Practicing ArchitecturePracticing Architecture
Emerging Professionals Questions for AIA National Election Candidates
Francis Pitts, FAIA (AIA Eastern New York) Candidate for AIA 2015-16 Vice President
1. What are specific examples of things you have done in your own professional activities and in your local component to build future leaders and promote active participation in the AIA by emerging professionals?
As a leader and ultimately as President of the AIA’s Academy of Architecture for Health, I advocated for initiating or expanding a number of academy programs that benefit emerging professionals: the Herman Miller Fellowship, student design charrettes, and the Tuttle Graduate Fellowship program. As a member of the AIA Board, I have joined with my classmates to create and fund a program that provides stipends to emerging professionals to attend the AIA’s National Convention. As a practicing professional, I donate time every year at schools of architecture for lectures, as a thesis advisor, or as a member of design juries. As president of architecture+ I have lead an effort to create a practice that provides emerging professionals with an environment allowing them to flourish. Everyone has a mentor, teaching is a continuous practice within the office, and everyone has a project assignment for which they are individually responsible. It has been our experience that when staff is personally responsible for a project, they see the connections between tasks and systems, and more quickly become ready for licensure. Our eventual licensure rate is 100 percent, and staff retention is enviable. Virtually every leader in the practice started with us as an emerging professional.
2. Where do you see voids in representation of emerging professionals within the Institute and the profession, and how could filling those voids improve career development for emerging professionals in general?
Emerging professionals are not generally present in traditional board or committee roles where a member is asked to join the board as a performing volunteer, not as a representative of a class of persons. Emerging professionals are not generally asked to manage or be responsible for projects within practice. Emerging professionals are too frequently slotted within the AIA into roles where they represent a class of members, and in practice to roles where they perform repetitive and mundane tasks. Emerging professionals should be given real roles and real jobs/projects in both practice and in the profession. In each case, they should be treated as respective colleagues, not as representatives of a class, or as tools to get a job done. We all rise to the occasion when we are entrusted with authority or the responsibility to get a job done. We should expect emerging professionals to do things, to accomplish things, and should facilitate the doing and accomplishing by assigning responsibility, providing the necessary resources for success, and by letting go enough so that emerging professionals can learn from doing.
3. While the National Design Services Act is one step, how else can the AIA take leadership in reducing the problem of skyrocketing tuition and student loan debt, and the non-linear relationship these have to low early-career salaries that are saddling our profession’s emerging professionals with significant financial hardship?
At the cost of education end of the spectrum, the profession should take a more active role in advocating for less expensive alternatives to private architecture schools. We’d all benefit if education programs at public colleges and universities were more prevalent, or if more schools offered the opportunity to practice in a structured co-op environment during the course of the educational program. At the paying for the education end of the spectrum, we need to develop far more sustainable and flourishing practices in the context of a profession that offers services that are valued and which are paid for more equitably. If we deliver value, charge for that value, and operate our practices more successfully, we’ll be able to pay emerging professionals more for the work that they perform, and they’ll be able to pay more for their education. Until then, I’ll be a supporter of the National Design Services Act, a wonderful program for the profession.
4. In what ways do you see the AIA more effectively educating the public on the importance of good design?
We need to be clear that we need to do more than just talk about great design as practiced by the famous few. We need to talk about and celebrate the benefit of the good design that is provided by the very many. The AIA should continue to aggressively understand and communicate the many ways that architects have been using our design and problem solving skills to improve performance for our clients, users, and communities. We need to share those stories within the profession and within our communities.
5. Much discussion continues to take place regarding the title of “intern.” With regard to titling and beyond, how would you propose the AIA take action to better describe and empower this essential demographic of our profession?
The intern title is a problem. I’ve learned this first hand watching my daughter as she saw that title evaluated and appreciated differently by potential employees in different parts of the country. The AIA should facilitate a conversation to collectively decide upon an appropriate title or titles. We should stand on the shoulders of our emerging professionals, who have already made great progress in defining a suitable title. Then we should coordinate and facilitate a nationwide effort to change title and licensure legislation within individual states to permit the use of the selected title or titles.