Clark D. Manus, FAIA, 2011 President
William Stewart Photography Clark D. Manus, FAIA, 2011 President

According to a recent National Council of Architectural Registration Boards survey, 105,312 is the number of licensed architects working in the United States—or at least should be working. More on that in a moment. A larger figure is this country’s current resident population, about 311 million. By the time you read the final sentence of this piece—even if you skim—the number of Americans will have increased by a thousand or so.

Do the math: It comes out to about .0003 architects for every American. That’s not even counting clients in the expanding markets of China, India, and the Middle East. If you believe the major issues of the 21st century—health, security, transportation, productivity, sustainability—are design matters (and I do), then the law of supply and demand would suggest firms of every size are being swamped by work. This should be a golden age for America’s architects.

Yet many architects struggle just to stay afloat. So much for the so-called laws of economics. As bad as this economy is for us who are licensed, we should be worrying about the next generation of professionals: the bright young men and women just out of school and the students entering college who are looking at their options for fulfilling and rewarding careers. They are the future of our profession; they’re the ones tackling design matters like health, aging, and how our nation uses energy.

Our first and highest priority has to be getting architects back to work. The second and third priorities are the same. To get us to that better place, two broad strategies suggest themselves. The first is to increase an appreciation and understanding of the value of our profession’s core competency—design. The members and staff of AIA components in every part of the country are creatively leveraging their tight resources to get the story of our profession to the public, most conspicuously with exhibitions, architects in the schools, awards programs, and public service.

As we move through this year and beyond, AIA members will discover how the partnership with Hanley Wood advances this strategy, guided now by the Institute’s new executive vice president, Robert Ivy, FAIA. In this position, he will strengthen the voice and influence of the AIA on those issues shaping the profession. A second strategy is to work aggressively and creatively at every level of government to get this economy moving again.

Have the results of the recent election forced the AIA to scrap its legislative agenda? Not at all. Because restoring small business as the engine of our nation’s economy, returning economic vitality to our communities, and improving America’s energy independence is a program for getting this country back to work, it easily negotiates both sides of the legislative aisle.

Often the person we’re talking to is on the same side of what might seem to be a deep ideological divide. Take sustainability. I had a client who did not believe in climate change—no way, case closed. That would seem to be a non-starter for any hope of designing a green building. Yet by reframing the issue as a matter of controlling the cost of energy, that client was immediately on board.

This is just one skirmish of the larger campaign to shape a better world for our children. The reality is that we will not in our lifetime—certainly not in mine—have the number of licensed architects commensurate with the needs of a growing population. However, by advocating legislation that has as its goal the rebuilding of this nation’s economy and, by elevating the public’s understanding that design matters, that it reflects our values and shapes the very fabric of our lives, we can improve the odds. Much is at stake. Not just the future health of our profession, but the future of our communities.

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