Architecture is a profession that even in the best of timesis challenged. Who hasn’t struggled to get out of bed in the morning, knowing that the day will have more than its usual share of hard knocks, making you wonder why in the world you chose architecture as a career? I’ve been there. But if there’s one thing I’ve seen confirmed this past year, it’s how lucky we are. At a time when political, social, and economic capital is so low in much of the rest of society, ours is a profession of abundance: We speak the language and serve the forces for healing, for growing, for optimism, for caring, for beauty, and for joy.
I admit that’s not the way that architecture is typically talked about, either by the public, or, even more disturbingly, by us. The stories about our profession in today’s mass media tend to land in one of two camps: either architecture as sculpture, one-off mega projects; or the housing bubble and the collapse of the construction industry. The first has little to do with the way most of the public lives their lives; the latter is, well, just depressing. It speaks the language of poverty, and led at least one writer to describe architecture as the fifth worst career to pursue in college.
Interestingly, one of the early findings of the AIA’s current Repositioning research is that the public gives architects fairly high marks. They may not be sure what exactly we do, but they like us. Think of it this way: In our interactions with the public, we start off with something money can’t buy—respect and goodwill. The challenge is to translate the soft outline of warm and fuzzy into sharp knowledge that communicates the true value of what we can do, and are in fact doing every day.
When I ran for this office, I said I would focus on telling our story—a story about how architects and architecture touch every aspect of our lives. How our profession changes lives was the message I wanted this year’s National Convention to communicate. The words needed to be heard as much by those in attendance as those outside the convention hall. At a time when so much news is negative, didn’t we need to stop for a moment to reflect on the creativity, the caring, the hard work, the abundance of a profession that makes the divine human and the human divine? For me, this was most clearly reflected on the third and closing day of the Convention, when the “architects of healing” were honored—those extraordinary men and women who found the promise of new life in the dust of 9/11.
Next year, under the leadership of President Mickey Jacob, we will see the fruits of the research gathered by the AIA’s Repositioning initiative that was launched early last spring—the most expansive and comprehensive effort undertaken by the AIA. Having heard from many of you this past year about what today’s and tomorrow’s AIA should look like, and how the Institute can best serve the members, President Jacob, his leadership team, and the national staff will roll out a plan carefully designed to give us the resources to tell our story in the 21st century—new ways to practice, with the demographics transforming the face of our profession and the role of leadership in shaping the narrative of how architecture shapes quality environments. It’s a story that needs to be heard, if what we have to offer the public and our clients is to be valued, as it should be.
In the meantime, as this year draws to a close, I am thankful for the gift of serving a profession whose abundance has transformed so many lives, including my own. This past year is now a treasured part of my own story. Thank you.
Join our conversation at aia.org/repositioning.