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Public Architects 2015 survey report

By Marilyn Wong-Wittmer AIA Member Emeritus posted 11-23-2016 09:52 AM

Flickr/Joe The Goat Farmer

By Marilyn Wong-Wittmer, AIA

Many thanks to our public architect colleagues for your enthusiastic response to the June 2015 Public Architect’s Survey.  The survey, issued by the Public Architects Advisory Group (PAAG) of the Public Architects (PA) Committee, explored AIA membership benefits for public architects and more specifically public architects participation in programs.  We wanted to get a pulse as to why many public architects are reluctant to become more actively involved with the AIA or the Public Architects Knowledge Community.  We found that many of our public sector colleagues are architects who are not members of the AIA or the Public Architects Knowledge Community. Many did not know that enrollment in AIA Knowledge Communities was not limited to AIA members but open to all public architects.   Non-AIA members can participate by creating an account within the AIA webpage.  The eight question survey polled AIA and non-AIA public architect colleagues in order to gain insight to reason(s) why they have or have not joined AIA; to develop a strategy for increased public architect participation in the Public Architects Knowledge Community and in AIA; and find what opportunities the AIA and PAAG could offer to provide greater value for members and non-members.  Survey results are based on 80 responses received.

  • Question 1: What public or government agency are you affiliated with? Seventy eight percent (78%) of the survey respondents were from federal agencies; 14% from City/Municipal agencies; 4% from State; and 4% from other public agencies.  

  • Question 2: As a public architect, what would your expectations be from your involvement in AIA?  Public Architect expectations were that 52% joined or would join AIA for participation in National and Chapter AIA activities; 46% for professional designation as a member of the profession; 42% for access to AIA benefits and services; 30% said that they did not plan to become an AIA member anytime soon.   Specific remarks to this question were offered in response to identifying desired services not currently covered by AIA. Desired services are: Guidelines for salaries; Protection of the title “architect”; Special services/activities to increase the knowledge base and networking for public architects; Federal discount for entire government; Influence agencies to emphasize that well designed buildings/communities make a difference.  Some responses stated that public architects had less need for AIA benefits and services, than those running their own business thereby minimizing expectations from AIA membership.

  • Question 3: Would AIA membership be of value to you?  Seventy two present (72%) said yes; 28% were negative.  This question had the highest response rate for remarks when we asked your opinion of its value.  Many provided comments related to value gained by connection with other architects, education and networking.  AIA membership “gives clients a sense that you are an accepted professional” and “akin to a doctor being board certified. But you pay handily for that imprimatur”.  Other responses noted the benefits of “recognition by peers and colleagues, CEU requirements for registration and the annual convention”; or specifically commented that “You get out of AIA what you put into it – right now it is of immense value”. Some thought the AIA dues were steep, preventing others from joining.  One member commented that the present value was not much but could be valuable if the AIA can shift its focus from design firms and allow other professionals to contribute.

  • Question 4: What benefits do you think the AIA could provide to you to enhance your career and career goals?  This was a multiple selection answer where the aggregate selections exceeded 100%. Eighty two percent (82%) responded that professional and continuing education for career development and license renewal were the primary benefits of AIA membership.  Fifty Seven (57%) selected the response implying benefit derived from AIA lobbying activities for changes in existing laws/regulations/policies that affect public practice.  There was a 51% tied response regarding outreach to “other like professionals” in related fields and the importance of providing a seat at the table for decisions affecting AIA members and the profession as a whole.  Nine percent (9%) responded that AIA membership provided no benefits.  This question’s comment section asked respondents to identify other desired educational opportunities.  General responses were to provide free continuing education, mentoring new architects, networking with peers.  There were several specific comments such as “AIA national is not in the forefront of promoting good design.  Small firms think AIA favors large ones and large ones think it favors small ones.  That should not be taken as demonstrating balance.  It is indicative of irrelevance to both sectors”; “The cost of AIA membership far exceeds the benefits to me as a public architect”; “AIA conference is valuable to maintain HSW license requirements. I have attended by taking vacation and at my cost. This is a huge issue for most architects in my agency”; “Not applicable – I do it all on my own now”.

  • Question 5: If you are not an AIA member, what has prevented you from joining?  Twenty eight (28) of the eighty (80) survey respondents skipped this question.  Of the 52 responses, 83% said that membership dues prevented them from joining.  Twenty seven percent (27%) commented that current AIA services do not provide benefit to the practice of public architecture.  Six percent (6%) said that there was no chapter geographically close to their agency or residence.  Ten percent (10%) said it didn’t matter to them.  Under this question’s remarks section, respondents were asked to identify types of services that are beneficial to a public architect, in order to excel in job and career goals.  Responses were: “Continuing education – change laws to allow federal funds to be used to pay or assist with membership”; “My perception has been that AIA has lobbied to eliminate public architecture positions.  Joining AIA would be counterproductive for me”; “Very recently a member again. Thank you AIA for special convention offer to reinstate previous membership.  Out of pocket cost was always a determining factor. No support from employer”; and “Can’t afford AIA dues”.

  • Question 6:  Since you can join the Public Architects Knowledge Community without being a member of the AIA, what would encourage your participation in AIA Public Architects?  This was a multiple selection answer where the aggregate selection(s) exceeded 100%.  Nine (9) respondents skipped this question.  Of the seventy one (71) who answered, 87% said they would be encouraged to participate in AIA Public Architects for access to professional development and CEU training; 44% would participate in chapter activities; 11% chose “other.”  The remarks section asked to specify “other”.  Responses were: “Provide reasonable membership dues at all levels (less than current full membership)”; Networking with other public architects”; “Nothing”; “Accurate representation of a specific subset of architects within the industry that are typically underrepresented”; “Don’t know what AIA Public Architects is”; “Not sure what this is or their goals”; “Not applicable – I do it all on my own now. No incentives here”; “Open membership without requirements for CV or other obstacles”; “Dues paid as they are frequently in the private sector”; “A focus on water resources and/or civil works of national significance, especially as pertaining to landscape architecture and/or site engineering.”

  • Question 7:  What issues do you think the PAAG-AIA could assist you with?  This was a multiple selection answer where the aggregate selection(s) exceeded 100%.  Three (3) skipped this question.  Of the seventy seven (77) responses, 78% responded with desiring assistance with awareness of issues facing public architects and potential solutions; 71% responded with professional education; 68% responded with networking and exchange of information; 48% responded with acknowledgement of equal standing within profession.   The remarks section asked them to specify “other”.  Responses were: “Protection of the title “Architect”.  Right now non-licensed architects are allowed to call themselves “Architects”, if they are a public architect. OPM (Office of Personnel Management) advertises positions for non-licensed architects as “Architects”.  There is no such thing as a non-licensed Architect.”;  “Lobby Congress to allow federal funds for use to support continuing education required to maintain AIA membership and professional licenses.  That would be huge”; “What is PAAG?”; “None; I do it all of the above without AIA”.

  • Question 8:  Would you be interested in participating with the Public Architects Knowledge Community/PAAG group to develop a strategy to increase participation of Public Architects in AIA?   Two (2) skipped this question.  Of the 78 responses, 45% were interested; 36% were not interested; 27% responded with “tell us more” by either specifying a remark or providing an email address for further participation.  We received 19 email addresses.  Those specifying a comment provided the following: “Would like to, however, I’m very limited with time due to job and family responsibilities. On the clock participation is not an option”; “I was heavily involved with AIA for over 25 years, both at the national and chapter levels.  It was frustrating most of the time. There were some successes but overall it was a poor expenditure of my time.”  “No, because I’m doubtful your group would prioritize heading in the direction that would be of interest to me. Even ASLA and APA are weak on this front. Engineers, biologists, and economists seem to have the strongest hold on this area. Too bad…prove me wrong and you’ll gain my interest later down the road”; “Perhaps in the future. Work and family obligations disallow my participation now. The federal govt and AIA need to help level the playing field that disallows its employees to maintain AIA membership.  Perhaps the federal govt can pay a national fee at agency headquarters level that can help reduce the out of pocket costs to individuals. Also lift moratorium on attending conferences without an Act of God, and consider the AIA Conference – a training event that can be funded by the federal govt to assist employees maintain professional licenses”;  “I would like to help but overloaded with tasks. Could spare a brief exchange of info….I have been a Chapter president for 12 plus years.  It is impossible to get active participation or member enrollment from federal or other govt employees beyond them attending CEU lunch and learns…They all cite cost of membership as the biggest factor and there is a high degree of professional laziness as well.  This effort will benefit those of us who choose to do more than take home a paycheck. I have partnered with local SAME organization to develop better architectural opportunities for both groups. But it is again, it is a few doing the work…..we need to look at our own agency’s architecture culture and develop better employee attitudes to outside organizations beyond acquiring CEUs for personal license.”


The survey results were quite informative to the PAAG, although comments regarding the cost of dues were not unexpected.  Several respondents inquired “What is the Public Architects (PA) Committee? We found that our Advisory Group needs to explore ways to engage more of our colleagues in the Public Architects Knowledge Community, so we can collectively promote the role of the public architect as an essential element in our mission of excellence in public architecture and management of public facilities. We can share and grow from similar experiences in public architecture promoting best practices.  In the next few months, we will be reaching out to those who kindly provided emails expressing their interest in working with the PAAG.  We want to hear from those who had specific comments, to better understand their issues, and find the common points applicable to the public architecture community.  Please feel free to post a message through Quick Links on the Public Architect’s Committee Newsletter “The Cornerstone”, or via email at  We want to hear from you!


Marilyn Wong-Wittmer, AIA is the current Cornerstone Editor and a public architect with 34 years of public service.  In 2014, she retired from the Architect of the Capitol as a Jurisdiction Executive in the Office of Planning and Project Management, where she was a management liaison between U.S. Botanic Garden, Capitol Grounds, and U.S. Supreme Court jurisdictions, and her organization, facilitating resolution of program and project issues, short and long range planning, and implementation strategies. She managed legacy projects and programs having agency-wide impact, while providing expertise, direction, stakeholders coordination, and oversight of design and construction.  Prior to her AOC experience, she was with the U.S. Postal Service, Facilities Office in Tampa, Memphis, and Arlington, VA for 21 years gaining extensive nation-wide experience managing major construction programs and projects, ranging from renovations to multi hundred million dollar distribution centers and multi facility programs. Marilyn worked in the private sector in engineering and architectural firms for three years prior to beginning federal government service.


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