of a professional organization had ever been invited by the White House,” Potter said. “That’s the sort of voice we need to be projecting.”
Reinforcing AIA leadership’s stated goal of bringing more emerging professionals into the AIA fold, Potter spoke of how he intends to take part in cross-generational conversations. “We’re trying very hard for that to not be a top-down conversation. I’m trying very hard for that to be a bottom-up conversation—a conversation from the target audience, the emerging professional.” Potter acknowledged the strong impediments to licensure that emerging professionals face, and called for the AIA to “smooth that path.”
The consequences for failing to bring more young aspiring architects into the AIA, Potter warned, are dire. Today, he said, the average age of AIA members is 52. Each year more and more Baby Boomers retire, and fewer of their Echo Boomer and Millennial counterparts are tracking towards licensure and AIA membership. Left unchecked, this demographic change could sap the AIA of numbers and strength. “A diminished AIA is not a supply-and-demand proposition,” Potter said. “We are a small profession, and its diminished voice we cannot afford.”
In terms of the practice evolution of architecture, Potter called for architects to spend more time making the empirical case for design value to their clients and communities. “Architects have a robust culture of aesthetics, but we don’t have a very strong culture in the syntax of proof,” he said. Each day, more and more data is uncovered detailing how well-designed office space can increase worker productivity, and how quality healthcare environments can augment healing and decrease hospital stays.
One such effort with data-driven and demonstrable design value that the AIA has long been involved with is the International Green Construction Code (IgCC). The IgCC gives architects a document that stipulates sustainable building in mandatory, code-enforceable language adoptable by state and local municipalities everywhere. “I look at the International Green Construction Code as—finally, [the] tool we need to walk into a state legislator’s office and say, ‘Look, here’s the standard of proof, and we’re leading it,’” said Potter
Robert Ivy, FAIA
Nearly every day, Robert Ivy is asked a question that cuts to the heart of the AIA mission: What is its relevance and role of his rapidly evolving profession? Often, this question has a very basic goal: Architects want the public and their communities to understand the value of design and architecture, and they want the AIA to facilitate this. “Unfortunately, we architects haven’t been very good at doing that,” Ivy said. “We’re very good at talking to each other, but we’re not very good about sharing the value of what we do with anybody outside our tight circle. We’re proud of our process, but the public is interested in results.”
As Ivy and AIA leadership considered these questions, they came to realize that, in many ways, the AIA is working and functioning today just as it was conceived by previous generations. “It’s really our grandparents’ AIA,” Ivy said. “Meanwhile, our clients have new needs.”
Hence, the repositioning effort unveiled by Ivy and Potter this spring. The design and marketing firm Pentagram and the cultural institution and association consultant LaPlaca Cohen have been hired to help with the effort. Ivy said that he intends for their research to “filter up through the organization. They’re not telling us what to do. What they’re really doing is active listening.” Their findings will offer a new way to communicate about architecture and the AIA’s role within the profession. Once this message is synthesized, the two firms will investigate what communications channels would best serve to disseminate these messages to target audiences. Their findings will be announced at the 2013 AIA Grassroots conference.
“It may be the most important enterprise that we’re engaged in now,” Ivy said.
Ivy also described how the AIA is bulking up its “knowledge resources”—research-driven initiatives that give architects vital tools to compete and prove the value of design in a competitive and increasingly carbon-conscious practice environment. “Every project we build is a case study, and yet we haven’t done much with it,” he lamented.
Ivy listed many examples of successful AIA initiatives: the America’s Design and Health Initiative to study design’s relationship to public health, the IgCC, the 2030 Commitment to objectify the process and path towards carbon-neutral building, and the energy-modeling practice guide due out later this year. One knowledge resource collaboration of which Ivy is particularly proud is the work of the AIA and the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) to establish a building performance database research portal.
AIA Florida’s executive vice president/CEO and 2012 CACE Director began her presentation with a familiar rallying cry for AIA component leaders: Local and state AIA components are the “boots on the ground on behalf of the rank and file membership.”
Participation in national AIA leadership is at an all-time high. “Over 50 of my colleagues and I are serving on board committees this year,” she said. Meanwhile, components are reaching out to students and academia to stem the rising tide of demographic change in the AIA’s future, helping students through internships and the Architecture Registration Exam (ARE).
Long also recognized the recent surge in public centers for architecture at AIA components. In addition to housing component offices, the centers have space for public events and exhibitions, and are storefront galleries for thought and discussion about the role of architects and architecture in today’s culture. Generally located in the downtown area of large cities (for example, New York, Washington, D.C., Portland, Ore., and Raleigh, N.C.), these centers enable architects to reach out to the wider public and speak about the value of design. “These centers are literally bringing the profession to the public,” Long said.
Long praised the AIA repositioning effort and discussed the destructive and creative power of disruption—the kind seen in the chaotic and downtrodden economy, the evolving architectural practice landscape, and the generational shifts the AIA is closely monitoring. Considered in isolation, these trends can easily be viewed as traumas to be repaired, avoided, and moved on from. But Long hopes that these bumps in the road will challenge the AIA to proactively refocus and adjust to the present era of refinement by cataclysm, synthesizing new models for the practice and design of architecture along the way.
The AIA’s new repositioning effort may well be a step along that path. “The AIA has taken the initiative to self-disrupt,” Long said. “Even in this tumultuous time and dismal economy, we are disrupting our own status quo in an effort to ensure our relevancy and, by extension, our very future.”
Photo: ©Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy of LOC
AIA President Jeff Potter, FAIA. Photos ©mattmartin.tv.
AIA EVP/CEO Robert Ivy, FAIA
CACE President Vicki Long