Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA, 2015 AIA President
Photography: Carl Bower Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA, 2015 AIA President

Three years ago, the U.S. economy was just beginning to see the first green shoots of recovery. Since that time, what had been tentative signs of hope has grown into a vigorous revival of the design and construction industry. Yet even now there are still voices counseling young people to avoid choosing architecture as a career. Is ours an obsolete profession?

No, certainly not. Faced with population growth and tremendous infrastructure needs, the world needs architects more than ever.

As the mother of two young women who chose architecture as their life’s work, I see a bright future. Their passion for making a positive difference in the world is energizing. Like many of their generation, they understand that some of the most pressing issues of the 21st century lend themselves to design thinking. The opportunities opening up almost daily to engage these issues are a profound source of their optimism—and mine.

There remain challenges, however. The first one is economic. By pursuing business as usual, the fate of our profession has been subject to the booms and busts of the business cycle. In this, it’s time to follow the lead of our emerging generation. Like them, we need to be less timid and more entrepreneurial, applying our talents in new, creative ways.

Our world is increasingly interconnected. More than one-third of financial investments are international, and this percentage will surely grow. Preparing architects to expand new services and participate in the global marketplace was the inspiration behind July’s AIA Entrepreneur Summit. This summit explored new business models that boldly and creatively leverage our skills and talents. (The sessions are available on AIAU.)

A second challenge arises from the public’s perception of architects and architecture. We enjoy a reputation higher than most professions, yet the public knows very little about what we can do. The AIA awareness campaign launched last January is increasing public attention of the relevance of architecture to such critical issues as resilience and health. But we need to ramp up these discussions by getting out of our studios and into the streets to engage the public.

The term of a single AIA president will not achieve the objective of an entrepreneurial profession broadly understood and respected for its leadership. But I am confident that we can do this together, and that those young men and women who, like my daughters, chose architecture as a career will see a golden age for their profession.