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The History of the AIA and Its Influence on Architecture as We Know It 

Written by Kelly Weimert on Friday, February 28th, 2020 at 10:05am.

Project: United States Courthouse — Los Angeles • Architect: @skidmoreowingsmerrill • 2018 AIA Awards - Architecture / Source: @aianational

Founded in 1857, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) was created by a group of 13 New York City architects with a mission to “promote the artistic, scientific, and practical profession of its members; to facilitate their intercourse and good fellowship; to elevate the standing of the profession; and to combine the efforts of those engaged in the practice of architecture for the general advancement of the art.”

Shortly after its founding, the AIA began recruiting new members from other major cities, creating its first chapters in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Boston before expanding to additional cities such as San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Rhode Island. In 1967, 10 years after the AIA was established, the organization hosted its first annual AIA Convention, which has been going strong every year since, attracting thousands of architects and designers from around the world to network and showcase their work.  

AIA First Convention
First AIA Convention; Source: aia.org

During the late 19th and early 20th century, the U.S. government was the country's largest builder, which ultimately drove the AIA to move its national headquarters from New York City to the Octagon House in Washington D.C in 1898. This move gave the organization better access to legislators and the funding needed to build projects. 

The historic Octagon House was an architectural marvel in its own right, designed by Dr. William Thornton in 1800, the same architect who designed the U.S. Capitol. The AIA remained in the building for 75 years before commissioning The Architects Collaborative, led by Norman Fletcher and Howard Elkus, to redesign the building the headquarters remains in today, which was formally renamed the American Center for Architecture in 2007.

AIA HQ Octagon House Washington DC
The Octagon House; Source: wikipedia.org

Before the establishment of the AIA, there weren’t any architecture schools, standards, or licensing laws, so anyone could call themselves an architect regardless of their experience and training. The AIA helped to solidify and legitimize architecture practitioners as artists and professionals, establishing industry standards and best practices for the profession. 

In 1911, the AIA drafted the first set of standardized contract documents for architects. These documents helped define the relationship and terms in design and construction projects and continued to be developed into today’s industry standards, known as the AIA Contract Documents. The documents outline standards for a wide range of architectural issues, such as owner-contractor agreements, project size, and sustainability. They also include a code of ethics for the profession.

Today, the AIA hosts more than 90,000 licensed architects and associated professionals through over 200 chapters worldwide. The organization and its members actively monitor regulatory and legislative actions that influence the profession, informing local, state, and federal architectural policies. The AIA also works with local and federal governments to enhance the design of public spaces, develop affordable housing solutions for Americans, and protect the country’s infrastructure. 

AIA Gold Medal
AIA Gold Medal; Source: architectmagazine.com

In addition to creating industry standards, contributing to policy, and enhancing communities, the AIA recognizes the world’s most significant architects through prestigious awards. The AIA Gold Medal is the organization’s highest honor and recognizes architects with “a significant body of work of lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture.” Awardees have included architectural icons like Le Corbusier, Ludwig Miles van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Richard Neutra.

The AIA also publishes Architect Magazine: The Journal of the American Institute of Architects and hosts a variety of resources for practicing architects on topics like project delivery, business development, firm ownership, and workplace culture. Visit the AIA website to learn more about its background, values, awards, and basically everything else this historic architectural organization has to offer. And be sure to follow @aianational to be blown away by astounding architecture projects by AIA members.

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