Contract - April 2013 - (Page 16)
photo: Meg Walton
Time for Architects to Reposition
Evaluating an organization’s mission and goals is no simple task. The
American Institute of Architects (AIA) is in the midst of a significant self
analysis, and the intent is a better professional organization for the
nation’s architect. And readers who are interior designers should pay
attention, too, because the broad scope of the analysis and eventual
changes to the profession may have a wider impact.
The AIA has engaged strategic marketing, advertising, and
design firm LaPlaca Cohen and design consultancy Pentagram to
conduct the study, known as AIA Repositioning. Arthur Cohen of
LaPlaca Cohen and Michael Bierut of Pentagram presented the final
research recommendations and the AIA Repositioning Implementation
Plan to approximately 800 AIA leaders gathered from across the
country at the annual Grassroots Leadership and Legislative
Conference in Washington, D.C. in March.
The plan analyzed most every aspect of the organization, and
calls for the AIA to make bold changes at every level. You can learn
more, and watch a video of the March presentation, at
The study included interviews and other analysis with more than
31,000 points of research. The message from LaPlaca Cohen and
Pentagram? To paraphrase the premise of the study: The nature and
practice of architecture is evolving and the AIA must evolve with it in
order to secure its leadership position. It’s time to shift the conversation
away from what AIA does and towards why it does what it does and why
it matters. A clear positioning statement was developed: The AIA is a
visionary service organization providing advocacy, leadership, and
resources for architects to design a better world.
The analysis was absolutely sobering and did not hold back in its
conveying criticism. In the presentation of key findings, in a section
titled “Why Members Don’t Believe,” Cohen noted: “[Members] perceive
a sense of detachment of leadership in relation to real needs and
experiences of members,” Cohen said. “There is a profound sense of
missed opportunity to be the definitive voice of architecture in an
increasingly design-savvy culture. Design thinking has never been
more ingrained into the general psyche of the public consumer than
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today. Where are [architects] as a profession rooted in design thinking?
What AIA members see and say is that we are not riding this wave.”
Cohen and Bierut went on to highlight key building blocks for
telling the AIA story. The AIA and its members should:
• know that they are good for business (architects are held in high
esteem and, frankly, design is cool).
• fuse practice with passion (practice has to be based on passion).
• demonstrate relevance (what architects do is relevant to clients and
society at large).
• focus on connectivity (that is, less of a focus on the Howard Roark
model of a sole hero architect).
• make everyone a messenger (all architects must deliver this message,
not just leadership).
What’s next for the AIA Repositioning? The March presentation
was simply one step in a process that does not have a finite timeline.
The consultants and the AIA leadership made it very clear that the real
emphasis needs to be on individual members feeling engaged and
willing to embrace change as part of the organization. It has to be a
bottom-up rather than top-down approach. That will take time and
change from the individual component level to the national office.
A refreshed graphic identity developed by Pentagram will be
unveiled later this year but, as Robert Ivy, FAIA, EVP/CEO of the AIA
wrote in AIArchitect, “rather than focus on perceptions and outward
imagery, we have chosen to focus on the structure initially, examining
the fundamentals of who we are, what we do, and how we can enhance
our opportunities for success in the future.”
Change is exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time.
Further plans for AIA Repositioning implementation will be developed
at the local and national levels of the AIA. And as AIA evolves, so will the
architecture profession overall, and perhaps perceptions of the work of
all design practitioners broadly in the United States.
John Czarnecki, Editor in Chief
4/11/13 12:24 PM
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Contract - April 2013
Contract - April 2013
Columnist: How Young Practitioners Can Present Themselves As Leaders
Product Focus: Rugs the Right Way
Product Focus: Sitting Pretty
Product Focus: Basking in the Sun
Product Briefs: Hospitality
Designers Select: Hospitality
Contract - April 2013