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A History of Research at the AIA

    The AIA’s involvement with research has taken different forms over its history. Disseminating the results of research to its members has been an AIA goal since its earliest years, when papers presented at 19th-century conventions gave members a forum to share the latest developments in fireproof construction and other new technologies. Helping to set the research agenda for the profession has also been a constant activity. Over the years, the AIA created a variety of programs to encourage and fund research by others, and at some times, the AIA has conducted research itself. The following chronology summarizes the main research initiatives of each era.

    1918-1930. By the end of World War I, AIA members felt that architects had a key role to play in the rapidly expanding building industry. The AIA organized a Structural Service Committee to work with government agencies, other professional and technical societies, and trade associations, to help improve structural materials and their safe and efficient use, in the interests of “the health, safety, and comfort of the occupants of all buildings.” The program was extremely effective in helping to establish materials and specifications standards, safety codes, and appropriate regulation and legislation. In response to “the rapidly developing scientific nature of the art of building,” the AIA added a Scientific Research Department with a paid Technical Secretary in 1924 to “keep the members of the Institute intelligently informed as to these new developments.” The Scientific Research Department gradually absorbed the functions of the Structural Service Committee and in 1927 was renamed the Structural Service Department. A structural service representative was appointed in each AIA chapter. The department served both AIA members and the Producers’ Council, which was created by building industry groups at the AIA’s instigation.

    1931-1944. The AIA’s members faced extreme financial hardship during the Great Depression. The AIA cut all its costs and programs to a bare minimum until the economic outlook improved again at the end of World War II.

    1945-1952. Under the direction of Walter Taylor, the AIA’s Department of Education and Research served as a coordinator, clearinghouse, and reporter of research in architecture and building. A Research Advisory Service for manufacturers and producers of building products was created in 1949, but had little usage. The AIA wanted greater involvement with research work. The Committee on the Expansion of Research Facilities (1950-1951) discussed the idea of joint research projects with BRAB, NAHB, and AGC, and suggested the solicitation of research grants so long as the AIA did not compete with the schools of architecture. New technologies, civil defense, and nuclear facilities were areas of particular interest to the AIA. The first specialized AIA conferences began in this era, with regional conferences on the latest research and technology in hospital planning hosted by the Texas chapter (1947), the New England chapters (1949), and the Southern chapters (1949).

    1953-1962. The Board created a Committee on Research to explore the possibilities further. Its charge became “to develop a comprehensive continuing program of architectural research within the Institute and in collaboration with the building industry, and to make the results available to the profession.” By the mid-1950s, it had subcommittees on Nuclear Science, Color, Materials Research, Architectural Information, and Building Products Registration. The Committee on Research recommended that the Department of Education and Research end its services to the building products industry, and concentrate on applied research, assistance to local chapters, and publication of reference guides. Meanwhile, at least thirteen different committees and departments of the AIA were involved in some form of research activity. Many research projects were done in collaboration with other organizations, such as the American Hospital Association, the Illuminating Engineering Society, the National Council on Schoolhouse Construction, and the American Association of School Administrators. In 1960, the Board reaffirmed its support of research as a “primary and basic need of the profession.” It established a separate Department of Research and reallocated the functions of the Committee on Research to AIA staff members.

    1963-1971. The Board reauthorized the Committee on Research with the new name the Committee on Research for Architecture (CRA). They were charged with vigorously pursuing a comprehensive program of architectural research within the AIA, in collaboration with all fields of knowledge, making the results available to the profession. A Division of Research was established, headed by Ben Evans, with funds coming from supplemental dues for three years. A number of projects were successfully completed in those three years. Among them was a hundred-page report on the “present status and future plans of the national research network,” listing projects and areas of focus at schools and agencies across the country, issued in 1965. No further funding from supplemental dues was provided after 1966. The Board wanted to see CRA promote a capability for research within the profession rather than engaging in research itself. In 1969, a Joint Committee on Research concluded that if research did not become a more vital concern within the profession, then impending changes they were facing would overtake their ability to handle problems. The committee encouraged the solicitation of funds for interdisciplinary projects. Discussion began on how to achieve this result.

    1972-1982. In 1969, the AIA had created the Urban Design & Development Corporation as a separate corporation to take on actual urban design projects. The attempt did not work out, and in 1972 the name of the corporation was changed to the AIA Research Corporation so that it could receive grants and contracts to undertake research projects. A grant from the Ford Foundation to work on energy conservation in buildings began a new era for research in the AIA. In its first five years, under the direction of John Eberhard, the AIA Research Corporation grew to be a $10 million enterprise with 60 employees. The Research Corporation conducted research for the US Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, and other agencies and organizations. Most of the research was about energy efficiency or solar energy, but other areas such as seismic design and environmentally conscious regional planning were also included. The Research Corporation produced technical reports for the contracting agencies and also repackaged the research to make it more available to members through publications and workshops. The Research Corporation published a quarterly journal from 1978-1980 with news of its projects. The AIA also partnered with the Royal Institute of British Architects to publish the scholarly Journal of Architectural Research, “an interdisciplinary forum for researchers, practitioners, and educators,” from 1972-1980. By the late 1970s, however, the AIA began to question the degree to which the AIA should be actively conducting research. John Eberhard resigned as head of the Research Corporation in 1978. With the advent of the Reagan administration, government contracts for energy research declined. In 1982, the remaining projects of the Research Corporation and its staff were transferred to the AIA Foundation, under its newly created Architectural Research Council. The Architectural Research Council’s charge was to promote the advancement of architectural research and its dissemination to practicing architects. Its voting membership was comprised of representatives of the fourteen major AIA committees.

    1983-1996. By the mid-1980s, research contracts had largely dried up, and conducting technical research did not quite fit with the Foundation’s direction of public education. In 1986, the AIA entered into partnership with the ACSA to form a joint Architectural Research Council. The AIA provided funding for the first three years, after which the program became self-supporting. Existing research contracts and grants were transferred to the new joint council. It continued to conduct research and disseminate results, with active involvement from the AIA Board and AIA staff into the 1990s. However, by 1996 the AIA decided that it should not be undertaking research itself, except for economic market research. The Architectural Research Department headed by Deane Evans from 1994-1996 became the Market Research Department under the direction of economist Kermit Baker. Reviving the AIA/ACSA Research Council was discussed by the Board in 1997, but it was again decided that the AIA would best serve its members by encouraging and disseminating research conducted by other institutions.

    1997-present. In the twenty-first century, the AIA has reaffirmed its commitment to support and disseminate research in architecture through a variety of programs. New initiatives include:

    1998 Discussions between the AIA’s Large Firm Roundtable and deans of schools of architecture resulted in the AIA Case Studies Initiative.

    2001 – The College of Fellows awarded the first Latrobe Fellowship, a single major research grant that replaced the College’s previous program of multiple small grants, to significantly move the profession’s research agenda forward.

    2004 – Research was one of the focus areas of the AIA Board Knowledge Committee. As a result, the AIA began research grants through the annual RFP program, to support applied research that advances professional knowledge and practice.

    2006 – The AIA added a second research grant program, the Upjohn Research Initiative.

    2007 Research Summit: The AIA Board Knowledge Committee convened more than three dozen leading academics and practitioners to share their views on architectural research, identify emerging research agendas, and explore ways to elevate the importance of research in the profession.

    2012 – The AIA’s second Research Summit, convened by the Board Knowledge Committee, brought together leading practitioners and academics to discuss the nature of architectural research and the AIA’s role in it.
    In September 2012, the AIA announced the Decade of Design research award to fund three university-based projects that demonstrate the importance of design on public health. This forms part of the AIA’s Commitment to Action for the Clinton Global Initiative.

    Ongoing programs that have a research aspect include the Delano and Aldrich/Emerson Fellowship, the Arthur N. Tuttle Jr. Graduate Fellowship in Health Facility Planning and Design, the Academy of Architecture for Health Foundation (AAHF) Research Grants, and a wide range of publications and programs within the AIA Knowledge Communities. The AIA’s support of research today continues to serve its goal of being the conduit of knowledge that advances the profession, making knowledge accessible to members and the industry.

    [note—this article was prepared by Nancy Hadley, Assoc. AIA, CA, Archivist and Records Manager, in November 2009 and updated in November 2012. It is a revised and expanded version of a timeline created by John Eberhard and Best Practices staff member Darcey Thomson]


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