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

Creativity, passion, vision, and mission drive each one of us architects to do our very best. The public appreciates our work and Look Up, the AIA’s public awareness campaign, is transforming that appreciation into an understanding of the architect’s value.

But to ensure a profession that is robust and sustainable, and one that can weather the ups and downs of business cycles, we must think in new ways about the economics of our work. Our profession needs to attract and retain the best and the brightest. As AIAS president Danielle Mitchell, Assoc. AIA, says, “Students today are looking to do good and to do well.” It’s a phrase borrowed from the public interest design movement, but it’s also a phrase that can guide the profession. It is our obligation to the next generation to build a profession that both has plenty of earning potential and positively impacts our communities.

The natural extension of this mission is to focus on value—converting our expertise and work into revenue, and converting local and global challenges into opportunities. We must be as good with business thinking as we are with design thinking. A business without profit cannot sustain itself to do good work. Competing effectively in a service industry depends on education, experience, expertise, and commitment—qualities that architects can marshal for the best possible result no matter how large or small the project, and no matter how wealthy or impoverished the client or community.

Architects are highly skilled professionals; they can and should be highly valued. In this global market, it is imperative that we continue to demonstrate our expertise and ensure that architecture continues to be a viable field. Knowledge is the currency of the 21st century, and building a knowledge base within architecture is just as critical as building a client base within firms—from solo practitioners to international powerhouses.

However, none of these efforts will mean much if we cannot support our workforce. A talent pipeline for the 21st century demands an integrated approach to education, licensure, and firm culture as well as a supportive professional community. Human capital is necessary to build that community just as financial capital is necessary to realize architecture’s greatest aspirations: that architects can improve our world, one project at a time; that architects can leverage their unique training and expertise to thrive, even in uncertain economic times; and that architects are global citizens and local businesspeople who can affect positive change at any scale.