William Stewart

In thinking about a quotation to open what will be the first of many conversations with Architect readers, I considered several possibilities: “The best of times, the worst of times,” “Every­thing starts somewhere,” and “Coming together is a beginning.” This last quote is from Henry Ford, who went on to say: “Keeping together is progress; working together is success.” I almost went with Ford. Yet, as much as his message speaks to me as a citizen and an architect, I took a different tack. Progress—and the consequences of inertia—nails why we need to embrace change.

Change can be unsettling. It pushes us out of our comfort zones. On the other hand, whether you’re a sole practitioner, a large firm, or even the AIA, limping along with the status quo is a sure ticket to being left in the dust. During my candidacy for AIA President, I spoke of the need for a vital transformation of our profession. In the face of a global economy, the impact of new technologies on doing business, the different social values of emerging professionals, and the pressing challenges of the 21st century, realigning our own professional culture is the best hope we have to build a preferred future, one in which we’re seen as relevant, even essential. And that means being open to change.

If there was any positive outcome of what has come to be called the Great Recession, it’s that the unrequested downtime forced many of us—including the AIA—to take a long, hard, and probably overdue look at what we were doing and how that squared with the challenges of a modern practice. Although not the only reason for a critical look in the mirror, it surely influenced the launching two years ago of the AIA’s Repositioning Initiative.

In the initial and comprehensive research phase, members were quite candid that the AIA of their parents was not the AIA that best served the changing needs of today’s profession. Members want more attention paid to elevating public awareness of the value of their work in such areas as health, resiliency, productivity, and sustainability; more innovative and ahead-of-the-curve resources to foster successful business practices; more energy devoted to advocacy on behalf of the profession at every level of government; and more visionary leadership on behalf of the profession at large—all the while making the smartest and most cost-effective use of their investment in the AIA.

I begin my year as AIA President with the knowledge that real progress is being made on many fronts—new strategic partnerships with the likes of the Clinton Global Initiative, the Rockefeller Foundation, and MIT; new practice resources such as the Foresight Report (free to AIA members); and movement on the issue of how we govern ourselves toward the end of building a more nimble organization capable of making the best uses of member resources.

Our calling is to help make the world a better place. I’m eager to be your spokesperson, to carry that message into every arena in which decisions are made about the shape of our communities and the quality of life of those who live and work there. But I can’t be everywhere at once. That’s why I’m counting on each one of you, individually, collaboratively, and through the AIA, to elevate the public’s understanding and appreciation of the value of architects and architecture. Successfully communicating that message is essential to unleashing the full power of design.

Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA, 2014 President