Avoiding White Space and Other Distractions

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In this issue we continue the discussion of AIA fostering a culture of firm services and benefits that enhance the prosperity of the profession. Admittedly, achieving this objective is much easier said than done. So, where do we start?


Paul W. Welch, Jr., Hon. AIA

We begin by clearly identifying expected outcomes:

  • an educated profession well prepared to meet the environmental and economic challenges of a shrinking planet;
  • architectural firms that have the necessary tools and resources to prosper in an evolving profession and growing unpredictable marketplace;
  • an aggressive outreach campaign that engages the public towards a greater understanding and appreciation of architects, architecture, and the contributions of design to the human experience;
  • and an AIA that vigorously participates in local, regional, and national conversations regarding design and construction.

Understandably, to be successful, these ambitious objectives require discipline and focus at all three levels of the AIA.

AIA, within the framework of the Practice and Prosperity Initiative, has begun the journey. Underway is a major effort to clearly identify the programs and activities that contribute to a culture of firm services. The inquiry is not confined to the Design and Practice Department. The research is being conducted Institute-wide and will identify the activities in all the AIA’s programs, activities, committees, and task forces. Ultimately, the inventory will include firm benefits and services being provided by state and local AIA components. Once the survey is complete, a thorough review and validation of the findings will prioritize valued services, and ascertain programs and activities that have outlived their usefulness.

While the validation process is underway, commensurate efforts will identify “white space,” or issues, problems, and/or opportunities for member services that are not currently being addressed. This effort will require additional surveys and discussions with architectural firms of all sizes. Once these white spaces have been identified, they will be prioritized before moving to operational planning and budgeting to ensure the AIA has targeted those items that have the highest positive impact on the firms and the members.

This exploratory effort at cataloging existing and needed firm service and benefits will contribute considerably to expanded member communications and efforts to enhance public and client messaging. If we are serious about changing the conversation about design and construction and elevating the value of design while empowering emerging professions, we must not be distracted by the noise of adversity and conflict, but, instead, be willing to stand up for what we believe in.

I fully appreciate that The Practice and Prosperity Initiative, within the context of Repositioning, represents a different paradigm of resourcing our firms and our members to meet the challenges of the post-recession economy and an unpredictable and volatile marketplace. However, we must be bold, courageous, and innovative, if we are to reposition the AIA to be an active participant at the leading edge of practice.

To be truly valuable to members, especially the emerging professionals, the AIA has to focus resources in order to earn a reputation as an organization that doesn’t follow, but leads. In the past, with the best intentions, our incremental efforts to accommodate myriad demands has resulted in AIA spreading itself much too thin, with far too many competing priorities. Our challenge is to target with laser-like accuracy those services, and only those services, that leverage our finite resources to best advance the value of the organization and the members it serves. Prosperity is a consequence of good business practices. As firms prosper, our members will benefit, and society will experience first -hand how design influences the livability of our communities.

In the words Albert Einstein:

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and forgotten the gift.”

Money and resource allocation is the cutting edge of organizational policy. In other words, if we are truly committed to repositioning the architect in the marketplace and elevating the contributions of design, we need to “put our money where our mouth is.”

What are your thoughts? I look forward to hearing from you.


Paul W. Welch Jr., Hon. AIA

Paul W. Welch Jr., Hon. AIA and Executive Vice President of the AIA California Council (AIACC), is the former interim Executive Vice President and CEO of the American Institute of Architects in Washington, D.C.

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  1. avatar
    Michael F. Malinowski AIA

    Paul: as usual, you have hit the nail directly on the head! Bravo!

    I’m thrilled to be part of the National Practice and Prosperity Committee and have brought the perspective you espouse to the table. We are off to a good start – our first face to face meeting is in a few weeks in Minneapolis; and I look forward to sharing developments as that group moves forward.

    The AIACC effort – in parallel – is already proving to be influential in this arena with the efforts and conversations you’ve already launched. I’d like to see California be a ‘proving ground’ for the most compelling notions in fact!

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