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AIA and the Power of 10

January 2007

By Robert A. Ivy, FAIA

Call 2007 the year of anniversaries, in multiples of 10. All have significance, none more so than for the 77,000 licensed architects, emerging professionals, and allied partners of the American Institute of Architects, who are celebrating a Sesquicentennial. On February 23, 1857, the architect Richard Upjohn convened a small group of friends (let’s call them out for glory, including a few names you might remember, to wit: son Richard, son-in-law Charles Babcock, H.W. Cleaveland, Henry Dudley, Leopold Eidlitz, Edward Gardiner, Richard Morris Hunt [whom you should certainly know], J. Wrey Mould, Fred A. Peterson, J.M. Priest, John Welch, and Joseph C. Wells). They gathered in New York for a specific purpose: to create an organization of fellow architects to “promote the scientific and practical perfection of its members” and “elevate the standing of the profession.”

Photo © André Souroujon
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For 150 years, the AIA has worked to elevate architects into a unique profession devoted to the larger society through the art and science of architecture. Appropriately and simultaneously in 2007, the institute will award its highest honor for individual contributions to the profession, the Gold Medal, for the 100th time. That august award first graced an architect with great fanfare in 1907, when it was awarded to (can you guess?) Sir Aston Webb, English architect and president of the Royal Academy. Charles Follen McKim and a familiar roster of great names immediately followed suit.

Throughout the intervening years, as architects have experimented with, debated, and codified their place in a rapidly changing civilization, the AIA has served as a kind of forum of disparate peers, all allied by a common calling: individuals and groups of architects serving as mediators and interpreters of people’s deepest needs for shelter, for safety, and for improvement of the environment. Ultimately, we tie down the ineffable, envisioning and creating the physical places that accommodate those high-blown aspirations. In touch with the esoteric (who else cares about proportion, or scale, or the requirements of three-dimensional space in the public realm?) as well as the pragmatic (how many fasteners does that wall actually need?), architects maintain a tension between the possible and the actual, today in an increasingly digitized, highly communicative, local and international world. The AIA, a gathering place of individual people, communities, and regions, helps sort through this impossible-seeming maze, and in the process, both the profession and the institute have grown up together.

Rather than merely hold a party and call it a day, the institute determined to launch a series of community-based initiatives through an ambitious program called “Blueprint for America.” Already, 60 individual components (chapters, states, regions) of the larger organization have been awarded grants, as have 96 components that will receive supplemental grants. As an example, in North Carolina, a grant will help fund a study to minimize sprawl by developing planning alternatives. Not a bad idea.

In San Francisco, the local component applied for and received aid to engage the community through walking tours of the city. All seem commendable goals. In addition, the home facility of the AIA, at 1735 New York Avenue NW, in Washington, D.C., will receive an “environmental upgrade,” essentially “greening” the national offices. For details, check out the Web site at AIA150.org.

At Architectural Record, we are joining in the celebration. Not only is McGraw-Hill Construction the official media partner for the AIA 150, but 2007 represents Record’s 10th year as the publication of choice for the AIA. Look for an enhanced calendar of celebratory events beginning in February, as well as special sections and stories and online opportunities throughout the year. You, the reader, may well be an AIA member. Regardless, we all recognize and want to share in architecture’s contributions, and this year will highlight the AIA’s integral role in the architect’s advancement. While no institution is perfect, ultimately we look around and realize it’s us, not an abstract organization. We, the members, have only ourselves to look to, and today, to congratulate. So, to us, the 21st-century architects who compose the American Institute of Architects: Happy 150th, Happy 100th—and for Architectural Record, a big 10. Excelsior!

If you wish to write to our editor-in-chief you can email him rivy@mcgraw-hill.com.

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