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Practice of Architecture | 2018/02/20

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The American Institute of Architects, Repositioned or Irrelevant

Evelyn Lee
  • On 2013/05/15

Last year, the American Institute of Architects introduced the Repositioning the Institute Initiative. The initial year-long research effort undertaken by Laplaca Cohen was to help “us (the AIA members) hear each other better, talk more effectively with one another across generations, and, finally, communicate with our collaborators and with the public audiences we serve.”

In 2013, the Repositioning effort is doing its best to remain a grassroots effort, knocking on the door of our local component chapters with the introduction of the Ambassadors Program and the Innovation Fund. Having had nearly a decade of experience in an elected leadership position at the regional and national levels of the AIA, I am holding my breadth to see whether or not this initiative has the capacity to ignite its members.

Just this week, the Ambassadors Program announced an extension to their submission deadline. The good news is that you now have a few extra weeks to get your application in. The bad news is that it may be foretelling the future of the Repositioning Initiative. Tell us your thoughts. Is this a worthwhile effort?


  1. I applaud the Repositioning effort but am also reserving judgment. Prompting a provocative dialogue is great, and the presentation at Grassroots (I watched in on video) is certainly doing that.

    My concerns are twofold. First, of the extensive survey undertaken by Laplaca Cohen, I keep wondering how many comments were solicited from people outside of the AIA. If the survey is relying on comments primarily from AIA members, then this repositioning effort will never, ever succeed. An insular organization cannot reposition itself by listening primarily to its members. AIA needs to step outside of its silo and “reposition” itself based primarily on the perspectives of building owners and users, allied professionals, contractors, public officials and the general public.

    Second, the “AIA Manifesto” is like a poorly written dime store novel with no focus and a bad title “There is no I in AIA”). Is it meant to galvanize AIA members and make us feel good about the social good we do? Is it an attempt to demonstrate the value of the AIA or the profession of architecture in general? The adage “Show, don’t tell” applies here. What is missing is the illustration that buildings designed, detailed and overseen by licensed architects enhance society, create thriving environments, and improve the quality of life of the people that occupy or pass through the buildings. Words without visuals that resonate, no matter how poetically recited, cannot adequate convey a message about the value of architecture.

    I have been a strong supporter of AIA for decades and want the “repositioning” effort to succeed. Hopefully, some issues raised at the component-led meetings will persuade the authors of the repositioning effort that the effort needs a sharper focus and the must stem from people outside of our insular organization.

    — Michael Strogoff, FAIA

  2. My answer to AIA: AFH (Architecture for Humanity). They are the thought leaders on collaborative, open sourcing of architectural design, and its ability to effect social and environmental justice in community. I have observed the generational shift (X to Y etc.) and the AIA is outdated in its charter and actions. The Congress for New Urbanism and AFH have better platforms for the ideas represented in this video’s call to action. I hope the AIA “institution” can learn. Meanwhile I keep paying my dues and using the AIA agreements (and try to collect our fees that continue to dwindle as they are squeezed by owners and the marketplace).