Thomas Vonier, FAIA, 2017 AIA President
Photography: Carl Bower Thomas Vonier, FAIA, 2017 AIA President

After a rocky start to the year, most members once again see AIA as speaking for their interests and representing their values. We have stood our ground on issues of profound concern: global climate accords, national spending priorities, immigration policies, and the environment.

But we’re not finished defending our interests—far from it—and we’re still not at the forefront of important public policy discussions. National infrastructure spending and a host of social and environmental issues demand our attention and our influence.

AIA’s public outreach work has shifted from having an emphasis on custom residential design to addressing broad issues of design and civic engagement. We need to put more of an impetus on public investments—in libraries, schools, hospitals, city halls, recreation centers, public parks, and police, fire, and rescue facilities. These are the places and buildings that elevate all lives.

This year, we have stepped up the Institute’s investments in issues of social equity. Our profession’s future demographic profile—in terms of gender, age, ethnicity, and income levels—is now a matter of permanent, board-level concern. We are also making strides in research, identifying knowledge requirements, and reinforcing a network of organizations with strong research capabilities.

And we face another constant need: to remind members that the American Institute of Architects belongs to us—to the men and women who subscribe to its ethical canons, volunteer for its work, and, literally, pay its dues.

We, the stakeholders, must control what we own. To obtain the greatest benefit from our Institute, we must all take interest in its operations, in the value and outcomes of its programs, and in the nature of its expenditures. Yes, that duty is entrusted to our elected officers and board of directors, but only by knowing how funds are used can members know if their organization is transparent, accountable, and on the right track.

That is why we have opened the books wider, so to speak—making our IRS Form 990 more easily available, publishing strategic planning documents, and expanding the period and scope of budget reviews. The budget and operating plan are now the business of the entire board, rather than just a small subcommittee.

We have expanded opportunities for members to engage with the board and the Strategic Council—to strengthen connections between members, their elected representatives, and the bodies that shape and direct the Institute’s activities. The AIA presidency offers a platform that I have tried to use to ensure that our organization better serves its two core missions: to stimulate demand for architecture everywhere in society and to improve our capacity to deliver.

We are also taking new steps to ensure that resources are shared between the national organization and our component organizations. Better collaboration will reduce competition for sponsors, member dues, and continuing-education revenues. Architecture centers—our most effective public outreach vehicles, now numbering more than 30 nationwide—need to share programming, with the full support of our national resources.

Many architects in the United States and elsewhere are currently enjoying a prolonged period of ample work, near-full employment, and even a share of prosperity. This year, we also established a new chapter outside of the country this year, and it’s our largest: AIA Canada now joins the AIA International Region and chapters in the United Kingdom, Europe, Hong Kong, Japan, Shanghai, and the Middle East.

AIA is strong. With record levels of membership, extraordinary reach, and new resolve, we are poised to use the power of our association for the good of society and the profession. To do that, we need the full participation all of our members—informed, determined, engaged.