Architects and the AIA

December 9, 2013 — 36 Comments

If you receive any sort of professional correspondence from me, you will see three letters after my name …

Robert Borson, AIA

The acronym “AIA” stands for the American Institute of Architects, a professional organization for architects that offers education, government advocacy, community redevelopment, and public outreach to support the architecture profession and improve its public image. This is an elective organization but if you are a practicing architect, you would be hard pressed to give me a reason why I shouldn’t be a member.

I have been a member for decades and my involvement has ranged from extremely heavy to almost non-existent. Early on in my career I became involved in my local AIA component – the Dallas Chapter AIA – and over the last 15 years I have served and chaired almost every major committee. During this time I met people and made connections that helped shape my early career and in the years since have continued to serve me well because almost every job I’ve ever had was through connections I made while serving. In 2010, I was recognized for my efforts and was presented with the AIA Dallas Young Architect of the Year.

Yes, even at 42 years old, I was considered a “young” architect.

Bob Borson Dallas AIA Young Architect of the Year

As proud as I am of this recognition, I am more proud of the things I accomplished during this time. I was given the latitude to make the changes I envisioned and I was able to shape my experience to suit my interests. For those of you who know me, you’ll know that I generally have an opinion on everything and don’t have a problem sharing that opinion. The AIA gave me the outlet to put my ideas into action and helped provide the resources that helped make those actions a success.


“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi


The quote above is from Gandhi and I felt it is particularly relevant to today’s post. The change he is referencing isn’t about personal transformation – Gandhi is telling us that only by people working together with vision and consistency can real change be made. I truly believe this sentiment to be true and think that getting involved is important … as a result, everyone in my current office is a member of the AIA and all are heavily involved.

As a result of our participation, we found out last week that our firm has received the 2013 Firm Award from the Dallas Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. I’ve included a copy of the letter we received below [click to enlarge] which explains why our firm was selected.

Michael Malone Architects AIA 2013 Firm of the Year

I asked my business partner Michael Malone to contribute to this post since he has been very active in our state component of the American Institute of Architects – the Texas Society of Architects. He writes:

A question I often get from my peers who know I am active in the AIA is what does it do for you?  I’m in it because I’m an architect; it’s where I belong.  It’s the place where the people I respect and admire most who do what I do are recognized and understood in the framework of the what we do for a living.  It’s the place where I’ve made the best friends, had my self-worth reinforced by those in similar circumstances, and I’ve learned that I am not alone in the things I encounter in my day-to-day practice.  It’s a place where all of the people speak my language, share common values, and for the most part, similar goals and aspirations.  It’s a place where everyone around me knows and understands what I do and admires (or envies or despises) how I do it.  In many ways it’s my professional and spiritual home.

The AIA, and more specifically the Texas Society of Architects, which is my state component, has given me an outlet for the things I am passionate about:  design and architectural writing.  As with any organization made up of members, there are a wide variety of committees where you can serve that allow you to voice and exercise your interests.  In my case, it was participating on the Publications Committee, which oversees our award-winning magazine, Texas Architect where I have the opportunity to write and guide the editorial content. I was also heavily involved in the Design Committee, which provided an opportunity to be part of the state architectural awards program, which in turn allowed me to meet prominent architects from around the nation who acted as jurors.  During my time on the Design Committee, while working with one of my colleagues, I was able to put forward the idea of an annual design conference hosted by the Texas Society of Architects in various cities around the state.  These conferences have brought in accomplished architects as speakers and allow attendees to tour a wide variety of architectural projects. Joining us for our last two conferences were Bryan MacKay Lyons, Edward Bosley, Thomas Phifer, Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi.  For our upcoming conference in January of 2014, we have Rand Elliot, Marlon Blackwell, Victor Trahan and Victor Legoretta presenting to us.

As with anything is life, you get out of it what you put into it.  It’s a tiresome statement, however for me one that’s just not true…I’ve received back vastly more than I ever put in.  The friendship and fellowship alone are worth the price of admission.  I encourage you to become active, to find your place among your peers and have a lot of fun doing it.  It’s the only way you’ll know what you’ve been missing and it’s not too late to join in.

This is important. Get involved, meet people, make things happen – the things that matter to you.

Happy Volunteering,

Bob AIA signature


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  • Adam

    What is the history of Architects placing the suffix AIA after their name?

  • Brian Payne

    Since it is renewal time, I was just discussing this issue with a coworker and the question was posed this way. If our office stopped covering the AIA dues (which it does 100%) how many individuals would personally sign up and pay the 630 or so dollars for the value that AIA brings. I believe maybe 20% would choose to pay it out of their personal pocket. Where you spend your time and money are two of the best ways to truly judge somethings value.

  • ashok babu

    Congrats Bob…well deserved award! Gandhi is more relevant today than ever…great quote.

  • nbc

    Try working in an unstaffed component with fewer than 50 members. 2 hour drive to attend the component’s annual meeting to elect officers. Who’s going to prepare and file annual federal and state corporate tax reports? Though I’m a member, many of us architects who don’t care to live in the big city have a tough time understanding the value of AIA.

    • If I’m being completely honest, I wasn’t even aware of how the small chapters functioned until a few weeks ago. A very good friend of mine is the 2014 Chapter President for a small unstaffed component and he and I have had conversations about the challenges associated with getting things done. I don’t have an answer for you, this issue is new to me. Hopefully I can get some more insight and information on the subject – In was even thinking about letting my friend write an article here on the site discussing why he’s a member and what he’s gotten out of his involvement (other than meeting me of course….)

      Thanks for adding your voice to the discussion

      • nbc

        Smaller components don’t elect officers, they just rotate. You get a phone call in November: “Your turn next year.” Like to hear from your friend. Suppose you have my email.

        Small town architects get murdered by bigger firms buying out our local jobs, especially when the economy is rough. Like to see the AIA frown upon firms reaching outside their “home” component for work unless they have an office presence there first.

        • newyowker

          Maybe LEED should start including in their systems that projects not only need local materials etc, but also local architects

  • Xiaosheng Wu

    is that possible for an non-American to be a member of AIA?

    • I know there are members of the AIA internationally but I don’t know the capacity or circumstances around their membership. I see what I can find out for you.

      • Xiaosheng Wu

        Thank you.

  • Heather McKinney

    What a great and well-deserved honor, Bob and Michael!
    It is also especially gratifying to see people who care so deeply about the quality of design involved in our professional organization. I second what Michael says about the AIA being a family- the relationships that have grown within its framework are some of the best in my life, too.

  • Brad Feinknopf

    Bob, Congratulations! Certainly well deserved!

    • Thank you Brad, I really appreciate you leaving a note.

  • Mark R. LePage

    Congratulations to you both.

  • jf

    I have been a member on and off in my 24 year career and I can
    say that the AIA has not offered any significant value to me as a practicing
    professional. The local AIA in Denver, Pittsburgh (where I was actively involved)
    and DC offered no more than local social events, little State advocacy that was
    meaningful to the design or construction industry and I saw nor continue to see
    National or International advocacy of meaningful issues that are important to
    the profession. Yes they advocate for the politically correct and easy issues
    that no one would oppose…sustainability, social housing, etc…but when it comes
    to putting up the good fight for the legal rights of architects and expanding
    the role of architecture…not such a great effort.

    To balance this I will admit that the AIA is essentially a
    grassroots organization and that the efforts of volunteers make all the
    difference and those involved in the AIA have made valuable contributions to
    the organization that have benefited all architects whether they are members of
    the club or not. I just find it disappointing that joining the club garners no
    benefit…you pay your dues and then have to be a volunteer to push for anything meaningful.

    I found being an AIA member was part of an elitist “old boy
    network” of people I didn’t really like too much.

    • I was discussing your comment with a colleague and we both think that the AIA should make it more transparent what they actually do to benefit members – specifics for a particular time, not just a mission statement. One of the benefits that all architects receive that is a direct result of the AIA’s political involvement is that we [architects] don’t pay sales tax on our professional service fees. Every architect working and billing should be thankful for that single fact, the savings on that lack of tax eclipses the amount of fee that is associated with membership.

      • jf


        I’m certainly not going to hijack your blog to debate this topic. From what I’ve seen over the last couple of years following you, you’re
        committed and passionate. You have a good career, you do right by your clients, you provide a service that is respected and rewarded.
        I find it hard to be objective about the AIA and in my mind the cons out way the pros. I’m sure we could have a tit for tat on this subject ad nauseum with no one better for the debate.
        Congratulations on a well deserved honor. It is a good thing to be recognized by your peers.

        • I didn’t mean for my response to come across as adversarial. I do want to find a way to get this topic out for discussion because I generally think the people I am associated with at the AIA would want to hear what you have to say … but you are right, this is not the place. That discussion deserves it’s own space.


          • jf

            You did not sound adversarial and I hope that I did not as well. This is a space to congratulate you on something well deserved and that’s what it should be dedicated to.

            As you said, “you get out of it what you put into it.” And at the grassroots level I agree.

      • David Proffitt, AIA

        Bob, If your comment was focused on a national scale its not quite true that we “all” dont pay tax on our services. At least nationally. We here in KY don’t…at least not yet. Its being discussed…..However states such as Tennessee do pay professional service taxes..However inTN they dont have personal income taxes I think it is….so it hasnt quite come to pass that we “all” dont pay service taxes. Last I was focused on this discussion and it admittedly has been some time since I last read the research there were several states and communities that had a professional service tax. As I recall there were 5 states, Hawaii, New Mexico, South Dakota and West Virginia and Tenneesee

        • You are right – I shouldn’t be so glib with my predeterminers.

  • Greg Finkle

    Hey Bob,

    Congrats on your recent honor (well-deserved I’m sure.) I’ve been a member of the AIA for most of my career as well, and like you, “my involvement has ranged from extremely heavy to almost non-existent”. We started our firm in
    1998, and this year for the first time we registered as a firm, vs. just
    individual memberships. Given the fact we’ve been adding new, younger staff, I
    think there is great value in the opportunities the AIA offers for young
    architects to gain a broader perspective on the profession. Although as a
    smaller firm we’ve always felt we needed to focus our energy/resources on
    organizations that could lead to new work, I agree with you that getting
    involved in something you are passionate about is a great way to foster
    professional growth and personal fulfillment. I think you could make a
    good argument that these benefits far outweigh the “direct-market”
    approach, when it comes to developing and maintaining relationships with clients.
    Well-rounded, fulfilled people make great ‘beacons’ to the community (and
    prospective clients….!).

    Greg Finkle

    • Hi Greg –
      Great attitude and I commend you on getting your small firm involved. I think this is how the AIA is supposed to be shaped, the involvement of everyone.

  • Tim Glass


  • Andrew

    I vowed never to re-join the AIA once they tried charging me (as a firm owner) for every registered non-AIA member in my office. They are a self-congratulatory agency that puts their own profits above the benefit of the architectural profession. The only good that I’ve seen come from them is the fact that many people equate the letters “AIA” with being registered. Those are some expensive letters, in my opinion.

    • When I sat down to put together this article, I decided not to make it centered around the costs associated with being a member. However, we believe there is real value in being a member and that’s why we cover the expenses of joining for all the employees at the firm – and in return, we expect their involvement and participation. There are all sorts of job related skills that these employees learn while serving and leading committees that yield positive and valuable benefits when they are asked to work directly with our clients. If you are paying for membership and there’s no further involvement, you aren’t making the most of the membership.

      There is an entirely different level of things that the AIA does on behalf of all registered architects that comes with a price tag – reviewing legislation to stop the encroachment on other trades into our domain, etc. that granted you don’t have to join the AIA to receive, but those who join are carrying the freight for those that do not.

      • Andrew

        I don’t disagree that it’s more valuable to someone the more involved they decide to be. Relationships, social functions, etc, all have their place, but that’s an individual benefit. As a whole, the AIA, in my opinion, has done more to damage our profession than help it. Their views on legislation almost exclusively help the larger firms (who can, coincidentally I’m sure, afford their exorbitant costs). That’s totally fine, but they shouldn’t pretend to represent the profession as a whole. They also help promote the idea that architects are mainly egotistic award-mongers. When they do provide a useful service (AIA documents for example), they charge a lot to non-members (which they should!), but they ALSO charge a lot to members. So, it seems to me that for your huge yearly fee you get a vague notion that “they are helping you, legislatively”, the AIA letters after your name, and a magazine (do they still do that?).
        I’m sure the AIA doesn’t care that I’m not a part of it, but I care that there isn’t an organization that I feel represents, and more importantly understands, architects.

        • Considering the number of meetings I sit in where the constituents are discussed, I can assure you that they care. The volunteers that help work on the legislation are people just like you and me and if you feel that your interests are not being looked after, there is an easy way to try and fix it – get involved (which is really the point of this article.)

          There are a lot of things that the AIA does that benefit architects whether or not they are a member of the AIA and the resources that are used are generally spent supporting the volunteers that chase down whatever issues they can. I am not disagreeing with you that this is not a perfect system but I’ve never heard someone who is active in the AIA working to fix the system from the inside complain as vociferously as the people who are standing on the sidelines. I wasn’t aware of all the things that are going on until I became more involved. I would urge anyone who thinks the AIA is an elitist, large firm centered, men’s club to get involved and be a part of the solution.

    • Jan Blackmon

      Last year the AIA Dallas Leadership eliminated supplemental dues. We also have adopted a strategic plan which focuses on providing resources for member development as well as community outreach to increase the public perception of the value of architecture and the architects that build their communities. Hope you will consider checking in with the chapter again to see what your membership can do for you – and the profession!
      Jan Blackmon, FAIA
      AIA Dallas I DCFA Executive Director

  • Courtney Price


  • Jacob

    Great post, Bob!

    • Thanks Jacob – I mean every word of it.