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2013 Institute Update: Repositioning Means Reaching Out to Emerging Professionals and the Public

On the final day of the 2013 AIA Convention in Denver, AIA leadership from the national and component levels detailed the progress of the Repositioning the AIA initiative and discussed what members can expect in the future, including new partnerships both within the Institute and beyond. This effort will include enlisting the support of emerging professionals, and leveraging their energy and enthusiasm so they can be a key constituency in building the future AIA. It also means reaching out to the general public with clear purpose, by explaining the value of design to communities previously excluded from the conversation. These early activities may have set the AIA on the path to repositioning, but they won’t get anyone to the destination. As the AIA’s local component leadership explained, that requires input and engagement from across the entire membership.

Mickey Jacob, FAIA

At the helm of the 2013 convention, AIA President Mickey Jacob, FAIA, began the business meeting by restating the theme of the 2013 convention, and of his entire presidency: leadership.

“This is a new era for us to start moving forward as leaders,” Jacob said, “with enthusiasm, passion, and energy, showing not just our colleagues but our communities who we are, what we are, what we want to be, and why we, as architects, are key to making our communities better places to live.”

This kind of public recognition of the value of design is one goal of the ongoing Repositioning the AIA initiative announced in April 2012. Developing professional leadership, Jacob said, is a key strategy for meeting this aspiration. Jacob found opportunities to develop public trust and support, as well as leadership skills, in some of the most dire circumstances in which architects have found themselves called upon to aid their communities: disaster relief. Touring the New Jersey shore in the wake of Hurricane Sandy with AIA New Jersey, Jacob “found that it was AIA members that were leading the recovery efforts, from the planning side to the clean-up side to actually housing people in their own homes even when their homes were damaged. It’s an amazing story. One of the things I want to move forward is to tell the stories of the people out there doing this, because that’s what makes the value of the AIA so incredible. The value is not in the getting, it’s in the giving. The more architects are seen as leaders, the more awareness we get of the importance of architecture, and that’s the key. The key is elevating public awareness.”

Jacob’s speech also touched on the role emerging professionals play in developing leadership within the AIA. At this year’s convention, recipients of AIA emerging professional awards (such as the National Associates Award and the Young Architects Award) were invited on stage at each general session to introduce speakers, putting an oncoming wave of new architecture talent front and center for the AIA membership. “This is about opportunities, and some of the new opportunities we have are with our emerging professionals,” he said.

Robert Ivy, FAIA

AIA EVP/Chief Executive Officer Robert Ivy, FAIA, began his portion of the June 22 meeting by repeating the position statement developed by Repositioning the AIA consultants Pentagram and LaPlaca Cohen, and distilling it down to its essence: “The AIA is a visionary member organization, providing advocacy, leadership, and resources for architects to design a better world. If you remember ‘visionary’ and ‘a better world,’ you’ve got the nutshell of what the value of architects and architecture is.”

Speaking of vision for the future, Ivy introduced the AIA Foresight Report, newly redesigned and adapted from the AIA’s series of yearly environmental scans. “I’m particularly proud of this document,” he said. “This is a new value to you.” The report focuses on changes to professional practice, the business of architecture, and developing leadership, and will be particularly useful to sole practitioners and small firms.

Ivy used the convention business meeting to detail a few of the first definitive steps taken to execute members’ vision of a 21st-century AIA. Ivy mentioned several operations goals, but he spent the bulk of his presentation detailing public-facing initiatives that can get the AIA a greater foothold in the public consciousness.

Broadly, Ivy explained long-term plans to study the relationship between design and public health, “a new element in the sustainability discussion,” he said. Once architects can present clients and communities with empirical evidence that the design of public spaces can positively affect the health of the public by encouraging walking and physical fitness, reducing obesity rates and hypertension, and responsibly managing and remediating polluted environments, the public’s admiration and support will follow.

Recently, Ivy reported, the AIA has partnered with several powerful allies in making this case. With the Clinton Global Initiative, the AIA has made a 10-year pledge to study the relationship between design, public health, and sustainable communities. With the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, the Institute has developed a grant program for universities to complete evidence-based research on design and health. With MIT’s Center for Advanced Urbanism, the AIA will study one American city’s patterns of designed public space and health, developing prescriptions for improving the life of sustainable communities in an urban living laboratory.

These initiatives and others like it fulfill a double responsibility, to the AIA’s repositioning effort and to the AIA’s emerging professionals, who increasingly demand the AIA lead take the lead in “socially conscious design,” Ivy said. One example is the Designing Recovery competition, which will work with Architecture for Humanity, Make It Right, and the St. Bernard Project to gather designs to aid three communities still reeling from natural disasters: New Orleans, New York City, and Joplin, Mo. “Our goal is to improve quality, diversity, and resiliency of housing in all those communities,” Ivy said.

Ivy finished his presentation with a few details on how the AIA would manage the onslaught of change inherent in the Repositioning the AIA initiative. Though the AIA itself will own the overall vision, the Institute hired the change-management consulting group Kotter International to determine the strategy for implementing these far-reaching transitions. Calling co-founder John Kotter the “Yoda of change management,” Ivy assured convention attendees that these steps will successfully push the AIA further than any of its past attempts towards institutional change and evolution. And Ivy explained a very simple reason for doing so: “Demographics tell us we have to,” he said. As Baby Boomer generation architects retire, there aren’t enough younger architects joining the profession (and the AIA) to take their place, putting the most basic relevancy and currency of architecture at risk. These younger architects have a very different set of expectations about what the AIA is and what it can be than previous generations, and the repositioning effort’s first responsibility is to secure these future leaders’ support. “[The] most important priority is that input stream,” Ivy said. “How are we going to attract another generation? This is us 10 years from now.”

Tina Litteral, Hon. AIA

Council of Architectural Component Executives (CACE) President Tina Litteral, Hon. AIA, began her presentation by outlining component concerns with the repositioning initiative. The AIA Arizona executive vice president identified the need for a matching set of priorities at the local, state, and national levels. “Consistency keeps everyone pointed in the same direction,” she said. The need for more transparency, most notably in terms of resource allocation, was also a concern that Litteral heard filter up from components.

“The unifying thread between transparency and consistency,” she said, “is a lack of clarity.” Most importantly, according to Litteral, there must be a better understanding of the various roles and responsibilities of the local, state, and national levels of the AIA by all parties.

This level of uncertainly is engendering very different reactions on the part of components. “There are two camps,” Litteral said. “One is already taking repositioning and applying it at the local and state levels, and one is waiting for clear directions on the next steps. If you are waiting for AIA National to send you a toolkit, it’s not going to happen.”

Despite some reticence, Litteral said all involved are excited by the prospect of bold, transformative change. She reiterated that this type of change is possible only when everyone takes ownership of it. “Repositioning is a mind-shift, a shift in perspective, and you are the leaders that are going to help make repositioning real,” she said. “We’re going to remake the AIA together.”


2013 AIA President Mickey Jacob, FAIA, makes a point during the business session on Saturday morning.


Recent Related:

Institute Update: What the AIA Is Doing for You

AIA 2012 Institute Update: Institute and CACE Leadership on the Road Ahead


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