This has been a transformational year that has left no aspect of our lives untouched. Work, school, family time, economic security, travel, politics—it’s all been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.

We all long to return to normal. At the same time, the historic events of 2020 have demonstrated, in vivid and urgent ways, that we can and must do better than “normal.” For too many, the status quo means discrimination and injustice. For African American, Hispanic, Indigenous, and other historically marginalized communities, we can no longer deny that “normal” isn’t safe. It isn’t healthy. It isn’t fair.

When it comes to the climate, normal has meant ever-increasing greenhouse gas emissions, rising temperatures and sea levels, and escalating severe weather threats. Devastating wildfires on the West Coast and a record-breaking hurricane season on the Gulf Coast illustrate the urgency of the crisis.

It’s time for a new normal. As a profession that literally builds the future, it is up to all of us to ensure that the new normal is more healthy, equitable, sustainable, and resilient for everyone, everywhere.

In 2019, we voted to do that by marshalling all our resources toward tackling climate change. In 2020, moved by the outcry for justice after the killing of George Floyd, we pledged to pursue racial equity—in our association, in our profession, and in the communities we build—with the same urgency.

This pledge to take action on these critical issues is a natural extension of our professional responsibility to secure public health, safety, and welfare. It’s also a groundbreaking shift.

When I was inaugurated last December as AIA president, I quoted climate activist Rebecca Solnit’s inspiring words: “Don’t ask what will happen. Be what happens.”

I couldn’t be prouder of the way AIA members have exemplified that axiom, answering this year’s challenges with leadership and action.

From the early days of the pandemic, firms contributed resources and 3D printing technology to produce protective masks. Special AIA task forces took action to coordinate with public officials on safely adapting existing buildings into health facilities—issuing expert guidance that was distributed by the State Department.

Through our Reopening America initiative, AIA members have continued to contribute—developing design strategies to protect frontline workers and residents of senior living facilities and high-density housing, and giving guidance for safely reopening public spaces like businesses and schools when it’s safe to do so.

With its disproportionate impact on communities of color, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated, yet again, the fundamental inequity pervading our society— an untenable reality that demands action.

In close consultation with our colleagues in the National Organization of Minority Architects, AIA is pursuing progress on a number of fronts: participating in the NAACP 2020 Opportunity & Diversity Report Card to hold ourselves accountable; reevaluating our Honors & Awards programs to identify unintentional biases and eliminate barriers to recognition; redoubling efforts to support students at historically Black colleges and universities, and encourage future architects from K–12 students to emerging professionals; and providing the leadership necessary to build more healthy, just, and equitable communities.

Despite this year’s challenges, our urgent climate work has continued—and achieved important milestones. We released a new Climate Action Plan, revamped the Framework for Design Excellence, and adopted a new AIA Materials Pledge. AIA’s 2030 Commitment recorded its best year ever—with a record number of signatories achieving record reduction in predicted energy use intensity.

Our Blueprint for Better campaign, launched in October, ties it all together—providing architects with the tools and resources to build communities that are more sustainable, equitable, healthy, and just. Through this campaign and others, we’re inviting the public, civic leaders, and allies to join us. It’s all backed by a visionary strategic plan that underlines AIA’s commitment and maps out a path to progress.

This is the kind of meaningful work that prompted the American Society of Association Executives to name AIA among the “100 Associations That Will Save the World” in 2020.

The world has certainly changed this year. And it’s safe to say some of those changes will be lasting. Will they be for the better? It’s up to all of us to ensure that they are. As a profession, we’ve never been more focused and equipped to do our part.