Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA, 2015 President
Carl Bower Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA, 2015 President

The beginning of a new year invites predictions about what lies ahead. It’s an invitation I’m eager to accept because major forces are well underway that will make the AIA a more nimble and more relevant organization before the year is out.

Take the matter of leadership. For as long as many of us can remember, architects as well as the public have asked for an AIA that is at the forefront in any discussion about sustainability, resiliency, health, productivity, and matters of social equity.

However, to be an organization that truly leads, we must be open to the diverse voices that today enrich our profession. And by “diverse,” I mean more than demographics. It’s about the AIA embracing the increasingly different ways those trained as architects are applying their experience, insights, and skills.

The AIA’s new governance structure gives us the agility to lead because it’s open to the varied perspectives of the gifted women and men transforming our profession. This is revolutionary.

There is something else to look forward to in the course of 2015 that has all the signs of being equally transformational. This month, the AIA launches a major public awareness campaign that responds to what members have identified as their highest priority—advancing a broader knowledge about the many ways that architecture and architects impact lives. We know the public likes architects, but few really know what we do. This has to change, and we have to pursue this opportunity.

In my own home state, Texas, I saw firsthand what’s possible when we reach out to the public. They become intrigued; they want to learn more. Thanks to a generous grant from the AIA College of Fellows and the AIA, I had the seed money to launch a radio series, which I called The Shape of Texas. Broadcast through NPR affiliates across the state from 1999 to 2011, this series gave listeners an eye-opening glimpse of contemporary and historical architecture, and places that define Texas culture and heritage. It also provided a jumping-off point for informed community discussions that continue to this day.

I have no doubt the AIA’s investment in a major public awareness campaign will have a similar and even greater impact nationwide. The public is eager for positive stories about ways to make their lives better. Our work does that. But to succeed in getting that message across will require each and every one of us to tell our story.

For some, stepping this far out of our comfort zone may not be easy. Yet it’s essential. We have to take charge of our own destiny. We’ve already dared to change the AIA to be more agile, inclusive, and of greater service to the members, our clients, and society. Now it’s time for us to engage the public. The AIA’s campaign will provide the resources, but in the end, it will be up to us to make the case.

It’s important to be proud of who we are. Through our profession and our life’s work, each of us has shaped and reshaped the ever-changing physical narrative that is America, in both humble and spectacular ways.

This is our story, the story of America’s architects. It’s time to believe in, and prepare for, the success that can be ours in 2015—and beyond.

Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA
2015 President