There is a saying in the architecture profession that if you ask a hundred different architects for an opinion on something, you are going to get a hundred completely different responses. I mean we work in a profession filled with opinions and preferences mixed with science and mechanics, would you expect any less? So with that in mind, I asked a question the other day to a very diverse group of architects wondering what types of responses I would get. I was fully expecting to get such a wide array of answers that I would in no way be able to make heads or tails of everyone’s different opinions. Throughout the day all of the responses trickled in, and by the end of the day, I was truly, actually, is there another adjective I can use here – or is that an adverb, surprised by what I got.
Ok, so hear me out for a few minutes here. For as long as I have been working in the architecture profession, there has been this debate that sits just below the surface, boiling up every once and a while though, about becoming a member of the AIA. If you’re not sure what the AIA is, it is the professional organization for the architectural profession in the US, you can check out their website here www.aia.org.
If you’ve read any of my recent posts, you’ll note that over the last few years I have become a much bigger fan of the organization. No doubt that my level of satisfaction and my level of active involvement are directly related. Having a voice in how the organization works is a big deal to me. Things don’t always go the way I would like to see them go, but hey, what ever does. Note the hundred different opinions line above. Now imagine that same idea, but for an organization of approximately 89,000 people. Getting all of them to agree on just about anything is pretty much a mathematical impossibility. So when a movement within the organization not only starts, but explodes within less than a week, you better pay attention to what it is all about.
Ok, enough beating around the bush. If you can actually imagine it, this whole movement was actually started by something as simple as, what I hope the intention was, a well-meaning statement to the up and coming federal administration. This kind of thing has been done by plenty of groups over plenty of elections numerous times in the past, so why would this one become such a big deal. Well in case you weren’t watching, this election season was nothing like anything I had ever seen before. So much so, there were times I had to turn it all off, it all just became too much, too heated, too personal. I needed to focus back on my family and my career and try to leave these political stories behind, they are just too exhausting to constantly keep up with. At least I thought that was what was going to happen up until this now infamous statement came out. Like I mentioned before, on the surface, the statement is pretty benign, nothing that you would think would be controversial. When in reality it’s not as much what it says, but what it leaves out.
When you become an architect you become responsible for the health, safety, and welfare of not only your clients but the general public when it comes to the projects your are a part of. When you join the AIA, I think it is a pretty good assumption that you are standing up for the same priorities that the organization values. When it comes to the members of the organization, that means diversity and inclusion.
The national website even has a page dedicated to what that means. We definately have a ways to go, and it’s not going to be an overnight fix, but it’s the right path to be on. When it comes to architecture, one of our biggest priorities is sustainability. This means taking a direct look at how the buildings we design are effecting our environment. This includes everything from construction waste and material selection to energy use and production. Through various initiatives promoted by the AIA and the influence of codes and ordinances, the pursuit of making buildings use less but do more is beginning. If that as a profession we are striving for, how can they be simply forgotten in a statement that is supposed to come from all of our voices? These are items that need to be repeated at every oppurtunity, stressed in every interaction, and defended at every confrontation. As federal administrations change every few years, this was an opportunity for our organization to stand tall and state that no matter what, these lofty goals are what we strive for. Instead, regrettably, it fell extremely short.
It was amazing to watch how quickly a few articles and open letters turned into a movement. A movement that could have the power to cripple an organization. I had never seen so many people that are recognized as leaders in this profession take such a stance together and consider leaving the AIA. This frustration with the organization at the national level was real and intensifying, I’m not even sure if it has stopped yet. – #NotMyAIA And just as fast as that had emerged, another effort was building. The curious thing though, was typically you see an opposing viewpoint start to come together, in this case it wasn’t that, it was more of a different tone. Instead of leaving or stating that the AIA is not speaking for them, this one was more like change from within. A way for the AIA to remember that the power it has to help move us forward comes directly from it’s members. – #WeAreAIA I’d like to think this second one can strike a more personal and relevant chord with the AIA. A few years ago, the hastag #IAmAIA was one that was started to help promote various members of the AIA from every role and position imaginable. I’d like to think that in the wake of all this, these two simple statements can serve as a vehicle for the voices of the 89,000 plus members to make sure their voice is heard and truly represented. In all fairness the AIA has since put out an explanation of why it originally put out the statement and two apologies to it’s members in the afttermath of all these events. The power digital collaboration at its finest. I’m not sure what types of changes all of this will lead to, but I am sure that it has made a difference.
I’d like to think that moving forward, the organization that I have spent my entire life working to be a member of, finds a way to be more responsive to it’s membership before things like this get out of control. I’d like to think that the values we hold as a profession are not items to be negotiated with in order to get into favor with certain people. I’d like to think that all of the extremely talented individuals working so hard in this profession to make the world a better place are truly appreciated and not seen as just some bureaucratic requirement. I’d like to think that this large organization in which my one membership barely makes a blip on the radar remebers that…..