In less than a week, delegates will be casting their votes for the future leaders of the AIA in the elections for 2016 first vice president/2017 president, treasurer, and at-large directors, which will be held at the 2015 AIA Convention in Atlanta. At this year's 2015 AIA Grassroots Leadership and Legislative Conference in March, ARCHITECT caught up with all nine candidates running in this year's elections. We asked them to pitch why registered architects should join the AIA and how the Institute will continue to communicate the profession's value to the public.

Meet the Candidates   
(responses in their own words)

2016 First Vice President/2017 President

Don Brown, FAIA (AIA Montgomery/AIA Alabama)
Membership Benefits: What’s not to like? AIA is an interesting organization that has the largest percentage of eligible professionals as members of any U.S. association. It’s a phenomenal percentage of interest because so many good people give their best to improve the practice of architecture. It’s more than just trying to sell membership; it’s creating a sense of ownership and value. There’s no aspect of practice—whether it’s in the academy, research, or outside of mainstream practice—or area of what architects do that the AIA doesn’t have a response to and variety of opportunities for those individuals to access information.

Public Awareness: The messages that we take to the public are long overdue. Our members who have taken a beating in the marketplace and in practice for several years badly want AIA to speak up. The ad campaign in our current media markets is the first step. What’s more important than the national messages that AIA produces and expertly uses broadcast media to show with the public is that our members themselves—leaders both at state and national level—speak up, stand up, and carry that message in their own spheres of influence. Every member needs to be a messenger. We talk about advocacy being 365. It’s every day.

Joe Treleven

Stephen A. Fiskum, FAIA (AIA Minneapolis/AIA Minnesota)
Membership Benefits: We’re a relatively small profession. In the U.S., we have just over 100,000 licensed architects. There are many other industries whittling away at the edges of what we do. For us to maintain a leadership position, we have to have good ideas and a strong voice. The AIA is a vehicle to not only disseminate information to our members so they have a competitive edge, but also to have a strong voice to the public and legislators. There are laws—especially as we look at changing delivery models, public-private partnerships, and different ways of financing projects—pending in certain states that could change the way some of those relationships work. We need to advocate on behalf of our profession. Fundamentally, the value that the AIA has for members, particularly young people, is a voice of advocacy. It’s a great way to share knowledge and network. I like to think of intergenerational mentoring. Late-career architects can learn from early-career architects and vice-versa. Finally, when we join an organization like AIA, we need to get involved and contribute. What I’ve found over my years at AIA is that you get out of it what you put into it. There are so many personal rewards that come from working on a committee or various leadership levels. Sometimes, it might be difficult to see direct benefits, but the indirect benefits are tremendous in terms of our careers and where we hit it off.

Public Awareness: Currently, the "I Look Up" campaign is essentially disseminated through media that certain socioeconomic groups are known to read and to watch. I would change the message so that it’s more focused on the topic of design and health. Everybody understands the importance of good health. We need to help people understand the relationship between design and health, no matter if we’re talking at a city scale, a neighborhood scale, a building, a home, whatever. Through stories that the public understands, we’ll help them have a better grasp of the real capabilities and purpose of architecture.

The stories we share need to be less about architecture as monuments, as people often perceive, but architecture as community. In doing so, we’ll attract individuals to our profession that we haven’t attracted before. In terms of the media, we need to find ways to reach people. The president has the prerogative to appoint two public members to the board. I would like to have a creative communications thought leader who can not only help craft that message, but also can tell us how to get that message out.

Thomas V. Vonier, FAIA (AIA Continental Europe)

Membership Benefits: When I joined the AIA, it was synonymous with being an architect. If you were not a member of the AIA, that meant you weren't a real architect. It’s the only professional society we have. It’s the only instrument we have to exercise the power of association, of being larger than we can be as individuals. I think that anyone who looks carefully at the caliber of men and women who join the AIA, and the quality of the work that they do as volunteers, could only conclude that it’s something they had to do if they were serious about being professional. We hear comments like, “It’s too expensive,” or “It’s not relevant to me.” I don’t think any professional can afford not to be a member of the AIA. It’s part of what it means to be a professional. The return is directly proportional to what you put into it.

Public awareness: What we do is to point to our best work and our members’ best work, which speaks for itself. I think virtually every civic leader today, mayor or city councilperson, understands the value of good design and the importance that it has in making a city livable, practical, and attractive as a tourist destination—all the things that matter in the life of cities. I think our job is to point to the best work our members do, and undertake research that advances us and moves us forward. I think the Institute is well positioned to do that and to speak with a loud voice about the value of architecture.

20162017 Treasurer

Stuart Coppedge, AIA (AIA Colorado)
Membership Benefits: I've never looked at AIA as something that I would get something out of it. I didn't join because of what I could get out of it; I joined because I thought it was important to help my profession locally in Colorado Springs. I saw the AIA as a vehicle to do that. It’s certainly one of those rising tides, floats-all-boats sort of endeavors. I've learned through the years that if I look at what I can do for the Institute, I get paid back many times over, whether it’s the relationships I've built, business connections I've developed, seeing firsthand what the Institute is able to accomplish—say, in the legislative advocacy issues on the Hill—that have come back and helped my firm. 

Public awareness: As treasurer, the responsibility will be to make sure those [public awareness] campaigns are effective and that we are nimble enough to look at things as they move forward and ask, “Are those things working? Are they not working?” I'll be involved in that. I think all of us, certainly much more the officers of the board, but all of us need to be engaged and encouraged to share the campaign, to talk to our friends, to talk to our coworkers, and get our offices engaged.

At-Large Directors

Stephen Voss

Jerome L. Eben, AIA (AIA New Jersey)
Membership Benefits: I’m responsible for probably, over the course of the years, maybe 500 young people joining the AIA. It think it’s important to join right out of school. If you're in school, you should be in AIAS, and as soon as you get out, you should join and get involved at whatever level you want. In AIA New Jersey, the first year is basically free. I believe that firms should be helping young people, because they have so many expenses, like the [ARE]. It’s not a big deal; we’re talking about an investment in the organization and in the Institute. I would be 45 years into the AIA if my first boss had been supportive. He was not supportive. My second boss was very supportive and that’s why I've been supportive ever since.

Public Awareness: I’ve been a proponent of public affairs at AIA for probably the last 30 years. I was the originator of the public affairs program in New Jersey to really put money in it and get it going. I was president in 2007. It has been very successful and I think telling our stories is what we do for the public.

L. Jane Frederick, FAIA (AIA South Carolina)
Membership Benefits: One of the biggest benefits is the [network] of colleagues with whom you can share ideas. A great example of this is the residential architecture network and all the knowledge communities are like that. You have colleagues from across the country who are not your competitors with whom you can share ideas. Sharing information doesn't just happen person to person, but that happens in the whole organization. AIA's Contract Documents are a huge benefit. The new ad campaign is a huge benefit. The research happening, the sustainability movement, the 2030 Commitment—those are all huge. We’re working on behalf of our members on big issues, but personally, if you don’t recognize that big issue, camaraderie and sharing resources is helpful too.

Public awareness: It’s really about stories. You need to tell how architecture has solved problems. In our practice, we did a project for the local mental health society. It was an apartment building and once the clients moved in, one lady said, ‘I feel like I’m out of jail, moving from a group home to my own apartment.’ Architecture does that for somebody. We also had a client call in tears because she loved her fireplace so much. All of us have those stories. We should collect those stories about how architecture makes people’s lives better.

Haley M. Gipe, Assoc. AIA (AIA San Joaquin/AIA California Council)
Membership Benefits: I'd ask what are the reservations or hesitations. That’s normally the root of someone’s conflict. There’s a perceived value that they're not getting. I would share with them my experience. For me, it’s been a place and outlet as a leader to get involved, especially as somebody who is young in her career. If you want to hone in your leadership skills, it’s a great place to do that, meet other people, and have fellowship with architects and people in the process of becoming architects. It’s a professional network that you acquire and it’s not about monetary gain—it’s about fellowship, working towards a common goal and common good, being on a committee, learning something, feeling like you've made an impact. Those are all the intangible things that I think are the most powerful aspects of AIA.

Public Awareness: Social media has been a powerful tool—at least for me personally and a lot of the constituent groups I’m involved in. I've sent the "I Look Up" campaign to marketing individuals and firms to make them aware of it. It’s a chance for firms to engage and start interfacing. The social media aspect, which is the next big wave, is really exciting. Also, hearing stories from other people who have seen the commercial is really cool. A lot of my family and friends who are not architects have told me they've seen the AIA commercial. That’s really cool. That means it’s working.

Bob Wallace

Anthony P. Schirripa, FAIA (AIA New York Chapter/AIA New York State)
Membership Benefits: My pitch would center on his practice in terms of how he feel he’s not being served by his own ability to learn. I would introduce him to the embrace of AIA, which would help him with educational tools as well as practical tools to help him grow his practice and his business with business development training. You name it—whatever skill set. To me, it’s the AIA’s mission to make sure we provide tools to our members. And, by the way, we’re willing to provide it to the rest of the profession, but my idea would be that it would be significantly more expensive for a non-member to take advantage and that would encourage them to join.

Public Awareness: The board that just concluded its term, as well as the entire board last year, authorized the Institute to proceed with the "I Look Up​" campaign and the digital transformation, a three-year program to get technology in place that can support members at every level, giving them access to both the national knowledge base and report to the local component. What you’re seeing now of the "I Look Up" ​campaign is the initial campaign, but it’s going to be a multi-year campaign with the purpose of raising public awareness of the value of architecture. I’m committed to that and happy to talk to anyone who wants to listen me espouse the value of what AIA architects bring to a project.

Nicholas McWhirter

Jennifer Workman, AIA (AIA Dallas/AIA Texas Society of Architects)
Membership Benefits: The AIA has molded me into somebody that can publicly speak and can address issues that are affecting architects within and outside of the organization. Because I've gotten leadership experience in those roles that I've played, it’s allowed me to do my job better. One of the reasons I was selected from my office to work on the Perot Museum​ [of Nature and Science] with Thom Mayne [FAIA] was because I had so much AIA experience that they knew I would represent the firm very well. That right there is probably the biggest sale point for me, but not everyone gets a Thom Mayne project in their firm. If volunteering and understanding more about what’s going on the Institute —not just in whatever silo you’re in —and making you more well-rounded is a benefit in the firm, I hope people see that as a value.

Public Awareness: Right now, they’re looking at [the "I Look Up" campaign] ​from an ephemeral standpoint, looking at it like a daydream where architects look up at some of the prettier buildings, the starchitect style. Looking forward, as they narrow down a little more of what we do, [the campaign is] not just about buildings. It’s about the planning, the space, the programming efforts to get a building are more important sometimes than what the building looks like itself. You’re trying to respond the environment that’s around. [We need to] explain what we do in the early phase and how we’re important in being leaders in collaborating with different groups. A lot of people don’t understand the amount of collaboration that goes [into architecture]​. In the first video, or Look Up segment, there’s a home on a hill in this beautiful environment that probably costs millions of dollars and they probably hired an architect to do this home, that doesn’t display the value of hiring an architect​. I think that needs to be explained in the next ones.

Check out what the candidates had to say about their goals.

See all candidate profiles here.