AIA Means Architect

I had an interesting conversation recently on what it meant to be a member of the AIA.  No, it was not about what AIA does for me, because the person I was speaking with had a great understanding of how the local, state and national work together to address issues at all levels.  Instead, this conversation was about firms and members. 

As an organization, we always promote the AIA brand.  Historically, the AIA has been synonymous with the word architect.  The use of the initials AIA is understood by some to actually mean architect.  As with everything however, time impacts the way we do things and how we are perceived.  In recent years, there has been a noticeable shift in the makeup of our organization.  If my numbers are correct, about 75% of the organization is made up of small firms, while slightly less than 20% of our members practice in these same small firms.  Large firms account for a little more than 5% of the firms represented in the AIA, but employ more than 50% of AIA’s individual members.  This is a shift that has occurred over time.  The AIA has in many ways, changed what we do, and how we do it, to adapt to this change in member and firm composition.  The big question is, how do we adapt awareness to this changing practice model?  

Most of our members proudly display the AIA initials behind their name.  We do the same on title blocks and letterhead as we customize our correspondence to a “relatively” more digital world.  But as we promote the buildings we design, how do we really promote or engage the AIA?

Some may not know the AIA permits firms to use the Institute symbol on their letterhead and other business material, provided that the majority of financial ownership in a professional architectural firm is held by registered architects, and that all of the registered architect principals are AIA members.  The same applies to the phrase “Members of The American Institute of Architects”.  The question we need to answer is why so few firms use the AIA symbols?  Is it because members don’t know they can?  Is it because the change in firm composition has resulted in firms that do not meet the AIA requirements?  Is it because we simply don’t ask members to promote this wonderful organization?

As we continue to find ways to promote the AIA and architecture, maybe we need to find a way to look long term at what best serves the needs of the organization. Is it about 100% exclusivity, or is it about leveraging the support we have to build a stronger brand? I am sure this could be debated over and over, but as an organization, we need to look at how changes in society and our practices affect what we do and why. Maybe soon, we will once again see job signs that say, “Members of the American Institute of Architects”.

Bruce Sekanick