Beyond Repositioning: It’s time for Reconstruction!

Beyond Repositioning: It’s time for Reconstruction!

Friday, December 20, 2013 | | Work/News

As many of our readers know, AIA National has been on a campaign to “reposition” the architectural profession in response to a sense of overwhelming dissatisfaction as expressed by a majority of it’s constituents. Unfortunately, many of us, including the entire Board of Directors of the San Francisco Chapter, feel that the repositioning effort is not effective at best, and likely an attempt at bureaucratic self preservation.


Beyond Repositioning: It’s time for Reconstruction!

As many of our readers know, AIA (American Institute of Architects) National has been on a campaign to “reposition” the architectural profession in response to a sense of overwhelming dissatisfaction as expressed by a majority of it’s constituents. Unfortunately, many of us, including the entire Board of Directors of the San Francisco Chapter, feel that the repositioning effort is not effective at best, and likely an attempt at bureaucratic self preservation.

It is a fact that AIA members pay more dues to the AIA than any other comparable profession pays to it’s professional organization. In San Francisco, the yearly dues for a licensed architect add up to $798 per year, not including supplemental “dues” for employees. The breakdown is $251 for National, $272 for California and $275 for San Francisco.  Those of us that are fortunate enough to belong to a great chapter like the San Francisco chapter have no problem paying for local dues, and many of us support the good work facilitated by the California Council, including the Monterey Design Conference and Design Awards. However, most of us are not comfortable with what appears to be a bloated bureaucracy in Washington with no accountability to it’s members. 

AIA National has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars with consultants Pentagram, Kotter International and LaPlaca Cohen, and to what end?  A reduction in the more than 200 employees supported by the National organization?  A reduction in dues to align with similar organizations? No. Many of us see “repositioning” as an effort by an entrenched bureaucracy to save itself. We in San Francisco have had enough.

The following Repositioning Statement was released this fall by AIA San Francisco chapter President John Kouletsis on behalf of the entire AIA San Francisco Board of Directors:

“Like many chapters of the American Institute of Architects, AIA San Francisco has eagerly awaited substantive change from the national office since the announcement of the repositioning efforts at Grassroots in March, 2013.

As a busy chapter with members active at all levels of the organization (local, state and national) we have enjoyed close working relationships with both staff and leaders at all levels of the organization. We have deep respect for these leaders and our recommendations below spring from a sense of desire for organizational change directed towards achieving a more relevant and efficient organization.

The Board of Directors of AIASF are not professional association managers– but we are a diverse group who are passionate about the profession of architecture. We hope our peers across the country read this summary and discuss it. We have not worked out all the details of how this would work- but we do know that architects are wired to consider not just what exists today but what CAN exist. We hope to provoke you, the reader, and invite you to consider the possibilities.

Our fundamental belief is that it is time to consider a different organizational model for the design profession. We believe architects and those on the path to becoming architects deserve:

  • the opportunity to pay lower dues by choosing in which level(s) of the organization they wish to participate
  • the opportunity to lead an organization that is comprised not only of architects, but also other design professionals
  • a professional organization that also manages the licensure process, in the same way that the BAR Association operates
  • a professional organization that is completely transparent- offering members open access to information about budgets and priorities
  • a minimum standard of service at all levels of the organization


  1. Power to the members. Allow members the choice of joining local, state or national AIA chapters. Provide distinct services at each level to eliminate duplication and provide clear member value. For example, we could imagine that the national AIA might charge for the use of the AIA or FAIA designation or that National would require membership in the national AIA to submit for a national award. We might also expect that services like Architect magazine would be a premium of membership in the national AIA but not from a local chapter—but that a member could choose to receive the magazine by paying additional dues at the national level. Under this model, all levels of the organization would set their own dues and benefits levels.
  2. Lead the profession. Change the name and the focus of the organization. Integrate other design professionals into the organization and rename it: The American Institute of Architecture and Design. Build a bigger tent by embracing the changing nature of practice.
    The future of the AIA is multi-disciplinary and diverse. AIA members are no longer only white men. A majority of those with architectural licenses no longer work exclusively in architecture. Today’s architects design furniture and cities, products and complex systems. “Architect” is a valued profession but its definition has changed dramatically; open the doors to those leading this change and the organization will grow. Consider creating meaningful ways for other design professionals to embrace the mission and join the AIA– at all levels.
  3. Get Real About the Next Generation of Architects. The current licensing path does not guarantee the objective of providing for the health, safety and welfare of the public. It is an expensive, bureaucratic process that needs immediate restructuring. The shocking decline of newly licensed architects nationwide is causing a dramatic shift in the architectural profession. As the voice of architects and architecture, the National AIA needs to be a loud and passionate advocate for immediate and substantive change in the licensure process– or face extinction. Develop a timeline for a merger with NCARB making it easier (and hopefully less bureaucratic and expensive) to create one-stop shopping for licensure, continuing education and service delivery.
  4. Set standards. Not all nonprofits are created equal and there is currently an enormous diversity of groups who call themselves “chapters.” The National AIA should set high performance standards for nonprofits associated with the Institute. These standards should include legal requirements (filing required IRS forms); member service minimums (open hours and educational opportunities) and minimum professional standards. Should groups be unable to meet this minimum service level, it would be expected that members would pay for and receive additional support from adjacent local components or state or National AIA. We recognize that diversity is our strength as designers, so we welcome a conversation about “right sizing” of chapters.
  5. Be the voice of the profession. Each level of the AIA should be required to demonstrate significant public and member value through public outreach. This outreach should be in the form of content– not purchased advertising. Chapters should be required to demonstrate significant public outreach to be named a “chapter.” Require full service “chapters” to have relationships with accredited architecture schools within their region.
  6. Act global. For growing numbers of architects, practice is no longer local – it is working, connecting and collaborating with partners in other countries and continents. Recognize the pace of change is changing architecture- be the source for information about global practice and actively seek and nurture a global dialogue.

We look forward to working together to reconstruct an organization better positioned to lead the profession and educate the next generation of architects.”


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About the author
 Mark English, AIA, Founder and Principal of Mark English Architects, has been working in San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area since 1992. His designs reflect of resourcefulness and efficiency to create high-quality residential design.

5 Responses to “Beyond Repositioning: It’s time for Reconstruction!”

  1. David Eichler

    14. Jan, 2014

    I am not an architect myself, nor am aware of all sides of the issues raised above, but the proposals seem to make a lotof sense to me.

  2. Tom

    03. Feb, 2014

    Wow, this looks great to me and I need to be following this more closely.
    Can you give reading sources so I can play catch up here.
    I’m an unlicensed architectural intern ( just lack the ARE) in Asheville,NC committed to getting the license but put off by a lot of what is outlined above.
    I’ve recently been thinking a lot about the accredited college degree requirement for licensure. All though I have that and it was worth it to me, nevertheless I’ve come to believe that it is a requirement that restricts opportunity and serves to protect a professional status quo more than the ideals of the art of architecture. I think community college students should be allowed to sit for the ARE. I would dearly love to teach at that level, open up local “rural studios” and give the universities a run for their money. A little competition never hurt anything.

  3. Mike Malinowski

    06. Feb, 2014

    Thanks Mark for helping keep attention focused on Repositioning. This effort is still in the formative stage so all ideas and conversations are welcome. It’s far too soon to either throw in the towel or to judge the entire process. In fact, over the last year much progress has been made, but there is far more to be done looking forward. Some of the bullet points from the SF list are completed (for example: there is a Component Plan for Excellence that was adopted by the Board last year) other notions including the possibilities for new models for membership and dues are being vetted by the Member Services Resources Task Force. To quote Paul Welsh (see his blog at AIACC.org which is focused on Repositioning):

    While AIA’s archives are brimming with past studies and recommendations promising to remedy the same issues, very little was ever implemented. Now, after one year of effort, some are asking if this project will have a similar fate: great ideas, but little improvement. Such cynicism is understandable considering the difficulties of change, and the broad expanse of legacy programming embedded within the AIA. However, there are several differences with this effort that, if properly managed, will enable the initiative to surpass our expectations, and position the profession as well as the Institute for a better future.

  4. Michael F. Malinowski AIA

    06. Feb, 2014

    Some interesting observations from Peter Kuttner FAIA, who is a member of the National AIA Advancement Team working on making Reposition Real, regarding the parallels between Architects and Attorneys:

    There are 1,225,000 lawyers in the US
    ABA has 400,000 members
    … only 32% of lawyers join the ABA

    There are only 106,000 architects in the US
    … that means there are nearly 12 times more lawyers than architects

    However, there are about 83,000 members of the AIA
    58,000 of the members are registered architects
    … that means 55% of registered architects belong to AIA – nearly twice the ratio as lawyers.

    (Note – most of the country has an even higher rate of AIA engagement –
    California and the Western Mountain States are unique in attracting less than 45% of their potential members … bringing the average down)

    ABA dues climb, reaching $400 after 10 years
    The ABA does not break down geographically into chapters
    … the ABA has “specialty Sections, Divisions and Forums” which cost $45 – $65 extra each
    … these are similar to our Knowledge Communities
    The other state and local Bar Association levels seem to be separate, as SF proposes.
    In my home area, the Massachusetts Bar Association is $390 after 10 years
    Further, the Boston Bar Association is $420 after 5 years … $1,200+ if you join all three.

    San Francisco pays AIA dues of roughly $800, with approx. $250 going to National.
    I understand that when National finishes giving support back to the chapters, that return averages around $50 per person.
    That means the SF dues (and mine in Boston) are around $600 local and $200 national.
    I believe it represents a pretty good ratio of perceived value. We get a lot for half the national dues that lawyers pay.

    We certainly don’t have the advantage of scale – we have only 1/5 the members, paying half as much – that means even with low membership ratios the ABA has 10 times the cash to pay for National support in advocacy and knowledge.

  5. Mark English, AIA

    11. Mar, 2014

    Thank you for your comments Michael. I know most of us recognize that change has to occur, or we will cease to be relavent in society. I was speaking with Paul Welch, who stated that California is currently lisencing less than 300 new architects per year, down from the 4 figure numbers common in the 1980’s.

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