A Look at the AIA-NJ Building a Better New Jersey

A Look at the AIA-NJ

Since 1857, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has represented the professional interests of America's architects. As AIA members, architects, emerging professionals, and allied partners express their commitment to excellence in design and livability in our nation's buildings and communities. Members adhere to a code of ethics and professional conduct that assures the client, the public, and colleagues of an AIA-member's dedication to the highest standard in professional practice.

History and Mission

Prior to 1857, the title of "Architect" could be applied to any person practicing any one of several occupations, including masons, carpenters, bricklayers, and other members of the building trades. No schools of architecture or architectural licensing laws existed to shape the profession.

On February 13 of 1857, 13 men met in Richard Upjohn's office in New York City to form what would become the American Institute of Architects. The group was convened to create an architecture organization that would "promote the scientific and practical perfection of its members" and "elevate the standing of the profession."

By the mid-1860s, architects in other cities wished to join the Association, and so various "chapters" emerged in Philadelphia, Chicago, Cincinnati, Boston, Baltimore, Albany, Rhode Island, San Francisco, St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Washington, D.C. A special meeting soon became necessary to unite the various chapters, and the first AIA convention was held in New York City, on October 22 and 23, 1867.

In 1884, another organization was formed by architects in the Midwest and the South. That organization was founded in Chicago and called itself the Western Association of Architects. The two groups merged in 1889 under the name American Institute of Architects—the same year that Louise Bethune (the organization's first female member) again broke the gender barrier and was made the AIA's first woman Fellow.

In 1898, the Institute moved its headquarters from New York City to Washington, D.C., which coincided with the growing number of federal buildings going up and the location of Congress, which dictated how the funds were spent. The move allowed the Institute to be near the center of power so that it could influence what was built and by whom.

Since its move to the capital, the Institute has been instrumental in the development of our capital city, and several other national projects, including the Lincoln Highway, the Appalachian Trail, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The institute is currently lobbying for school funding, Brownfields legislation, and state licensure issues.

The New Jersey chapter of the AIA celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2000. The New Jersey chapter was formed in 1900, when the AIA's New Jersey chapter and the New Jersey Society of Architects merged into one organization.

The national organization's membership has grown from the original thirteen members to include 75,000 members. Originally, only practicing architects were allowed membership, but today, the AIA has four membership classifications: AIA (for licensed architects), Associate AIA (for interns, academics, and non-licensed architects), FAIA(for Fellows of the AIA), and AIA Emeritus (for retired licensed architects).

Today, the AIA-NJ's leadership consists of a board of trustees and an executive committee. Stephen Carlidge leads the group as president, and is supported by president-elect Jerome Leslie Eben, first vice president Bruce Brattstrom, second vice president Seth Leeb, secretary Michael Hanrahan, and treasurer Glenn W. Pellet. Regional director Robin L. Murray is the liaison to the national organization. Counsel Larry Powers, Esq. also serves the committee with Joseph A. Simonetta, CAE, serving as executive director.

Service to Members and Public

"AIA advocates for our membership and promotes the ideals that architects think are important," says Carlidge. The group's mission statement is clear:

"The American Institute of Architects is the voice of the architecture profession dedicated to serving its members, advancing their value, and improving the quality of the built environment."

In addition to their mission statement, the AIA has a vision statement: "Through a culture of innovation, the American Institute of Architects empowers its members and inspires creation of a better-built environment."

One of the AIA's primary services to consumers is connecting architects with clients. The average consumer may not know how to select an architect, what his or her qualifications should be, or even exactly what an architect does in the context of a construction project. No two projects are exactly alike, and the myriad of issues involved can include everything from building codes to construction costs, from design options to zoning laws.

The AIA-NJ encourages consumers to think of architects as their professional guide on the journey through construction. From the initial designs of the project to the last details of construction, an architect can lead you through the process. To that end, the AIA-NJ provides a listing of firms and descriptions to help you choose the right architect for you and your project.

Current Issues

According to Carlidge, three major issues top the list of legislative concerns of the AIA in New Jersey: one is the construction of schools, and the other two are issues surrounding the adoption of rules —the certification of interior designers and the governing of the practice of architecture.

The schools construction issue is ongoing. The AIA-NJ's executive and legislative and government affairs committees are developing an appropriate policy on the issue, which has largely centered on the use and reuse of prototype plans.

"Architects have received a lot of bad press recently regarding the Schools Construction Corporation (SCC)," says Carlidge. "[The media] only cites that architects are paid more on these contracts without understanding why that is so. The architect must do more on these contracts, and that is why the fees are higher."

"The SCC requires a lot more of us than normal. The architect must pay for all the permits, construction testing, and environmental due diligence, which are all usually done by the owners. When we work for the SCC, the architect takes on these costs, which then must be covered by the fees."

The Smart Growth Architecture Awards—one of the AIA's newer programs in conjunction with New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Office of Smart Growth—seeks to reward designers who adhere to the state's newly implemented Smart Growth Program.

Smart growth is defined as "any well-planned, well managed growth that adds new homes and creates new jobs, while preserving open space, farmland and environmental resources." Categories of design include Urban Design, Compact Design, School Construction Design, and Transportation Oriented Design.

According to Carlidge, the AIA-NJ is taking an active role in the Smart Growth Program. "We are trying to get new zoning regulations so that new buildings could be built in mass transportation centers, so that urban sprawl does not spill into the suburbs and farmland."

One of the hottest issues facing the AIA-NJ involves recent legislation involving interior design. Interior designers in New Jersey can now apply for the designation of Certified Interior Designer (CID) which was introduced to help codify the qualification for professional interior designers. The new designation does not, however, include architects.

The AIA-NJ's position maintains that interior design has always been a component of architecture and many architects offer the service as part of their overall package to clients. The AIA-NJ is seeking to include its members in this new designation by virtue of the qualifications required to become a professional architect.

The New Jersey Cooperator recently discussed the AIA-NJ's history, current programs, and future goals with AIA-NJ's president Carlidge.

What are some of AIA's concrete goals for the next 5 years?

"We've spent a lot of time recently responding to legislation, and we would like to shift from reaction to promotion. We are starting to look for opportunities to promote legislation and public awareness that will benefit our members and the public.

"We would also like to reinstate a multi-day convention, which we haven't had for a number of years. We are working on expanding our mentorship programs, so that our newer members can learn from our senior members, who have more experience. And we would like to expand our role in public awareness, as well as continue to provide continuing education for our members."

What role is AIA playing in the current interior design certification issue in New Jersey?

"We've officially filed our comments relative to the new regulations with the state board, and as of yet, we have received no formal response from them. They may ignore us. In addition to keeping architects from practicing in the interior of buildings, which we believe is our inherent right, the new regulations allow interior designers to do things that they are not qualified to do. They are allowed to move walls in the interior of a building, for example, as long as the wall does not affect the systems of the building. But any wall move can potentially have an effect on the egress or exit. It automatically has an impact. They are not licensed to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public."

In addition to lobbying for legislation, how does the Institute monitor the governing of the industry in New Jersey?

"If you remove the word 'lobbying,' the question becomes much clearer. We have a committee in place that monitors the activity of the state legislature. They review and take a position on every piece of legislation. Then they open up dialogues with the sponsors of the bills. If they are opposed, then they will use the lobbying arm in an effort to have the bills amended by explaining our position."

What are some of your past successes?

"We have a good lobbying record. The last few years along with a few of our allied professional associations have been able to stave off a professional services tax. We have been successful in implementing the Smart Growth Initiative."

How would you say that members view their organization?

"I would say that they view it very positively. We on the board stay open to their needs. We try constantly to reshape our organization into an organization that is more responsive to our members. We have just under 2,000 members in the state. We have a high percentage of architects as members in comparison with the national average. I believe that our membership is quite pleased with what we have been doing."

Denton Tarver is a freelance writer living in New York City.



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