The value of architecture isn’t always self-evident—a lot of what goes on behind the scenes makes a difference in how we live and work. But it’s a difference that needs to be communicated more widely, says Robert Ivy, FAIA, CEO of the American Institute of Architects. In the coming year, the AIA will begin drawing a clearer circle around architecture’s potential and its impact on our everyday lives, as part of its Repositioning initiative. “It’s about the dynamic between stasis and change,” Ivy says.

Architects shape virtually everything you see when you walk out your front door. They have played a part in any building of any consequence in any community. It’s hyperbole, but it’s also true—and that value is a fact that hasn’t been fully communicated to the public. I think the position that the AIA now occupies is an extremely rich heritage that represents the breadth and variety of the interests and talents of 80,000 members. That’s also our challenge: to gain focus in order to broadcast the role architects play. It’s about consolidating the skills and knowledge and experience of our members in order to present them again in a compelling way. As a group, architects are the most important intellectual quotient for shaping the built environment.

Part of what the AIA’s Repositioning initiative has shown—that many architects know—is that we are ripe for change. We are poised for it. Members have been telling us that they’re eager to reflect 21st-century ideals. So we have to shift and be nimble. What does that mean? Well, for one, I think the architect’s creative process has shifted and changed because of digital technology. The ability of the computer to visualize what architects have to create is more complex. We’re able to design more comprehensive and information-rich models than we ever dreamed before. In some cases, that new ability is inhibiting; it can lead to a superficial response to a design problem because digital design is so much quicker than pre-digital design. Regardless, the architect’s synthetic ability is still critical to producing fine work.

Architecture possesses both the elements of change and stasis—the eternal and immutable, but also something that’s adaptable and responsive. There’s an ideal that underlies a great deal of architectural thinking—a generative engine that’s part abstract, part geometrical, part earthly, and part spiritual. Repositioning is about the polarity between science and art—the permanent and the dynamic—that means we need to recognize when it’s time for an evolution in thinking and making. —As told to William Richards