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Emerging Professionals Questions for AIA National Election Candidates

Russell Davidson, FAIA (AIA Westchester and Hudson) Candidate for AIA 2015 First Vice President/2016 President

1. What are specific examples of things you have done in your own professional activities and local component to build future leaders and promote active participation in the AIA by emerging professionals?

In my own firm we pay AIA dues for all young architects whether they be associate members or newly licensed architects. With our support, recently one of our younger professional staff members served on the local component board as the associate representative. We find that individuals tend to become more involved once they are licensed, so we promote, encourage, and support the considerable effort it takes to become licensed. This includes assistance with IDP, allowing office time to prepare for the exam, purchase of study materials, payment of fees for the exam (once), and a guaranteed promotion to associate upon licensure, including a significant pay raise.

As an leader with the New York State board, I advocated for the increased involvement of younger members on committees and on the state board. As state treasurer, I worked with the associate members of the board to fund their initiatives. As AIA National Vice President, I worked with national staff to push forward the National Design Services Act. As a member of the governance reform task force, I supported the concept that emerging professionals should have representation on a new, smaller board that aligns with their proportional share of overall AIA membership.

2. Where do you see voids in representation of emerging professionals within the Institute and the profession, and how could filling these voids improve career development for emerging professionals in general?

I feel that emerging professionals are generally under-represented in most aspects of Institute governance, especially in task forces and committee work. These voids can be filled in a number of ways that will both improve career development for emerging professionals, as well as improve the breadth of viewpoints in all AIA forums:

  • I feel that we need to draft and approve an agreement for all members to advance the interest of the younger members of the profession. An emerging professional “Bill of Rights” would go beyond the generalities of a policy or position statement. Similar to the initiative with diversity, this will empower all members and leaders to pursue initiatives and viewpoints that are consistent with the interests of the future of our profession. This will offset, in some respects, the under-representation of emerging professionals due to career and family stages.
  • I believe it is a fallacy that older architects cannot or will not act in the interest of our younger professionals, and that similarly, emerging professionals are only interested in the issues specific to their career stage. We need to formalize the key principles and initiatives for emerging professionals, and then trust that everyone involved in the decision will make it happen.

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?

The issue of skyrocketing tuition is a serious issue that impacts all students, families, and many professions. It is known that tuitions have risen dramatically in the last 10 years. This pervasive problem is not only for architects to solve, but with that in mind, there are still several things the AIA can and should do to improve the situation:

  • Sustained focus on improving public awareness will result in more appreciation of the value of the architect. This will eventually impact all in the profession and allow for a better salary structure at all levels of the profession. Making real progress on this issue is truly the “rising tide that lifts all boats”.
  • The AIA should strengthen its ties with both the ACSA and NAAB so that the academic world better understands the practical and financial concerns of emerging professionals. In New York, we established an AIA member liaison with each of the state’s schools of architecture to strengthen this connection.
  • The AIA should also explore model agreements between firms and emerging professionals that include both salary and student debt relief. The AIA should be a leader in developing these agreements and explaining the benefits to both emerging professionals and firms.

4. In what ways do you see the AIA more effectively educating the public on the importance of good design?

Tell compelling stories to the people that matter most.

Stories should include a limited range of projects that represent the different types of clients and building types most typically completed by our membership. They need to be compelling in that they are not only exemplary projects, but they also exceeded the client’s expectations and fulfilled an essential human need. The benefits of the projects need to be relevant so that they resonate with individuals and communities. The message that architecture matters every day and that everyday architecture matters must be conveyed.

“The public” is a very broad term, and I don’t believe that we will be effective if we try to launch a broad public relations or advertising campaign targeted to the overall general public. The AIA needs to focus on those groups and individuals who can have the most impact on improving the value of design and architects. This needs to include the national organizations of client groups such as school boards, hospital administrators, commercial building owners, and local municipal leaders. There are also numerous websites, blogs, and online publications that serve the design and construction industry that can be valuable outlets for a more targeted public awareness campaign.

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?

It is time to advocate to states to change professional title designations so that all graduates of architecture school working in the profession with the guidance of licensed individuals are called architects. Licensing will always be a next step, and can carry the title of “registered architect.” I think there is very little risk that this will decrease the interest in becoming licensed, as all involved in the profession will appreciate the distinction. The architecture profession is behind others in elevating its professional graduates. Young architects should have an appropriate title commensurate with the considerable effort and accomplishment of completing a five or seven and a half year program to earn a professional degree in architecture.

An additional initiative to empower the younger members of our profession would be to provide more guidance on the operational side of what it takes to acquire a project and execute it successfully. This focus on the realities of practice will act as a sort of AIA post-grad program, and provide much needed knowledge. This will also create a tie between younger professionals and their firms, which can build understanding and lead to faster advancement of status and salaries.


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