Small Project Practitioners

Subject: AIA Dues Not Aligned with the Small Firm Practitioner

1.  AIA Dues Not Aligned with the Small Firm Practitioner

Posted 03-21-2013 23:01
This message has been cross posted to the following Discussion Forums: Diversity and Inclusion and Small Project Practitioners .

Dear President Jacob,

I've been an AIA member since 1982, starting as a UC Berkeley student member. When I graduated in 1984, I continued my membership as an Associate and then turned into a full member once I became licensed. There may have been a year or two that my membership lapsed due to affordability but I always renewed when I could because I always believed in the AIA. I have also served my local chapter (Orange County) and State chapter, in various positions over the years.

I am one of the majority of architects in this nation, a small firm proprietor. While the economy has struggled since 2007 and thousands of architects have been laid off or downsized, my practice has managed to keep me afloat enough to (barely) make ends meet. And while salaries and wages have diminished, AIA dues have significantly increased.

When I received the invoice for the 2013 dues renewal and noted the fees of $848, I realized the AIA, which is an organization that is supposed to help architects, had become unaffordable. At the same time, at the local level, the once vibrant Orange County chapter is on the brink of folding having downsized due to its loss of members. The fees have become exorbitant and as a result, this has created an elitist organization comprised primarily of big firm architects. As an MBA and business owner, I know that you don't raise rates when no one is buying; but that is exactly what the AIA has been doing. It's bad economics and it's bad policy.

I lead a forum of small firm architects in my city of Laguna Beach, and I know that the AIA has lost a significant amount of members much like myself, those that perhaps need the organization the most. Their reason: they don't believe they are getting what they pay for. In the parlance of economics, costs are trumping benefits. 

I know the AIA in the past has offered a one-time discount for those that can't afford the annual dues, but that is simply not enough. To gain membership, the AIA needs to restructure dues to accommodate the small firm practitioner. Only then, will the AIA see an increase in membership and be able to grow into the helpful organization it once was, serving architects at all levels.

I hope that the AIA will rethink its membership fee structure and make the organization more accessible to the very backbone of the AIA, the small firm architects.


Leslie W. LeBon, AIA

(Note: this letter was also sent to AIA National - Bryan Lipps and Kermit Baker. So far only Bryan Lipps responded)

Leslie LeBon AIA
Laguna Beach CA

2.  RE:AIA Dues Not Aligned with the Small Firm Practitioner

Posted 03-22-2013 19:40
Dear Ms. LeBon

I applaud you for a well written letter that gets to the heart of an issue that many of us face.  The description of your past and current circumstances is one that I could echo, as well as the desire to stay an active AIA member.

I noticed on my renewal letter the short note, that if I had any difficulty in paying dues that I should contact my local chapter.  That was worth a hollow laugh, as my local chapter decided that this year they would also charge a fee of $20 per chapter meeting, make the total expense of membership and attendance nearly $900 per year.

My financial circumstances will be changing for the better shortly, but I wonder if I will renew my membership then.  Cost is one thing, but the Institute appears locked into a form of governance that reminds me of the old Holy Roman Empire.

  • Why is not the entire general membership of the AIA able to vote for National officers?  The current system of limited number of delegates voting may have made sense when the AIA was founded, but not today.  Also, there is no discussion on the local level of who to vote for in the National offices - it is left up to the discretion of our version of the HRE Elector.  (Can you name the Elector of your chapter?)
  • A change was recently made to the AIA Code of Ethics regarding the timely documentation for IDP candidates.  Good idea, but is the Code of Ethics the place to stress this?  And, who made the decision on this?  Where and when was any discussion held?  The general membership was shut out.
  • How do you provide feedback to your chapter officers?  That should apply to local, state, regional, and national organizations.  We have a nice monthly newsletter here in LV, but you'll never see a letter to the editor.
  • Voting for local candidates, at least in my local chapter, has been conducted recently via email.  We receive an email with a link to get to the voting site, and a short paragraph from each candidate on why we should vote for them.  I think this is wrong - the candidates should face their voters in a public forum, and be willing to take questions.  One day they may end up on the evening news, and we should be confident that they won't embarass us.  Vote by email if you must, but candidates should face the voters first.
  • The Continuing Education requirement is a good idea with horrible execution.  No credit is given for valuable but unreognized (by the AIA) programs, while we endure lousy, thinly veiled sales presentations during our lunch times.  I wonder too if CE is even legal - it was added a few years ago, but the bylaws also state that no change can be made to the requirements for membership in the AIA.
  • The 2012 Annual Report, linked in todays AIArchitect email, has no financial information.  It also boasts of the PR ads on NPR.  NPR??  Is this where the people that decide capital expenses for business spend their time on the radio?

I could go on, but I think I've made the point that the AIA appears to me to have become an ossified, sclerotic organization that does not see the need to change, and certainly doesn't want to hear from its dues paying members except for that check in the mail.

Ironic, isn't it?  The AIA is full of the most creative, hard working, dedicated people you can ever find, but its leadership provides no means for input, no way for their voice to be heard.

Klaus Steinke AIA
Klaus Steinke Architect
Las Vegas NV

3.  RE:AIA Dues Not Aligned with the Small Firm Practitioner

Posted 03-25-2013 11:45
I cannot agree more to what I believe is a well written letter. I was an AIA member from 1990 to 2010. When the local dues are added to the national dues, it is simply to expensive for me to justify!

John Crowell
Deer Hill Architects, LLC
Peabody MA

4.  RE:AIA Dues Not Aligned with the Small Firm Practitioner

Posted 03-26-2013 17:50
AIA continues to drop the ball. There are a few within its ivy-covered walls who genuinely try to help the majority of us who are in small firms - evidently they find the same frustration within the AIA upper management as their efforts are obviously thwarted. 

Might suggest looking into ArCH. New organization, growing rapidly. Entire organization "gets it" when it comes to small firms. 

Still a member of AIA - for more than 30 years. Still frustrated - just moreso in the last few years. 


John Hrivnak AIA
Hrivnak Associates, Ltd.
Saint Charles IL

5.  RE:AIA Dues Not Aligned with the Small Firm Practitioner

Posted 03-26-2013 17:55
Personally, I think the more telling element is that AIA does a poor job of demonstrating its value to members.  I ran my own practice for 16 year.  I really only got a better understanding of AIA when I became a chapter Secretary, VP and President.  The lobbing effort, state and national, so you have the right to do your job, protecting license status, avoiding sales tax, and more takes time and effort.  I always used the AIA documents and not crib them like so many do.  I used the library on occasion.  Have made some good contacts through association, etc.  Non-AIA architect benefit from AIA activities and programs.

We can argue about how well AIA delivers, but they are the best hope we have.  I heard a contractor comment once ...if owners paid the architects enough to do their job, we could all have better buildings and save money.  Same might be said of supporting AIA.

Sean Bujold AIA

6.  RE:AIA Dues Not Aligned with the Small Firm Practitioner

Posted 03-27-2013 23:30

If political action and contract documents are supposed to be examples of AIA's positive contributions to the profession, you've just made a really strong case against the AIA. Most of the AIA's political activity hamstrings architects and their clients or delves into issues that have nothing to do with architecture. And the documents are so over-priced they're useless to AIA members who don't own large firms.

As for your closing comment: If the AIA can't adequately represent us on the exorbitant fees they charge us, it's time to throw out the organization and start over.

Sean Catherall AIA
Integrated Property Services
Herriman UT

7.  RE:AIA Dues Not Aligned with the Small Firm Practitioner

Posted 03-26-2013 21:21
    I, too, must agree with Mr. LeBon's comments regarding AIA dues.  Fortunately, my local chapter (East Bay AIA) is a very active and vibrant chapter... if only I could join just the local chapter!  It's the local chapter that has prompted me to stay with the AIA so far.   This topic has been a longtime discussion with  my local chapter and like many, I've received a dues reduction the past few years for economic reasons but now I have timed out.  While grateful for that assistance, I now must decide whether to re-up at the full rate (which will be a large sacrifice of needed cash flow) or let it go after more than thirty years membership despite the local economy remaining a challenge... sad.  I find it incredible the amount a sole practitioner must pay to be a member of the AIA.  For years during flusher times I considered the increasing dues as a necessary advertising fee (much like the yellow page listing) as many residential clients equated the three letters (AIA) as meaning I was a licensed architect.  They didn't understand it only meant I belonged to a professional organization.  
   Over the years I've attended numerous conventions and increasingly, I've found them irrelevant to the needs of small practitioners and sole proprietors.  Frankly, I'm not sure that national is relevant anymore as the state and local level provide the only benefits of value except for the standardized contracts. Interestingly, my spouse works in a different profession but her professional national, state, and local dues are FAR less than ours.  Unfortunately, I don't hold out much hope for change in the AIA... maybe after most of their members have dropped out it will be re-organized.   

Peter Harmon AIA
Peter B. Harmon, A.I.A.
Concord CA

8.  RE:AIA Dues Not Aligned with the Small Firm Practitioner

Posted 03-27-2013 09:21

George Jennings AIA
G Booker 3
Tappahannock VA
For the reasons so eloquently presented previously on the subject of AIA dues, I will not renew my membership again; unless of course there is a restructuring of the dues.

9.  RE:AIA Dues Not Aligned with the Small Firm Practitioner

Posted 03-28-2013 22:52
Between my father and myself we have been AIA members since the 60s.  Sadly, I decided that I will not renew this year and will instead invest the dues into business development.  I hope that AIA gets the message that talk about supporting the unique needs of small projects is not enough, action with results is what is needed.  Then I will rejoin.

Christopher Turley AIA
Turley Architects
Highland Park IL

10.  RE:AIA Dues Not Aligned with the Small Firm Practitioner

Posted 03-30-2013 10:02
Excellent letter-I renewed this year, but not because I could afford it.  Somehow it feels like an obligation even when most do not realize that AIA is an association and not the license board.  Still not sure of the benefits, but paying monthly helps to forget the overall fee.

Craig Isaac AIA
Craig W. Isaac Architecture
Charlotte NC

11.  RE:AIA Dues Not Aligned with the Small Firm Practitioner

Posted 03-30-2013 18:57

One of the frustrating things about this discussion is that it is not looking at AIA holistically.  I too, have a small practice.  I have been extremely involved at AIA at ever level, including serving as a national board member and Vice President.  I can honestly say that the AIA represents all practicioners.

On the local level, my chapter has helped raised the profile of the profession through their partnership with other groups, including the local, suburban newspaper.  They also help me meet my state's continuing education requirements and keep my transcript for me, in case I am ever audited.

On the state level, they have effectively lobbied against laws that would harm my practice, such as Interior Design Practice Acts and harmful worker's comp laws.  They have passed Good Samaretian Laws and kept our license fees reasonable and directed toward illegal practice enforcement efforts.

Nationally, while it is certainly harder to relate to (much like the Federal Government), I know about the AIA's PR efforts to support all practicioners, with a special effort on small practicioners.  The AIA Billings Survey is regularly quoted in places like CNBC and the Wall Street Journal as a precursor to economic activity.

My experience in working with Knowledge Communities outside of my area of specialty has literally changed the way I practice so I now give a more compelling offering to my clients, allowing me to win new business. I am particularly excited about the partnership with the National Institute of Building Sciences in making research more available to members.

Two years ago, things were very tough in my practice.  I had to ask for, and recieved, an adjustment in my dues so I could remain a member.  This was not an easy thing for me to do, since i was appealing to people who knew me.  In the end, it was not a problem.  The leadership would rather grant you dues relief than see you give up your membership.

The AIA is its members.  Someone once said that it is like a health club you join to lose weight.  If you join and don't go work out, you don't have results.  If you go and take advantage of what is offered, you will succeed.

Finally, I don't know Brian Lipse, but I do know Kermit Baker.  Sending him correspondence will not get a response, as he is the AIA's contract economist.  In the case of California, I would highly recommend calling Paul Welch, California Council Executive Vice President.  No one can explain AIA better than he can, as he was the Interim EVP of National before Robert Ivy, FAIA came on board.

Walter Hainsfurther FAIA
Kurtz Associates Architects
Des Plaines IL

12.  RE:AIA Dues Not Aligned with the Small Firm Practitioner

Posted 03-29-2013 01:40
I too am a small firm (really small sole proprietor), and agree with Leslie LeBon that the AIA dues are too high.
I do feel like what I get as a member is beneficial, but not to the extent to justify the cost (for me the biggest benefit of membership currently is the discounts received for associated purchases and activities), but I guess I am too embedded not to pay them. As has been stated by others, my income has gone down, yet the dues have gone up, seems to be following the way our government is acting.

James Stergas AIA
Architect Stergas & Associates
Tequesta FL

13.  RE:AIA Dues Not Aligned with the Small Firm Practitioner

Posted 04-01-2013 18:21
Thanks, LeBon, you speak well for the majority of AIA members. I've been a member every year since '78. I've been through the "chairs" and vocal regarding AIA's dropping the ball. In the odd event that the AIA reads this thread, wanted to echo my sentiments. 

If you've not heard my soapbox rant repeated over all these years, here it is again - and something the AIA needs to establish. Yesterday. 

"If it needs a permit, it needs a licensed architect."

And remember your ABCs; "Architect Before Contractor".

John Hrivnak, AIA, MBA, NCARB, LEED AP

John Hrivnak AIA
Hrivnak Associates, Ltd.
Saint Charles IL

14.  RE:AIA Dues Not Aligned with the Small Firm Practitioner

Posted 04-02-2013 18:24
As much as I agree that every building should be designed by a licensed Architect, unfortunately, this is an impossible pipe dream at the moment based purely on the numbers. Number one, there are about 80,000 AIA members, most of which DON'T design houses. In 2006 there were 170,000 new commercial buildings built and there were 1,600,000 new houses built according to the US Census. This doesn't cover the renovations. If the majority of Architects are designing the 170,000 new commercial buildings, then how do you suppose the minority who actually design houses can cover the 1,600,000 new homes, not to mention all the renovations?

Now, every time I bring up the fact that we need to be designing a lot more speculative houses, I tend to get rather snobbish reactions from this group. Out of those 1,600,000 new houses that were built, 1,300,000 were speculative houses. That's right! Out of the 320,000 houses commissioned by home owners, how many do think came from catalogues? Be honest with yourself! Again, how in the world are we Architects going to design all of those houses, especially when most of us despise spec houses? The most common solutions to the spec house problem I get from fellow Architects is that we should design more catalogue plans or we force everyone to live in multifamily buildings.

We are so out of touch and we wonder why people don't think of us first or why HGTV seems to exclude us more often than not. We have turned our noses up to the majority of the building industry (i.e. the spec houses) and we have the audacity to wonder why we are in the position we're in. People like moving into a brand new house and most cannot afford to have one custom designed/ built. Trying to take the spec houses away from Americans is like trying to take away their cars and guns. If we want to seriously fix this problem, then we must first admit what the problem really is.

John, I'm not picking on you, but there seems to be a common gripe about us not designing all of the houses, while we ignore the magnitude of the problem. We will never accomplish this goal if we think it's as easy as convincing building depts across America to require a stamp. We need to create many, many, many more Architects first and secondly, we need to take a serious stab at designing a lot more spec houses.

Eric Rawlings AIA
Rawlings Design, Inc.
Decatur GA

15.  RE:AIA Dues Not Aligned with the Small Firm Practitioner

Posted 04-02-2013 10:51
This may be somewhat off the point, but I don't understand how some, who admittedly have not belonged to the AIA for several years, are still using this AIA sponsored site.  Not that I disagree with the general thread about membership costs, but how does a non-member still have access to one of the organization's tools?  Put another way; There is obviously some intrinsic value in participation, yet not paying to belong.

Robin Miller AIA
MSH Architects
Sioux Falls SD

16.  RE:AIA Dues Not Aligned with the Small Firm Practitioner

Posted 04-04-2013 14:24

Perhaps the point is that $500 to $900 per year is a lot to pay to belong to a message board in which organization leaders rarely participate.

Sean Catherall AIA
Herriman UT

17.  RE:AIA Dues Not Aligned with the Small Firm Practitioner

Posted 04-05-2013 19:02
Since registration is a state issue, not a federal issue a focus of discussion might be why so much of our dues go to the institute and so little to your state organization.   

The things that matter to small practitioners happen at the local and state level, not the national.   So why is so much money headed for folks who can have so little effect on what really matters to the small office.  I sense the institute has, and perhaps can do little to prevent the erosion of the practice of architecture by project managers, interior designers, fashion editors and the like.  It can and does spend quite a lot on window dressing, pomp and pining medals on its members.   

It is uncomfortable to ask what we get for our dollars.  The fact that no one from the institute has a good answer to these concerns is equally disturbing.   

Peter Carlsen AIA
Carlsen & Frank Architects
Saint Paul MN

18.  RE:AIA Dues Not Aligned with the Small Firm Practitioner

Posted 03-25-2013 17:49
This not only is this a small firm practitioner's (or solo architect) issue that spans across the country, it also affects those in academia. I posted this letter to the Diversity and Inclusion forum as well, and received similar responses from the group including one from a Professor of Architecture.
I doubt I will receive any type of response from our AIA President Mr. Jacob which only proves the point made.

Leslie LeBon AIA
Laguna Beach CA