AIA President Kimberly Dowdell
AIA AIA President Kimberly Dowdell

Amidst the backdrop of Washington D.C., Kimberly Dowdell, the 2024 President of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and Director of Strategic Relationships at HOK, delivered an inspiring address at the AIA’s Annual Conference. As the 100th president, her speech "The Courage to Care" not only commemorated a century of architectural progress but also marked a crucial juncture for the future of the profession.

Dowdell's keynote was steeped in the rich history of the AIA, established in 1857, just 81 years after the United States declared independence. She drew parallels between the foundational aspirations of the country and those of the AIA, which she described as still part of the "Great American Experiment" initiated by the likes of George Washington. According to Dowdell, both the country and the profession were set up as experiments aimed at enhancing human happiness—a theme she revisited throughout her discourse.

Reflecting on the historical roots and rapid global expansion of the AIA, she highlighted the critical junctures at which the field of architecture stands today—from the urgent need to address the climate crisis and improve diversity within the profession to reevaluating compensation structures and embracing technological advancements like artificial intelligence. Her message was clear: the profession must harness courage to forge a future that honors its legacy while boldly addressing modern-day demands.

The core of her message addressed the urgent need to recalibrate the architectural profession to face contemporary challenges such as climate change, diversity, and compensation equity. "As architects, we are positioned to do some of the most fulfilling work imaginable," Dowdell stated, highlighting a discrepancy between the potential for job satisfaction and the current state of the profession.

She emphasized the significance of embracing new technologies such as artificial intelligence, not as a threat but as a tool to enhance the work of architects and support sustainable practices. The profession's compensation strategies, she argued, must be adjusted to reflect the true cost of architectural education and the value architects bring to their clients and communities. “We get to choose, if we will leverage the power of Artificial Intelligence to enhance our work instead of threatening our very existence,” she said. “It is up to us to decide.”

Kimberly Dowdell is the 2024 AIA President and HOK’s strategic relationships director.