“AIA Study Reveals the Elephant in the Room” By Kirk Teske, AIA

AIA Study Reveals the Elephant in the RoomBy Kirk Teske, AIA


“It’s more than three letters after your name.”

Those are the first eight words of the new and inspirational AIA manifesto.  It’s also a subliminal acknowledgement that members currently perceive their AIA as little more than those three simple letters.

You may disagree, but in a nutshell, that’s my take on the repositioning survey.  We’re selling albums when the world is buying singles.  The AIA needs a major overhaul.  Thankfully our former AIA National President Jeff Potter, FAIA, was very successful in launching an opinion survey of the nation-wide membership that garnered a whopping 31,000 respondents.  The results of the repositioning study prepared by LaPlaca Cohen and Pentagram were presented at the AIA Grassroots event in March.  The results clearly unveiled the elephant in the room: dissatisfaction is ubiquitous and little value is perceived.  With the overwhelming number of respondents, AIA leaders must take action.  We must transform this organization.  This effort can either stagnate in a mire of endless studies, or we can collectively call out for swift and effective change.  Your thoughts, opinions and suggestions to this very issue are what we hope to hear when we convene the members of AIA Dallas and AIA Forth Worth in a joint meeting at the UTA College of Architecture on May 20th beginning at 6:30.  We hope you will attend and come prepared to express your thoughts.  In preparation for the discussion, I recommend you look though the information on the AIA Repositioning website.

The AIA is comprised of an astounding 268 components, including city chapters such as AIA Dallas, state components such as TxA (formerly TSA), and regional chapters such as AIA Brazos Valley.  They each have different member offerings, different dues structures, varied levels of staff support and no clear unified mission between them.  Should AIA National set the destination and components be empowered to chart the course to get there?  I think so.  Components need clarity of purpose.  It’s my opinion the organization needs to be revamped to a degree that when it re-emerges from its current state that it’s clear and obvious to every member that it is new, improved, and significantly more relevant.  It needs a transformative shift toward an organization that will be embraced by our young professionals, and one that is fit to address the complex needs of our future.

The AIA has a window of opportunity to focus on what it wants to do well and to reallocate resources to where the greatest member value is provided.  When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 to rescue it from bankruptcy, he eliminated 70 percent of the product line.  By the time he died in October 2011, he had built Apple into the world’s most valuable company, as well as one of its most revered brands.  He was a master at acknowledging that his company had limitations and must organize itself around fewer products, and making those products highly coveted by the masses.  Similarly, when General Motors reorganized in 2010, the legacy automaker jettisoned brands like Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Saturn, and Hummer to focus on quality versus quantity.  It’s time for the AIA to make these same tough choices. We need to prioritize programming, reassess member service resources, implement leadership and practice training, increase member diversity, reassess our organizational tiers, improve our communication strategy, and more.  Jeff Potter used the analogy at the Grassroots presentation that our practice is the melody and our profession is the harmony.  We need both to be effective practitioners.

The AIA can become a truly visionary organization of members that inspire one another, our clients, and our public policy makers to effect positive change in our world.  We can better evangelize our profession’s creative capabilities.  Architects create great value, drive positive change, are visionary leaders, and we shape the future.  It’s a noble profession — we need a noble organization to foster its ideas and inspiration.  Your voice as an AIA member has a greater chance to be heard more than ever before.  We hope to see you at the AIA Dallas and AIA Fort Worth joint session on May 20th at UTA College of Architecture on May 20th beginning at 6:30.  Register here!

Kirk Teske is Principal and Chief Sustainability Officer at HKS and the 2013 president of the AIA Dallas.
Find Kirk at 
kteske@hksinc.comwww.hksinc.com and @KirkTeske on Twitter.


Here is a link to Kirk’s letter on the AIA-Dallas website.