Although I am not a customary poster, in this case I cannot help but add a few observations.
1. There is a public (read "potential client") perception that the "AIA" designation is something more than an elective organization membership to which one is entitled primarily by simply paying one's annual dues. As a result, I and others maintain membership for the benefit of that perception - whether deserved or not. Those who protest otherwise are not, I sense, being entirely honest.
2. The fact that one is a member does not ensure the quality of professional services that might be expected. To those who suggest that AIA members are better qualified because they must document annual continuing education, I would say that the annual educational credits requirement is more or less of a joke (in terms of the level of education actually garnered from most credit-issuing entities). Most of the 'courses' are nothing more than advertising, and far more is learned in independent research/study. Yet we can no longer get credit for 'non-structured' learning.
3. I am a member of several professional and industry organizations. One of the benefits of membership is the ability of potential clients to find/identify practitioners. Just a few moments ago I double-checked, and confirmed that the AIA main site has an 'architect finder' feature, BUT this does not include any option allowing inquirers to find an architect by his/her name (only by firm name). I find this astounding, and have in past brought this up (more than once) to the national AIA, but was ignored.
4. The national, state and local chapter web sites are not interconnected, and have different formats and features, some of which do not have a very professional 'look'. It has always baffled me as to why all of the web sites are not 'coordinated' into a common system of a high caliber. What must a prospective client think of our professionalism when he/she can't easily navigate from national to state to local or find an architect even when his/her name is known.
5. The AIA appears to have become entirely focused on generating money... not just through dues, but for everything it produces. Dues have become onerous in comparison with what the individual 'gets back' from the organization. I understand that organizations take $ to stay in operation. But the daily onslaught of communications has become akin to a marketing blitz, selling me 'additional' goods and services. I sometimes ask myself what, other than our magazine (which we pay for directly), am I getting back from the AIA without having to lay out more cash? Once developed, why aren't AIA contract forms provided as a benefit of membership (and sold to non-members)? We all know that AIA forms are widely 'copied' and 'borrowed' by industry players, and I doubt the AIA has actually ever gone after someone for using an AIA form without 'purchasing' it. The whole concept of selling AIA contracts is actually counterproductive. If the AIA wants its forms to remain the industry standard it should promote the widest use of same. Why not give the AIA contact forms to anyone who wants them... with the AIA logo prominent on every page? This would promote more use, by more players, and ultimately keep the AIA relevant. Otherwise the AIA will suffer in the fact of contracts being issued by other organizations.
6. Our 'magazine' is not as useful as it could be simply because it is mainly a self-congratulatory publication, distributed to architects (i.e. singing to the choir). I have yet to see an issue focused on the real world issues that affect us all, including nuts and bolts of practice management, contracts, laws, codes, building departments, financing, collections, insurance, and a host of other topics that should be part of every practitioner's education. I have yet to see an issue that even mentions risk management, problem clients or contractors, errors made, disputes, negligence, lawsuits, etc. (even when it is known via other publications that the featured projects are plagued with defects in both design and construction).
7. How many others share my peeve on seeing photos in our 'professional' publication touting 'the best architecture' but yet show obvious code violations (such as lack of handrails/guardrails). This occurs in material that represents editorial choices as well as in advertisements, award spreads, etc. In my opinion, someone in charge needs to make sure that ANY project with obvious code violations should be disallowed entirely.
8. Readers of our magazine should be able to understand what we are looking at, but there are a dearth of clear plans/sections, and never (that I can recall) a key showing where photos are taken.
9. Why never a mention of Architects who are found negligent in lawsuits, or are disciplined (be it by AIA or state agency).
10. How about a section in our monthly publication that examines problems with construction documents, specs, shop drawings, construction administration, how to deal with contentious clients or contractors, how to handle complaints of negligent services, and other 'real world' issues.
11. We don't get concise and timely reportage regarding building failures, deficient products and/or recalls. Since we are designing and specifying daily, alerts on this front should not only appear in our publication, but in somewhere in the flood of emails we get every week.
12. I agree with other posters who say that most of the focus of the organization seems to be on large projects - suggesting that the magnitude of a project somehow automatically means the level of design work is better or more important than the 'small jobs' that most practitioners create - and which are the more numerous, and affect more people on a daily basis.
13. No project should ever be touted in our publications as 'great architecture' (or granted an award) unless it has been in operation for some reasonable time period AND, most importantly, been nominated by (or at least the nomination supported by) its Owners/users. Architecture is more than sculpture. Buildings that 'look cool' do not deserve premiation only for that reason - they must fulfill the Owner/user program, function properly and be 'delightful' in use as well. Articles include perspectives of designers, but most often the occupants/users are not heard from.
14. Project descriptions published by the AIA never talk about costs. Yet cost of construction is a key factor to the average practitioner. It should be mandatory that along with descriptions of projects, at least some data regarding costs of both design and construction be included.
15. Articles should be written in such a way that they can be read and understood by others - and that includes other Architects as well as what should be our broader audience, the public. Some articles (actually more than 'some') are filled with language/terms and trains of thought that are so convoluted and esoteric the only one likely to fully understand them are the authors. What ever happened to plain English?
16. Yes, the AIA has been politically active, BUT the posted list of accomplishments in that area reads as though we are to believe that without the AIA these various legislative actions would not have occurred. The reality is that the AIA pales against the palette of other business interests and lobbying organizations that were pushing for the same things the AIA had on its plate. So while the AIA efforts may have helped to some degree, the listed achievements are hardly 'AIA' achievements. I also sometimes hear of AIA legislative objectives and wonder whether they have broad membership support - since they seem geared to larger firms and those that focus on public works, and not on the more numerous small firms that will never be in those arenas. Although members are given an opportunity to voice their perspectives, most individuals really don't have time to devote to this - so large firms may be more fully represented (so their perspective prevails).
17. Details, details, details. Except for the occasional article that gets into technical matters, there is not much in the way of 'how did they do that' in articles. Good detailing is critical to the practitioner. I cannot begin to count the instances I've run into of overall designs and details being created by desk-bound workers who have never pounded a nail... and who have nobody to spend time with them (one to one) to explain how the components of a building actually have to go together. ...and I'm not talking about high rise billion dollar projects with materials and details that are 'studied' by technical teams... I'm talking about the stuff that goes into the 'average' building (which in our country is low rise and small in overall size and budget).
18. Regarding PR: I have to echo another poster when I say that I've been in and out of the AIA for over 40 years, and I cannot remember ANY widely-noticeable PR effort promoting the AIA or Architects in general. The closest I can recall was a series of programs that appeared on public radio and public cable stations... which do not receive wide exposure. As an example of how the AIA might be more effective, it should 'demand' that every major media publisher mention or list the name of the Architect in every article about commercial and private real estate developments/buildings. When was the last time you picked up (or e-read) a business section article that mentioned the brokers, owners, builders, and others AND the Architect? Most of the time we are invisible - and we don't do anything about it as a profession. We must demand attention if we wish to command respect.
19. Why aren't more courses, seminars and webinars provided as a benefit of membership (since education is not only a goal, but mandatory)? I pay a lot of money every year for membership, and I feel, increasingly, that I'm getting nickeled and dimed for things that should be included as a member benefit. This is one of them. As a result, I've stopped buying anything from the AIA and instead take advantage of all the free material offered by other sources.
20. On the education front, and the attendant reportage requirements, what is the AIA doing about working with NCARB and the states to result in a system where there is only ONE set of requirements and ONE annual reporting record. Currently some practitioners spend inordinate amounts of time and energy just tracking credits and creating multiple reporting formats to suit multiple agencies/organizations. That is just stupid. Where is the AIA on 'forcing' this issue?
21. ADA: OMG! Where is the AIA in 'pushing' for a change in the way ADA is codified/regulated/enforced. Currently we have a federal civil rights law and guidelines that are poorly drafted, states issuing a patchwork of separate and often conflicting requirements, local jurisdictions incapable of effective enforcement, and no single agency able to timely and effectively interpret and issue 'authoritative' feedback on questionable issues. Even for decisions made in good faith there is no safe haven - and California has legislated a bounty system that rewards Plaintiffs with $4000 every time they file a violation complaint. What is the AIA doing to convince the feds and the states that people suffer the same disabilities across the country - and that there has to be ONE uniform set of requirements? It took decades until we finally got a national building code in place - will it take decades before we get a uniform set of disability requirements? In the interim, just hang out a shingle saying 'sue me'.
It's late. This 'rant' is only the tip of the iceberg, and I'm not delusional enough to think it will make a difference. BUT perhaps if enough people added their own 'bitches'... someone might listen up.
Howard Littman AIA
Forensic Architect, Expert Witness
Howard I. Littman, AIA
Agoura Hills CA
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