April 3, 2013
by Rick Bell FAIA Executive Director AIA New York
Arthur Cohen of LaPlaca Cohen and Michael Bierut of Pentagram present findings from the AIA’s Repositioning initiative at Grassroots.

This year’s Grassroots was all about “Repositioning.” Presentations and discussions, largely on Capitol Hill, were about the future of the Institute and the profession. The Groundhog Day, heard-it-all-before, déjà vu was countered by a fresh sense of purpose and need for results. With only 70 days until June and the AIA Convention, those attending the Repositioning sessions were asking for an action plan, not a regurgitation of other efforts, such as the much-maligned AIM – “Aligning the Institute for the Millennium.”

Enthusiasm prevailed and naysayers were few. In the back rows of the Hyatt Capitol Hill Regency Ballroom, as Ray Rhinehart, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, was being introduced as the Oz-like wizard behind the screen, the master of the teleprompter, and the one who is truly in-the-know, someone was quietly singing under his breath:

They tried to make me go to repo but I said ‘no, no, no’
Yes I’ve been black but when I come back you’ll know know know
I ain’t got the time and if my daddy thinks I’m fine
He’s tried to make me go to repo but I won’t go go go.
I’d rather be at home with Ray
I ain’t got seventy days
Cause there’s nothing
There’s nothing you can teach me….

Despite the catchy tune, we all learned a lot from the conversation between the AIA’s New York City-based consultants Arthur Cohen of LaPlaca Cohen, and Michael Bierut of Pentagram. The presentations, subsequent discussions, and summary by “Uncle Sugar” (or was that “Repo Man”) Robert Ivy, FAIA, are all easily found on the AIA’s website.

The following morning at the breakfast sessions, one of the most cogent comments came from Abby Suckle, FAIA, who serves on both the AIANY and AIA NYS Boards. She noted: “Centers for Architecture accomplish exactly what the Repositioning sets out to do – engage with the general public, put architects in the public eye as world-changing idealists, and show elected officials that we know our business and our public policy, too.”

So, AIANY and the 25 other AIA Chapters now operating architecture centers have a head-start on Repositioning. We’ve been moving in the right direction for nearly 10 years, ever since the Center opened in October 2003. But there is more to do: they tried to make us go to repo, and we said, yes, yes, yes.

 The notes which follow, however, are my attempt, in real time, to capture the spirit of the room – what was being said by Arthur and Michael, and then, subsequently, what others attending were saying about the presentation. But first, the credo which ended the plenary:

Architect’s Manifesto
It’s more than three letters after your name.
Or a taste in exotic eyewear.
Or the color of clothes in your closet.
It’s more than the sleepless nights,
the brutal critiques,
the hundreds of hours spent alone in
front of a computer,
the tight budgets,
and the overdue invoices.
It’s looking at an empty space
and seeing a world of possibilities.
It’s transforming a complex problem
into a brilliantly simple solution.
It’s knowing that today’s investment
in our built environment will be repaid
one hundred times over tomorrow.
It’s believing that the way
our surroundings are designed
can change the way we live.
This is what drives us.
This is what it is
to be an architect.
But this thing we do
cannot be done alone.
We need clients who
believe in the power of a reality
that doesn’t yet exist.
We need to listen to the people
who will live, work and play
in the places we create.
We need leadership in our
communities, and in our profession.
We need each other.
We are America’s architects.
We are committed to building a
better world.
And we can only do it together.
A [WE] A
Join us.


Enduring value:
We benefit clients and communities through innovative design solutions.

Positive change:
We work collaboratively and creatively to transform client goals into reality.
We meet the ever changing challenges of the designed environment.
We value talent and diversity in new generations of professionals.

– Component autonomy versus unity: while a necessity, component autonomy leads to inconsistency in how members experience and value AIA through the local components.
– Component structure: the component structure is unwieldy and challenging.
– Lack of tier coordination.

– Priortization of initiatives: given that the AIA cannot be all things to all people, the organization must decide the programs and services most essential to the majority of members so that resources can be allocated effectively, and members receive the greatest value.
– Passive reactiveness: members and staff feel that AIA is often slow to take a stand on important issues that define and impact the architectural profession.
– Resource allocation: financial and other organizational resources are seen as disproportionately benefiting National at the expense of local and regional components.

– Engaging emerging professionals: AIA seeks to be an essential resource for all architects, at every stage of their career, but the organization has yet to successfully embrace the values and interests of emerging architects.
– Inefficacy of communications: Bombarded with communications, members “tune out” AIA. At the same time most are unaware of what is happening.

– Leadership tenure and agenda: the one-year terms and changing agendas of elected leadership contribute to a lack of continuity and impact in identifying and acting upon organization priorities.
– Board size and composition: 60 is too large, and diversity is currently missing.


Prioritizing AIA Efforts
– member recommendations
– Host local component “Town Hall” meetings.
– Send recommendations to National for compilation.
– Present priorities at the Annual Business Meeting.

Study of member service: resources by AIA Member Service Resource Task Force comprised of members and CACE
Key charge:
– Analyze delivery of member benefits and services; alignment of resources across AIA.
– Define roles and responsibilities for resource sharing to improve member services.
– Final recommendations for Board action in Spring 2014.

Organizational Structure Review:
President-led Board…

Emerging Professionals Summit:
– In November, convene a gathering of experts from across the AIA and the profession, from academia to practice.

Research: Gender & Inclusiveness
Comprehensive study to generate action plan to increase diversity of AIA/profession
– Funded and completed in 2014

Innovation Fund
Existing or new programs that can be replicated by other components, are innovative, and address one of the 10 recommendations ($250k)
– Awarded in each category: Large, Medium, and Small, and all volunteer components.
– Awarded at AIA Annual Business Meeting at Convention.

Repositioning Ambassadors:
– Augments Board, CACE, role as ambassadors.
– Forty-person group selected by Board Communications Committee (two members from each region…)

Communication Strategy
– In process; addresses all tier
– Strategy for streamlining vehicles, message prioritization; process for developing content for digital, online, print vehicles; strategy for enhancing aia.org
– Refreshed graphic identity

AIA Annual Report
Member accomplishments in 2012
Selected highlights:
– Enhancing ability to serve communities
– Expanding the body of knowledge
– Building relationships
– Visibility with the public


Some of the reactions from architects around the country, as recorded at the dinner of representatives from some of the larger city-based AIA Chapters were:

Venesa Alicea, AIA, National Associates Committee, AIA New York:
“I thought it was a great presentation. Especially for the big cities. A lot of the issues aren’t new – we are dealing with every day. I was disappointed that there was no action plan presented, and no discussion of how there will be support for emerging professionals. The cost of going to the Denver Convention, for example, is very high for Associate Members. How does this relate to understanding member value? I advocate for Associate Members, but have been licensed for the last two years. For emerging professionals it is a different demographic. The majority of firms are not supporting emerging professionals, not paying AIA dues, or for participation at Convention. There are different needs that have to be addressed.”

Nathan Gulash, AIA, Director, AIA Denver:
“Going to the Convention is far more than the educational credits. My opportunity there is to talk to many people about what we are doing for students, for Associates, and for our cities. We are trying to help people get through the licensing cycle and NCARB maze. I want AIA National to listen to us about what we and AIA San Francisco are doing to encourage registration. We started something in January that is ridiculously successful. I want to see the communication come back in the other direction.”

Jay Silverman, AIA, 2012 Treasurer, AIA Atlanta:
“I’d like to follow up on Associate Members and value. What can we do apart from just offering ARE classes, bringing Associates into the profession? A little more of the concept is needed. The presentation focused on a lot of the problems, then ended with a bit of poetry. But we need more on the concept.”

Debbie Burns, Hon. AIA, Executive Director, AIA Northern Virginia:
“The Component Plan for Excellence did not seem connected to the survey data and Repositioning initiative. I didn’t hear any discussion on how these will meet.”

Emily Grandstaff-Rice, AIA, Vice-President, President-elect, Boston Society of Architects:
“I would love to see, as was announced, that the AIA will address that the new architectural practice is systems-based, and more than just about buildings and the built environment. It is good that we are going on record saying that is significant.”

J. Irons, AIA, AIA Seattle:
“One of the pieces we saw to be missing is the market study. And we know we’ll see an action plan tomorrow. But who is the audience, who is the market, who are we trying to reach with the message conveyed?”

Jill Lerner, FAIA, 2013 President, AIA New York:
“It would have been good to see the raw data about the negative comments, the dissatisfaction with the AIA as a whole. How was it sliced and diced? What differences were there between urban and rural, large and small components? The best relation to the members occurs at the local chapters.”

Lisa Richmond, Executive Director, AIA Seattle:
“I reacted less to the language than the poetry – fuse practice with passion. I’d like to hear more.”

Heather Taylor, AIA, Commissioner of Communications of BSA and appointee on the Member Services Resource Task Force:
“I’d like to hear from all of you about differential perception of value. We’re trying to collect information.”

Illya Azaroff, AIA, Young Architects Director, AIANYS, and Vice President for Design Excellence, AIA New York:
“The voice of young architects will be broadened, which sounds good. Matching Fellows with young architects will find a place, which is also good. What I heard today is more about an over-arching philosophy – saying this is what we are about. Giving leeway to us at the local level is positive. Want to see what action results?”

Jan Blackmon, FAIA, Executive Director, AIA Dallas:
“How to explain the value of all three levels of the organization needs work. How do we describe why three sets of dues are needed?”

Rico Quirindongo, AIA, President, AIA Seattle, and member of the AIA Communications Committee:
“We can’t wait. We are the leadership of this organization. A door is being opened and we have to seize the opportunity now. By the time we get to Convention we need to be speaking back to where the value is at a local level. What does success look like if 40% of the architects are retiring in the next 10 years? If we have 81,000 now, how do we get to 90,000 members in five years, rather than to accept shrinkage? Information back to components is needed: we must demand tomorrow the materials we need to take this message to our Boards, our members, our stakeholders, who can come to the Convention armed and ready to speak out because we are the change that we want to see.”


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