William Stewart

The launch last month of AIAU is an important milestone in the AIA’s Repositioning initiative and, I would argue, for our profession. AIAU is the latest, most comprehensive way that the AIA addresses the markers of real value for members: creating and expanding the sharing of knowledge.

Before the Institute dramatically shifted gears to better serve a 21st-century profession, the AIA undertook Repositioning, an unprecedented research and assessment effort. Not just AIA members, but non-members, related design professionals, clients, and the public were asked to describe their ideal AIA. Surprisingly, lowering the dues was not high on the list of asks—although I’d be less than candid if I said the issue wasn’t raised.

Instead, the overwhelming weight of the feedback focused on real value. Those who responded painted a picture of a modern AIA that played a quarterback role in leading the profession, rather than reacting to events like a spectator in the stands—an AIA that delivered real value to today’s architects and those served by a rapidly evolving profession, not to mention the world we serve. Thankfully, the research went a long way to define what was meant by real value.

Communication was one of the standouts: communication to elevate the profession, tell our story, and to demystify a profession respected by the public—but in truth hardly known, if known at all. Of course, advocacy on behalf of the profession was right up there, running a close second. And the fact that members identify knowledge as key to their investment in the AIA is not surprising. After all, the gathering and sharing of knowledge was a decisive driver that led to the creation of the AIA over 157 years ago during the first Industrial Revolution. Then, as now, architects were challenged by breathtaking advancements in technology and research that directly affected design and practice. The profession’s survival called for a collective approach.

But I believe something even more fundamental than survival is revealed about our profession in its never-quite-satisfied passion for the most up-to-date knowledge about the what, why, and how of design and practice. This desire to continue learning is what keeps us sharp and relevant as a profession. Henry Ford captured the essence of life-giving curiosity when he said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”

And this brings me to the significance of AIAU in keeping us youthfully nimble, creative, and innovative as a profession. New knowledge gives us the freedom to wander. By challenging the familiar and accepted wisdom, knowledge opens up new horizons. Indeed, it’s the divine spark of every art and science. Giving us easy, cost-effective access to the resources needed to prosper is further evidence of a repositioned AIA. It’s also a tacit admission that we will never know all that needs to be known about the career path we have chosen. Admitting our need to continually learn and relearn speaks not only to our curiosity, but also to our deep passion for our profession. As Julia Child once said, “You’ll never know everything about anything, especially something you love.”

Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA
2014 President