The Future and Foresight of the American Institute of Architects

I have returned from AIA Convention 2013 with enthusiasm and encouragement. Repositioning has begun and the leadership has clearly been listening to the members of the profession.

Firm Stategies
The Foresight Report is Encouraging

Unfortunately, very little referencing the business of architecture was presented on stage by AIA leadership. When I met AIA CEO Robert Ivy later that same day and asked specifically why Repositioning neglected my favorite topic, he quickly referred me to the AIA Foresight Report.

Upon reading the report, I was very happy to see that the first section of report is indeed titled, Firm Strategies: The Business of Architecture (huzzah!). The 34 page AIA Foresight Report describes an overview of the initiative, presents near term trends effecting the profession and summarizes the general direction that the AIA Repositioning initiative is headed.

If you are an AIA member, you may download a free copy of the report here. Unfortunately, non-members must pay $24.99* for the digital download.

We have seen renewed focus on small firms by the AIA recently, but unfortunately the newly touted report is missing a section specifically directed toward sole proprietors and small firm architects. There are few references to these members or the critical necessity to provide low-level, fundamental business resources and assistance to struggling small firm leaders. If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know that I feel this single issue is a key component to the crisis we are experiencing as small firm architects.

I look forward to seeing the results of this massive effort of research and data gathering performed for the AIA. The current leadership is clearly committed to making the changes necessary for our profession’s survival. I applaud their effort and stand behind them with my full support. The AIA Foresight Report is not intended to be “the plan”, but after reading the document I am generally encouraged by its content. My hope though, is that as Repositioning commences and progress is made, the small firm architect is not left behind… again.

I encourage you to obtain a copy of the AIA Foresight Report yourself and let me know what YOU think.

*Just a quick end-note: AIA has made a mistake by charging non-members for this document. The organization is seeking to send the message that they represent all American architects, members or not. They are clearly attempting to convince Architects who may have recently abandoned ship to reconsider their decision. The single document specifically intended to present the many reasons why they should return to the organization should not only be free to every architect; it should be hand delivered to each non-member in the nation.


The image above is a clip of the title from Section 1 from The Foresight Report presented by the American Institute of Architects.


  1. says

    Your end note is precisely why I remain skeptical and am not ready to rejoin the AIA. I may have downloaded the report for $5.00 but $25.00 really does send a bad message. They NEVER seemed to understand how tight money tends to be in a small firm struggling to survive.

    • Mark says

      It will be interesting to see if they receive our message here and decide to give the report away to all architects.

      If they were smart, it would be free for an email address and confirmation of membership or not. It would give the organization a list of non-member architects actively interested in what the AIA has to say… and an email address so they could start a dialogue with those non-members directly. I would think that is worth much more than the $25.00.

      Don’t worry… I won’t hold my breath.

  2. says

    Analysis Paralysis.
    Leadership has to SAVE the profession. They have not done this.
    They need to go to Washington and sit on the steps of Congress until the message is clear that the construction industry has been decimated by this recession, especially architects.
    Architects have lost nearly everything they worked for in the last 20 years and are in deep debt like never before in order to stay alive.
    The government must SAVE architects as they did the auto industry and banking.
    We are not asking for handouts, we need developers and individuals to INVEST in America and start building again.
    That means banks must start lending again. That means that jobs can be kicked up and the tens of millions that support construction, directly and indirectly, can get back to work.
    The AIA has been NEGLIGENT. They act as if they support the current economic policy. They should be railing against it. Out with them all. This is not about philosophy, this is about SURVIVAL. DO SOMETHING AIA LEADERSHIP! DO SOMETHING.

  3. Bonnie says

    So glad you were there to represent the rest of us. I’ve gone to the convention almost every year for the past 7 years, but lat year I found the programming to be completely useless. Since I was on my firms dime, I didn’t mind. There was no way I was going to spend money on it this year, now that I’m out in my own.

    • Mark says

      AIA Colorado did a great job. I was impressed with the quality of the presentations and the organization of the event in general. As with any large event, they had some glitches here and there, but overall an excellent show.

      • says

        What sole proprietor can afford to attend the national AIA convention when it’s not in their own local area? Seriously. The AIA, for the $600 to $700 yearly total dues should INCLUDE free convention attendance and the accommodations should be included. What have we been paying for, other that the DC lobbying (for which I am grateful, but does that cost $60M a year?).

    • Mark says

      Late night post Randy… thanks. I caught it too, as well as many others. Thanks for letting me know. I appreciate it.

  4. says

    I applaud your effort to engage the AIA for discussion and leadership regarding small firms and sole practitioners. But frankly, you are barking up the wrong tree. The AIA has shown time and time again that they simply don’t care about the little guys. However, you have shown very clearly that you do care and that you are prepared to help. Please continue to blaze your own bold path. We will follow- with or without the AIA.

    • Mark says

      Have no fear Marcus. This path is all mine. I do support what the AIA is attempting, but I too am skeptical. Entrepreneur Architect is and will always be independent and stand for success in architecture for small firms and sole proprietors.

    • says

      This is changing, and it will only speed up in the years to come. The older establishment is getting, well, old. They are retiring and a younger, enthusiastic diverse group is moving into leadership roles. Rather than put down the organization we need people who are dissatisfied to get MORE involved. Take control of the situation and lead the AIA in the direction you think it needs to go. Ignoring it only fractures the power of a unified voice for all architects.

      • says

        Lucas: the AIA has been around 157 years. If you think that because you and some others are simply younger than some others, that you are going to make a clean sweep and redo everything in that long standing organization, “when all the old guys die” you are being naive. We thought the same thing when we and tens of millions of other baby-boomers ushered in the sunshine of a new generation. And I suspect that that generation had many more millions of people behind it than yours. Guess what? Big business, Washington DC and many other things are still the way they used to be. And we tried. And still are.
        Time for a new Architect’s organization. It is foolish to believe, that after a century and a half, that the AIA is going to turn an about face because you and a few other newbies believe it should. I should know: been there; done that: for over 25 years. Voice of experience.
        Oh: the new residential Architect’s organization; ArCH: Architects Creating Homes. It DOES have a new viewpoint, because it IS new and is no longer trying to change an aging, fixed institution like the AIA. But I wish you well and hope that if you chose to continue to bang your head against the wall that you can come away from that with nothing more than a headache.

        • says

          Unfortunately, Rand is correct about new blood. This is a group that looks after its best interests, which is the commercial sector and large firms.
          It is obvious that all the research, committees, papers, etc. have not ameliorated in one bit the current recession’s effects on too many of us who have lost nearly everything and are deeper in debt than ever before.
          Leadership is elected to represent the whole. There have always been smaller firms than large and these are the ones that are suffering, that are nearly wiped out at this point.
          I don’t really care how many firms are using BIM, who the current starcitects, and any raw data of anything in between.
          It is too late, leadership has done nothing that effectively saved its membership.
          Like the IRS it has whittled away resources and must go.

      • Kyle McAdams, AIA says


        As a somewhat older guy in the AIA (age 50) I would like to say “welcome” and “let’s do it”.

  5. Kyle McAdams, AIA says

    These are all fair comments, and we are working hard to change things. It’s not easy, but it is an energizing challenge, and we know we have to succeed. I’ve been a member for 22 years, and worked at the AIA for only four. I know what the real world of business is like…inside of architecture and outside. I came back to work here to help make change, and you all may not see it yet, but I do. Keep the pressure on us, and change will continue. And keep supporting Mark and this great EntreArchitect platform. I find it to be one of the best resources to engage directly with the REAL profession (and the real business) of Architecture.

    • Mark says

      Thanks Kyle. I appreciate your work and you personal endorsement of what we’re doing here at Entrepreneur Architect.

      For anyone who doesn’t know who Kyle is, he’s the Managing Director, Marketing & Business Development for AIA National. He is a friend, an ally of Entrepreneur Architect and the best link we have to influencing AIA from the outside. When we make our opinions heard here at EntreArchitect, it is Kyle who is listening and making our opinions heard at AIA National.

      • says

        What has Kyle or any member of the AIA done to save the profession over the last 5 years?
        What have they proposed to Congress or the President? Have they petitioned any members of Congress to indicate how terribly decimated the architects are in this country and what isi being done to ameliorate this situation?

        • says

          I agree with John Henry’s comments. I was a member of the AIA off and on for over 25 years and never got a single project because of anything they did. Everything I have received in my architecture business is a result of what I have done, God and some good clients. The AIA does not fund licensed Architects who design homes. Not even CRAN, at my last checking with them. Out of the 60+ million $ the AIA takes in each year, Local, State & National, it is disgraceful that NONE of those millions goes to help those small firms that form the backbone of our profession, particularly those that design houses. That’s why I left the AIA last year and formed ArCH: Architects Creating Homes:
          Check it out, if you’re looking for an option to the high-priced spread. ArCH is composed entirely of licensed Architects who primarily practice residential architecture. About time. Since most small architectural firms design homes, those of you reading this who have had enough of the AIA’s pricing and policies that appear to ignore the small firms may want to reconsider where you spend your dues and how much. We encourage Architects to belong to whatever organization feeds them. That’s the question: are you being fed right now?

        • Kyle McAdams, AIA says


          We have a staff of about 15-20 professionals in our Government and Community Relations group who work tirelessly to lobby congress, the whitehouse, community and local leadership nationwide for the good of the profession and industry. You can get some updates at…here is the link if interested:

          As for myself, just less than five years ago, I came to work for the AIA for the very purpose of trying to effect positive change at the organization and for the profession. I read this and other blogs regularly, and try to support theses voices (like Mark’s) to help impact change. Progress is slow, but I have seen change, and I see the industry picking up. I’m optimistic about the future.

          I would ask yourself what you can do for your business and the profession…you can make the biggest impact on ameliorating this situation. Entrepreneurs have the biggest impact on our economy and our industry. I’ll continue to seek the tools that can help our entrepreneur members. What you can do to help me is keep me updated on what real data, research, technological advances etc. that I can seek to make available to you, so that you can be a more effective entrepreneur architect.

          • says

            Hello Kyle, I realize your response was to John, but if I may, I’d like to answer you. What you and the AIA can do to allow all of us small firm Architects who design houses to be more effective entrepreneurs, is for the AIA to CONTINUOUSLY publish posts and videos and social media information that bombards the public with good and useful information explaining the value of an Architect and how everyone should want to have an Architect design their home. I personally do this on my own website, and I am also introducing the Value of an Architect series to the ArCH website (Architects Creating Homes). It did not take me long to figure out that over the 100 year lifetime of a home, that the built-in common sense things most Architects design into a house can not only save More than the home Architect’s fee, they can save the Entire original cost of the house over its lifetime, due to reduced maintenance, healthier environment, reduced utility bills and other advantages. THE PUBLIC AT LARGE HAS NO UNDERSTANDING THAT ARCHITECTS CAN HELP THEM SAVE MONEY and that it makes good business sense to engage an Architect to design their homes. This message is Not getting through, which is why so many of us are in the present financial situation. THAT is what you and the AIA can do to help. Will you?

          • Kyle McAdams, AIA says

            Excellent feedback Rand, and I think anecdotally, we all agree and know that what you are saying is true. The challenge is in the data to provide the proof point, besides being common sense. What hard data do you have or know of that we can leverage? Also, as Mark and others who have read me on this blog before know, I am seeking the holy grail of a financial services provider willing to develop a construction loan product that includes the architect’s fee in it. I believe the architect’s expense becomes significantly less of an issue if we weren’t an up-front, large sum fee to the homeowner, but rather could have our fee paid by the loan, but the homeowner would only be on the hook for a monthly payment, that included us AND all of the other expenses that nobody seems to notice (like contractor).

          • says

            Hello Kyle,
            Here are just a few of the financial information benefits derived from Architects designing client homes, from my own website recent postings. Surely the AIA, with its tens of millions of $ in dues each year can do better than me:

            And I will continue this VALUE OF AN ARCHITECT series, adding more online articles, with more financial analyses int he future. It is high time that the AIA did the same and used data from sources like Harvard and other data mines to help educate the public that Architects SAVE them money. And that anyone would be crazy Not to have an Architect design their home. THAT’S the message that needs to be getting out there that is not. WE NEED WORK. And by us getting work, we will be helping provide Health, Safety and Welfare for the public, as we were trained to provide.

          • Edward Shannon says

            And when the AIA does try to promote residential architects – through brochures, publications, award programs, etc. they seem bent on presenting only the avant-garde, i.e Euro-boxes that can only be constructed by a commercial contractor. While we architects are inspired by some of this, it sends the homeowner running from the architect to the builder and his unlicensed designer!

            To reiterate what one of the CRAN officers directed to the AIA: “Stop celebrating Architecture, Stop celebrating the (rock star) Architect. Start celebrating the PROCESS OF WORKING WITH A LICENSED ARCHITECT!

          • Kyle McAdams, AIA says

            Agree with you Edward…but I would say let’s celebrate the BENEFIT of working with an Architect, not the process. Consumers buy the benefit, not the process. Better light, better circulation, more cost-effctive, hassle-free, higher quality construction, lower maintenance, etc. To a consumer, the process sounds horriffic. If anything, they would see the benefit being that the process effectivly goes away when you have an architect running the show. “Process-free”, or “worry-free” are compelling benefits that people will pay for.

          • Edward Shannon says

            I know we’re talking semantics here Kyle, but….There is a benefit to going through the design process with an architect. Architects tend to ask the right questions. The CAD guys at the lumber yard typically do not! Many of the things you state would have to be quantified too, i.e. “Better construction” How does one measure that?

            I’ll give more thought to Benefit and Process – articulating what these mean.

          • Kyle McAdams, AIA says

            Edward, there is a benefit to going through the process with an Architect. But the process is not the benfit. There are in fact lots of benefits…Peice of Mind, Less Risk, Better Building Performance, Higher Quality of life, etc.

            What I’ve learned through our AIA repositioning (yes, there’s that word again, I know) research is that one major disconnect between architects and potential client is that we DO in fact focus too much on the process (because we are designers, we highly value the design process) but the consumer could care less about the process, and if we try to sell them on the process, we lose them.

            Yoou don’t see builders/contractors focusing on process. You see them stress convenience, time-saving, money saving (albeit that’s debatable), etc. These are easy-to-grasp concepts that consumers value. We have to convince them that using an architect has stronger benefits…more valuable. We are working on that message at the AIA level, but it won’t matter if architects themselves aren’t communicating the same way.

            Always communicate whats in it for the customers, why should they care?..
            .if it dish washing liquid = cuts through the grease (Dawn).
            If it’s insurance = Proctects you from Mayhem (Allstate)
            If it’s toothpaste = Fights cavities (Crest)
            If it’s investments = Empowering the investor (Charles Schwab)

            Consumers tell us the most valued benefit an architect provides is the peice of mind that their (the client’s) vision is being translated into reality and that the process is worry-free — the client knows his/her interest is being looked after by an expert advisor. They do not see it ending at design, but rather as one continuous process until they occupy the building.

          • Kyle McAdams, AIA says


            I don’t disagree with you, but this information is not data. These are “what-if” assumption analyses. While they are rational and very logically and thoroughly carried through, these are not representing a cumulative aggregation of real-world, actual completed projects. THAT is the silver bullet. While you have a solid argument, you do not have a proof-point. While you and I may not agree with what a contractor might say about the “uncesessary expense” of using an architect, he could probably write his own view that would be different from ours.

            What I really seek is the proof…like say, a home building project is x% more likely to stay on budget with an architect than without one based on 1,000 home building projects nationawide over a 12 month period based on actual data. Nobody can argue with it…it is a fact. That is what I mean by data. I think my hypothesis (and yours) is probably correct here, but I don’t have the data to prove it.

            Your argument is strong, but it’s anecdotal based on your experience, not on real, broad-based, statistically significant project data. Where can we get the real data that can make this an air-tight proof point of value? NAHB? They probably have it, but i doubt they would ever share it. Can you think of some other promising sources…if so, please share and let’s go get it!

          • says

            Surely the yearly $60M+ in Local, State and National dues buys the AIA DOING THEIR OWN RESEARCH. Do you really mean to lean on individual architects, like me, as the source of your information? I gave you several examples of what I AM DOING. I suggested that the AIA do its own research, using Harvard and other impeccable sources of data. We all have paid over a billion $ to the AIA in dues during the last couple of decades, surely that buys us some data research within the paid organization. You don’t need to be asking me. The AIA needs to conduct its own research. PLEASE.

          • Kyle McAdams, AIA says

            Rand, we do indeed do a ton of research. We just haven’t been able to crack the code on that kind of construction data because we haven’t found it to exist yet. If Harvard had the data, we would use their research capabilities.

            We are working with MIT, we are working with Reed Construction Data, but the simple answer is that there is no one recepticle for the data yet. It’s not like there is a scanner on every project that tracks architect involvement (or no involvement), the materials, the methods, the budget and subsequent budget overruns and potential legal complications after the fact.

            I was only saying that if you knew of something that already exist, where we could in fact pay for the data with some of our 60+ million, let me know, seriously. We’ll put money towards it. But we haven’t found it yet, but we are working on lots of possibilities (and funding research of all kinds)…it’s just not here yet. There is no integrated data-gathering yet, but we are getting closer.

          • says

            I just took a quick look on the link on the AIA Advocacy.
            I am appalled.
            We have lost 30-40% of our businesses in this recession.
            It has been 5 years.

          • says

            What John Henry just wrote about what has the AIA been doing about our losing 40% of our business (more like 90% with the small firms I’ve had discussions with), is what prompted a group of licensed Architect to start a new organization: ArCH: Architects Creating Homes. This new professional organization seeks to help residential Architects thrive. That is the main mission, along with improving the practice of residential Architecture. The AIA isn’t doing this and doesn’t even fund its residential side. Even though ArCH is presently small, at least ALL dues are used to help residential Architects. Think about it. More of the same? Ever try to turn an aircraft carrier? It takes miles. Or something entirely new, composed of the same people that practice the sort of architecture that you do?

  6. Marc says

    I totally agree with your last comment. It is hard enough for small businesses to keep the doors open in the present economy and this clearly shows that the AIA continues to remain out of touch with the profession.

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