Roy Spence is the CEO and co-founder of The Purpose Institute, based in Austin, Texas, as well as the creative force behind the AIA’s national public awareness campaign, which the Institute launched on Dec. 12, to draw attention not only to architecture, but to why architects matter. “Architecture is creative. It’s messy,” Spence says. “But, what comes out of it—if it’s effective—is meaningful and transformative.”

Most People in the world do not wake up and say, “I want a cup of coffee and I wonder what architects are doing today.” The fact is that only 2 percent of the people in this world will work with architects on a business level. Despite that fact, architects design as if the whole world is watching.

And that part of it is true: The whole world is watching.

Our Austin offices, which we call Idea City, were designed by STG Design’s Jim Susman, AIA, and the building definitely inspired me and affected the way I view design. It has also affected how we’ve approached our work with the AIA. Sixteen years ago, my company decided to move downtown—which was dying at the time. The mayor of Austin offered us a piece of vacant property, so we sat down with our architects and I told them I wanted to create an environment where my team is inspired to have fresh ideas. I wanted a place where average people could walk in off the street and ask, “What do y’all do there?” And guess what? They do that all the time, attracted purely by the design of the building.

The public awareness campaign that we’re helping the AIA to coordinate is significant because we’re not going to focus on what an architect does, or how they do it. We’re going to shine a light on why architects do what they do. It’s about purpose.

Aristotle said it the best when he said that where your talent and the needs of the world meet, therein lies your vocation. Architects use their talent to serve the needs of the world. Think about it for a minute: What would the world look like if 80 percent of what’s being designed and built is sustainable? You can’t answer that question without architects. When architects are at their best, they are wired to care and to listen and to create things that have never existed. —As told to William Richards