A global voice for architects: How the UIA helps AIA members

Center Pompidou - UIA

The Pompidou Center in Paris, an iconic design that came about through competitions overseen by the UIA.

Representing over one million architects worldwide, the International Union of Architects promotes mobility and global standards that benefit all AIA members

You may have seen that the International Union of Architects supports AIA’s opposition of the United States’ withdrawal as a signatory to the Paris climate agreement. Are you also familiar with the UIA as an organization, and why its endorsement of AIA’s position is important to members?

The American Institute of Architects was one of 27 founding members of the International Union of Architects (UIA) in 1948 and has been an active participant in the programs, initiatives, and leadership of the UIA since that time. Founded on the simple principal of “uniting world architects,” the UIA now functions as a federation of national associations of architects around the world. Growing from the original 27 associations to 124 countries, the UIA now represents the collective interests of over one million architects worldwide.

This breadth of membership provides the UIA with global recognition and a respected position in organizations important to AIA. The United Nations (UN), United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the World Health Organization (WHO), for example, recognize the UIA as the voice of the architecture profession on issues of global importance to AIA members. Our membership in the UIA gives us a stronger AIA voice on issues such as the New Urban Agenda and the Paris Agreement.

AIA members have continued to globalize. With the 2012 creation of the international region and a total of six current overseas chapters, it is clear that more of us are practicing and living abroad. Overseas membership has expanded 31 percent since 2012, and 30 percent of firms are working or are pursuing work overseas. The UIA’s stated primary goal is to “promote the mobility of architects worldwide,” a focused mission that surely resonates with the growing global activities of our membership.

The UIA promotes architect mobility through the work of three permanent commissions: the International Competitions Commission, the Professional Practice Commission, and the Education Commission. Each commission brings experts from around the world to set aspirational standards and implement the results through international design competitions, practice standards publications, and defining standards for architectural education. AIA members have participated actively in each commission, used UIA documents, and entered the competitions.

International Competitions Commission (ICC)

The UIA has sought to advance the quality of design with approved open and invited international competitions since 1956. The ICC partnered with UNESCO to establish the UNESCO-UIA regulations and procedures for international design competitions. The UIA is the sole body mandated by UNESCO to provide oversight of the competition rules, as well as to safeguard the rights and obligations of both competition sponsors and design entrants.

Members will recognize iconic designs realized through the UIA’s competitions oversight such as the Sydney Opera House, Pompidou Centre in Paris, Tokyo International Forum, and the Bibliotheca Alexandria in Egypt. In addition, an AIA member was named to the master plan jury for the 2016 Rio Olympics and—just this year—Skidmore Owings and Merrill was awarded first prize in the International Urban Design Ideas Competition for the Financial District and the Marina of Colombo Port City in Sri Lanka.

Professional Practice Commission (PPC)

This commission was charged with the creation of the UIA Accord on International Standards of Professionalism in Architectural Practice (“the Accord”) in 1994. The document promotes architect mobility by defining and encouraging the global adoption of standards of practice. The document consists of 18 policy statements and 14 detailed guidelines, which remain consistent to current conditions globally. The Accord, if adopted by all member sections, would greatly increase the chances of mutual recognition of architect credentials between countries.

While not a regulatory body, the PPC is made up of practice experts from around the world and includes representatives from regulatory organizations like NCARB. They have constructed an aspirational guideline that may be beneficial for AIA members curious about, or planning to, work abroad, entitled Practice in a Host Nation (PHN). The PHN standard uses both local culture and local architects to shape a very clear path to sustainable practice in other countries.

Education Commission

The Education Commission, working in parallel with the UNESCO-UIA Validation Council, is the “keeper and advocate” of the UNESCO/UIA Charter for Architectural Education and the UNESCO/UIA Validation System. The charter, jointly approved by UNESCO and the UIA, lays out a series of guidelines aimed at ensuring that young architects are capable of meeting the professional, social, and cultural challenges of the modern world.

The purposes of the commission and council are to advance the quality of, and access to, architectural education programs globally, act as a UIA think-tank for education topics, and to oversee the validation of architectural study programs and recognition of accreditation systems. The charter also serves as the foundation of other global architectural education systems and agreements, including the Canberra Accord, the RIBA, and the Commonwealth Association of Architects.

AIA and its members contribute to and benefit from engagement with these goals of increased quality and portability of education credentials. The UNESCO-UIA validated programs currently include the Cairo University in Egypt; the Ecole Nationale Superieure d’ Architecture de Montepellier in France; the Moscow School of Architecture in Russia; the Ural State Academy of Architecture and Arts in Russia; the Escola Tecnica Superior d’ Arquitectura de Barcelona in Spain; and the American University of Cairo in Egypt.

AIA and the UIA have been effective partners, representing architects and architecture globally, since 1948. AIA members have been both participants and leaders in the UIA. The current AIA president and secretary general of the UIA, Thomas Vonier, FAIA, agrees that the relevance of the AIA is enhanced by participation in the UIA. The 27th Congress and General Assembly of the UIA will be held in Seoul, South Korea the first week in September 2017. We hope that this brief introduction to the UIA will have interested you enough to follow the AIA delegation’s participation and inspire you to learn more about how you may participate in the future.

Kate Schwennsen, FAIA, is the 2011-2017 co-director of the UIA Education Commission and co-reporter of the UNESCO-UIA Validation Council; director and professor at the Clemson University School of Architecture; and 2006 AIA President.

Rick Lincicome, AIA, is the 2011-2017 co-director of the UIA Professional Practice Commission, retired director of global architecture at AECOM; and former chair of the AIA International Committee Advisory Group.  

Roger Schluntz, FAIA, is a member of the UIA International Competitions Commission, and professor and dean emeritus at the University of New Mexico School of Architecture and Planning.

Image credits

Center Pompidou - UIA

Flickr/Jot Peh

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