Monday, November 23, 2009

The AIA: what's the point? Part 1 of 2

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is a not-for-profit professional organization for architects that serves it's members and provides a voice for the profession. That's their story on the website, and it's a good summary of all the activities in which they engage. I've realized in the last year or so that more interns than not aren't members, so i thought I'd at least present for my readers a summary of what the AIA does so that they can make an informed decision about whether or not to join. After all, if you don't talk to your interns about AIA, who will? The following post is compiled from interviews and discussions with long-time AIA members in my community.

The AIA operates at four levels: national, regional, state, and local. Some responsibilities overlap between the levels' chapters, and the levels have certain activities in common. The national AIA monitors federal governmental activities and laws that are being debated so that it can step in to educate and inform congressional members (commonly known as lobbying) on issues that are important to the design and construction industry and especially to architects. The national AIA also produces a fair amount of resources that all architects, members or not, can benefit from, such as contracts and specifications. Masterspec is an AIA creation, as are all those A201, B141, and so on contracts that are typically used by firms when starting or amending a project and its scope. Finally, the national AIA sets a tone and direction for all the other AIA chapters to follow and concentrate on.

The regional chapters are like the national chapter but at a smaller scale. For example, Colorado is in the Western Mountain Region chapter, which includes Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona. The regional chapter concentrates and speaks out on issues that are important to our region, such as water rights and BLM land use and so on. Also, the regional chapter can help provide support for states or areas that have sparse populations and need professional support and advice.

Like the national AIA, the state AIA chapters monitor and speak out on state legislative issues that affect architects, and they provide input on licensing laws (remember that every state gets to decide its architectural licensing requirements). They also organize chapters and various components of local AIA opportunities such as education or environment or design and provide statewide networking opportunities for its members. When the state of Colorado's licensing law was up for renewal in 2008, some folks were pushing to relax the licensing requirements. For example, there we some design-builders who wanted to be able to take someone with a two-year drafting degree and allow him/her to be a licensed architect so that the design-builder could cheaply churn out houses. AIA Colorado stepped in and successfully lobbied to keep some requirements on what it takes to be licensed and even further added that licensed architects had to obtain continuing education requirements in order to stay licensed.

Finally, the local chapters, which can be just one city (like Boston, whom I I understand is also the Massachusetts state chapter and a small northeastern regional chapter as well as a local chapter; or like AIA Denver), or it can be made up of a couple of cities, like AIA Colorado North, which is a local chapter for Denver and Boulder as well as Fort Collins and a few other smaller cities in between. These local chapters provide opportunities for continuing education, member networking, and taking action on a specific focus. For example, AIA Denver has really embraced a focus on the environment and has worked towards improving the design and construction industry's impact on the environment and our natural resources and towards educating the public about ways to help the environment. Denver's zoning code is up for review right now, and the local AIA is providing input on ways to make the zoning laws allow for responsible construction and remodeling/renovation without squelching business. Along with AIA Denver, the group of people working on the new zoning laws include the Urban Land Institute, the Homebuilders Association, and the Downtown Denver Partnership, among others.

On Wednesday, we'll talk more about what's the point of having an AIA and how it might be losing its own battle. In the meantime, if you have comments or questions, or if you'd like to see something discussed on Intern 101, feel free to make a comment on this or another post or drop me a line via email in the sidebar. Thanks!

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