The recent recession has been tough on the architecture profession. For the past five years many of us have been struggling to survive. We’ve taken the work we could get and reduced our expenses to the absolute minimum.
As we crawl out from the darkness, the warm sunshine of a recovering economy feels so good. Even though our boards are beginning to fill, the pain of survival is lingering. Many small businesses, including many small architecture firms, after years of finding ways to keep the doors open are succumbing to the years of economic instability and calling it quits.
For those of us who have made it through the storm have emerged with a new perspective. The days of pre-recession spending are unlikely to return any time soon. Money is short, debt is heavy and recovery is the primary focus. We’re spending only what needs to be spent to build a stronger firm… and much sacrifice remains.
Small Firm Architects Are Saying Good Bye to the AIA
Many of my friends are evaluating their professional priorities. If they feel an expense is unnecessary or not earning them a significant return on investment, it’s being cut from their budgets. One such investment seeing the axe is their long-time memberships to the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
The Value of My Own AIA Membership
I’ve been a proud member of the American Institute of Architects since 1996. I started with the organization as an associate member and became the Associate Director for my local New York Westchester Hudson Valley chapter that same year. I volunteered to design, develop and launch the chapter’s first website long before many members fully understood the importance of having an online presence.
Even as a young intern architect, before I even knew what Continuing Education Units were, I understood the value of the AIA. The opportunities presented to me as a young professional to meet influential members of the profession and to hone my networking skills with friendly faces was an invaluable experience that has stayed with me to this day.
Later, as I earned my credentials and became a licensed architect, many more advantages became evident. My local chapter is very active and is supported by an enthusiastic full time Executive Director. A dedicated board of directors organize monthly events providing the continuing education we all need. If we attend each monthly meeting, our CEU requirements are covered for the year.
The chapter also offers a student scholarship supported by an annual golf outing and special events such as tours of local homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and Marcel Breuer.
I know not all AIA members benefit from local chapters as exemplary as ours. If you are seeking a model on which to base your chapter’s success, I encourage you to come visit and see what they’re doing here in New York’s lower Hudson Valley.
I Have Always Found a Way
I disagree with my fellow architect friends abandoning the AIA. Even through the toughest of times, I have kept my membership paid and intact. It has not be easy. During the months when we saw zero revenue, that five hundred dollars would have been helpful to keep the lights on. Fortunately though, we always found a way to survive and continued receiving the benefits of membership.
I agree that five hundred dollars is a whole bunch of money, but truthfully my membership dues hardly show up on my annual expense report. Compared to payroll, rent, health insurance and auto expenses, my AIA membership is less than a single blip on the radar. In my mind, my membership dues are worth every penny.
The AIA Will Not Save Us
I don’t believe the AIA will save the profession. If you ask me, that’s our job.
An organization as large as the American Institute of Architects, takes massive effort and years of time to make meaningful change. The vision among consecutive leaders much remain consistent year after year. Although, I believe that all good intentions exist, it’s unlikely that the current plans for change will survive future leadership.
I do hope that as the organization evolves, executes the Repositioning initiative and that more focus is directed toward the small firm architect. I will not be waiting around for that change to happen though. I believe that it will be the collective efforts of the independent small firms that will make the difference. As we develop our firms to become stronger small businesses and we take matters in our own hands to succeed as architects, the entire profession will be strengthened.
7 Reasons Why Small Firm Architects Should NOT Abandon the AIA
Even with the work that needs to be done to become an organization that truly represents ALL of it’s members, the benefits of membership for small firm architects is still worth the annual dues. If you are considering allowing your membership to lapse, below are a few reasons I think you should reconsider.
1. AIA Convention
Last year I was invited to attend and speak at AIA Convention in Denver. It was my first AIA Convention as a member and it will certainly not be my last. I am scheduled to attend Convention again this year in Chicago and I am looking forward to connecting with many of you.
The convention is a great place to learn about new products and absorb much knowledge from the many speakers. For me, the best part of Convention is the personal connection I make with other architects. I have met many new friends since relaunching Entrepreneur Architect and Convention has given me the opportunity to meet many of them in person, reinforcing our relationships and helping me grow as a professional.
As small firm architecture evolves and we begin to support one another in the name of mutual success, it will be these connections that will be most valuable to us all.
2. AIA KnowledgeNet
AIA forum such as Small Project Practitioners (SPP) KnowledgeNet and the Custom Residential Architects Network (CRAN), are smaller member groups that are doing much of the same community building that we are doing here at Entrepreneur Architect. With AIA support, these groups have the opportunity to develop public relations campaigns such as CRAN’s recent video series designed to educated the general public on the benefits of working with licensed architects.
3. CEU Transcript Support
As a member, I am not required to organize and record my CEU transcript. That’s covered by membership as well. New York State requires rather significant continuing education for license renewal, so having AIA manage my transcript is one less task that requires my limited attention.
4. AIA Contract Documents
AIA Contract Documents have become the industry standard legal agreements for the construction industry. There is no doubt that these documents have become a major revenue generator for the organization, but that does not take away the value these documents present to us as small businesses.
As an added value to our clients at Fivecat Studio, we offer to furnish and prepare the Owner/Contractor Agreement for each of our projects. We offer this as an additional service, charge for the additional time and are reimbursed for the cost of the document.
5. AIA Small Firms Resource Center
Last year, as a direct result of small firms pushing back at the organization, the AIA responded by preparing a separate page on their website dedicated to small firms. It’s called the Small Firms Resource Center. The page contains all the products and services that the AIA provides to its small firm members. When I am looking for a specific resource from AIA, it’s the first page I visit.
6. The Public Recognizes AIA as “Architect”
One of the most valuable benefits of AIA membership is the ability to use the letters A-I-A following our names. Much is discussed among us small firm architects regarding how we need to educate our clients about architecture and the importance of working with a licensed architect.
In my humble opinion, there is no more efficient way to differentiate ourselves as licensed architects than the use of AIA following our names. The general public has come to understand that AIA architects are synonymous with “licensed architects” and recognize us as qualified professionals prepared to perform the tasks presented.
I know the AIA has much work to do to fully represent you and me, the small firm architect. As we continue to organize as an influential force, inside and outside the organization, the AIA will hear us and they will be encouraged to pay better attention to our needs.
7. Change Will Occur Only With Our Involvement
If you’ve been reading this blog for the past year and a half, you know that I am, personally, not sitting around for those changes to be made. I am taking matters into my own hands and encouraging others to do the same. With that stated though, I do feel that there are benefits to AIA membership and I will continue to pay my annual dues.
Change will not occur by abandoning the organization. Change will only occur by being involved, modeling our successful small firms and becoming an influential force that cannot be ignored.
What are YOUR thoughts? Have you dropped your AIA membership? What are your reasons for doing so? Have you dedicated yourself to membership? What benefits have you seen from joining? I want to know.
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