Tom Wolfe, the chief lobbyist for the American Institute of Architects (AIA), is not an architect himself—and he thinks that's a good thing. “Architects make terrible lobbyists,” says Wolfe, a 59-year-old lawyer and engineer who has been the AIA's top Washington lobbyist for the past three years. “They have their head in the clouds. All they care about is their art.”
Wolfe has had a varied career. Before joining the AIA in 2004, he represented the American Chemistry Council and Waste Management Inc., among other clients. He spent 11 years honing his lobbying skills at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries and a decade at the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, where he got an inside view of two of the federal agencies he now seeks to influence.
Lobbying for the AIA falls into two basic divisions: There are practice-related issues, like taxes, liability, and health care, and there are value issues, like sustainability, energy efficiency, and green infrastructure (some issues, such as affordable housing, cross into both categories). Wolfe and two of his colleagues, Andrew Goldberg and Tom Bergan, cover the House, Senate, and federal agencies, pushing a host of laws that are helpful—and sometimes essential—to the profession.
Last year, the team was the lead lobbyist on a successful bid to add $400 million to a massive spending bill that would try out several housing alternatives to the trailers normally used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in disaster-affected communities.
Environmental and sustainability issues—redeveloping brownfield sites, energy efficiency, and green infrastructure (which uses technologies like permeable pavements to force more rainwater into the ground, not sewers)—are important to him, Wolfe says. “The big sustainability issue this year is a federal statutory requirement that federal buildings meet a graduated series of caps on energy efficiency,” he says.
And why should architects take note? “They go through periods of intellectual ferment over particular schools of thought,” he explains. “It was Modernism in the '20s and '30s. Now people have seized on sustainability.”