I’m still kind of in shock, but in a good way. At the AIA Convention in Chicago last month, delegates voted overwhelmingly to overhaul the Institute’s national governing structure. The vote is majorly significant, and I don’t just say so because I’m the editor of the official AIA publication. The existing, roughly 50-person board is being reduced to a group of no more than 16. As a result, the AIA stands to act much more nimbly on behalf of the profession.
As with any healthy diet, it will take some time for the board to slenderize. The obsolete positions—notably the 35 regional directorships and four vice presidencies—won’t be filled when the current holders’ terms are up, a process of attrition that the AIA speculates could last as long as three years.“The board showed tremendous leadership. We have more work to do putting the new structure into place, but the overwhelming support tells me we have a mandate to move forward,” says AIA President Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA. “This is the new AIA, and I’m so proud to be a member.”
The regions get seats on a new advisory body called the strategic council. The board’s 11-person executive committee will also disband, which is no great loss because the revamped board is basically a judicious reworking of it:
1. Four officers elected by the delegates at the annual convention, namely the president and first vice president/president-elect, both for one-year terms, and the secretary and treasurer, both for two-year terms;
2. Up to eight at-large directors, three elected by the delegates and three more elected by the strategic council, all for three-year terms, plus as many as two selected by the president (subject to board approval) for terms that expire when hers or his does;
3. An associate director with a two-year term, a Council of Architectural Component Executives (CACE) director with a one-year term, and a student director; and
4. The AIA’s executive vice president/chief executive officer (EVP/CEO), who can’t vote.
According to the official AIA statement, “the strategic council’s role will be to advise (but not bind) the board” on “goals and objectives,” “public policy,” and “operation plans and budgets.” Moreover, “it can form committees and ad hoc work groups (subject to board approval), and will determine its own leadership structure.” The council is limited to 60 representatives:
1. From the board, the president, first vice president/president-elect, secretary, treasurer, and the EVP/CEO, as well as the immediate past president;
2. Approximately 35 representatives selected by region for staggered three-year terms and an international region rep with a three-year term;
3. Associate, student, and CACE reps for terms to be determined by the board; and
4. Ten at-large reps, chosen by the council to serve staggered two-year terms.
The at-large board directors and at-large council representatives can be architects, associates, students, CACE reps, or members of the public, promising greater diversity. While a majority of board members must be licensed, the unlicensed will have far greater representation as a percentage of the total voting body. That suggests a tectonic shift is occurring at the AIA. Its leaders seem to be inviting a new relationship with associate members, architectural interns, and former practitioners who, for too long, have felt like second-class professional citizens. With so many of our colleagues questioning the value of licensure and the narrow way that the title of “architect” is currently ordained, the AIA is sending them an incredibly positive message by making its governance more inclusive.
Update: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that a majority of board members could be unlicensed. We deeply regret the error.