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It’s still a time of struggle for our profession and many of our members. According to our economists, although a kind of slow recovery has begun for some, serious underlying problems remain for many of us. While bright spots seem few and far between, the repositioning initiative will address one question members ask most frequently: How can we share the value of what we do? At the same time, the repositioning surveys and interviews are underscoring the important issues that we need to address collectively, and will help identify the most relevant long-term path for us.

We can change and improve our message for our clients and the larger public relatively quickly, but moving this ship to address fundamental requirements will not be an easy task. Nevertheless, we are determined to be the organization that our profession and our members need. Please know that we are listening to what you have to say as we forge ahead.

In the article below, our consultants Pentagram and LaPlaca Cohen share their insights from the analysis of prior research, interviews, and surveys that have taken place over the spring and early summer. The themes and hypotheses they posit are grist for serious consideration and conversation, and an important step if the AIA is to meet the challenges facing our profession now and in the future.

Robert Ivy, FAIA

AIA EVP/Chief Executive Officer

Insights from Phase One of the AIA Repositioning

By Arthur Cohen
Partner, LaPlaca Cohen

Having just concluded the first phase of AIA’s year-long repositioning initiative, let’s take a moment to reflect on what’s been learned so far.

In the last four-and-a-half months, an extraordinary number of individuals—13,150 in all—have participated in this collaborative and broad ranging effort. This array of voices helped guide the evolving articulation of the AIA mission, purpose, and message, and will inform development of the graphic approach for repositioning the AIA. Through every stage, the premise of this initiative has only gained momentum: The nature and practice of architecture is evolving, and the AIA must evolve with it in order to ensure its relevance and value.

Since the last AIArchitect update in May, we pushed our conversations with internal stakeholders even deeper, and also shifted the focus beyond the AIA through a benchmarking study of three peer membership-based organizations. We also began a national survey that gathered perceptions from clients and members of the general public regarding architects and the field, and a series of interviews with a diverse range of thought leaders across the country.

From the review of research, interviews, and data analysis that we have done to date, some big and thought-provoking issues arose, including:

    Think beyond bricks and mortar. Architects make an impact not just through their built forms, but also through dialogue, planning, and societal contribution.

    See the bigger picture. The AIA needs to recognize the many hats an architect can wear, and the diversity of (sometimes non-traditional) roles he or she may take. The architect is the master collaborator in the building process, who leads, connects, and is thus entirely indispensable.

    We’re good for business. Architects are an essential connective tissue between all the players in the built environment, and bolster efficiency and economic returns.

    Unify the AIA’s stories around impact. At the root of architecture is the desire to create positive change. The strength of this desire is what unites the field. So, keeping sight of this motivation is a mandate.

    Fusing practice with passion. The combination of being an invaluable resource for professional support and an impassioned champion of the world of architecture will transform members from complacent supporters into ardent advocates.

    Demonstrate relevance. Speak in terms that focus less on the architectural process and more on how good design benefits the public’s everyday lives.

    Focus on connectivity. The AIA enables and activates a community of peers, where members tap into the passion that drives the profession. This network is an indispensable resource for architects at all stages of their careers.

    Everyone is a messenger. There needs to be a symbiotic relationship between members, local, and national AIA components. All parties need to do their part to elevate and ensure the impact of the AIA.

    Open up. The AIA needs to speak out in a way that is accessible, inclusive, and compelling, so that members and the public truly understand the relevance and value of architecture.

For the peer benchmarking study, we spoke with key staff members from the Royal Institute of British Architects, the U.S. Green Building Council, and National Public Radio—all of whom emphasized the power of long-term mission-driven goals as rallying points and a focused means of strengthening a brand, reaching beyond your core audience to increase support and pave the way for more sponsorship and media attention, and diversifying programming to build public relevance and member loyalty.

After gathering the perspectives of so many different individuals and organizations, LaPlaca Cohen and Pentagram believe that the AIA should honestly assess how many attributes on the list below accurately describe the AIA community:

    • Progressive, not reactionary

    • A vital resource, not a superficial designation

    • Universally beneficial, not limited and elitist

    • Adding value, not additional financial burden

    • At the cutting edge, not a follower

    • Public facing, not behind closed doors

    • An architecture resource for all, not just for industry insiders

    • Results and benefits-focused, not process-driven or self-referential

We will further explore and develop these hypotheses based on the results of continued conversations with AIA stakeholders. This will happen through a pair of just concluded surveys of members, clients, and members of the general public, as well as through presentations at various component gatherings in the fall. These surveys seek strong, compelling new language describing the architect’s role and contributions. Thank you to all who participated in the latest member survey, and we look forward to using your comments to guide the future direction and focus of the AIA.

We’ll continue provide regular updates for you in this newsletter, but I encourage you to join the conversations on the AIA KnowledgeNet discussion forum and read the summaries of field interviews at a newly created landing page located here.


Back to AIArchitect July 27, 2012

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