In 1869, ﬁve prominent Chicago architects set aside self-interest and professional rivalry to focus on professionalizing the practice of architecture and improving life safety. They advocated for the licensure of architects, contributed to Chicago’s earliest building and zoning regulations and worked to enact mechanics lien laws. The decision to hitch their efforts to the American Institute of Architects, founded in New York two years earlier, set about the business that we continue today.
As we mark the 145th anniversary of our chapter’s founding, some of the same issues that motivated our predecessors continue to challenge us now. Constant vigilance is required to defend
licensure, we continue to maintain a dialogue with the city to improve the building code and not long ago, we were even called upon to advocate for stronger mechanics lien laws.
Yet as we ﬁght old battles, there are of course new challenges to meet. We are constantly reinventing our practices to address a world that grows increasingly complex. Environmental sustainability, new forms of project delivery, improved health outcomes and greater social justice engagement are just the most recent metrics added to the perpetual concerns of budget, schedule and design excellence by which we measure the success of our projects. AIA remains the primary tool most of us use to stay abreast of change and to assert inﬂ uence on the environment in which we practice.
There is no question: AIA Chicago is a far more sophisticated organization today than in 1869. We have all the technological advantages of the information age, and a professional staff that works tirelessly on our behalf to increase the impact of our volunteer work. Despite these improvements, we are essentially still those ﬁve colleagues who came together 15 decades ago to serve their profession and society.
Everything the AIA has accomplished is the result of its members working with a shared set of values toward a well-deﬁned goal. It is sometimes tempting to say ‘The AIA should…’ but there is no ‘they’ in AIA. When we see an unfulﬁlled need about which we are passionate, it is our responsibility to act. AIA Chicago offers extraordinary opportunities, unknown to our founders, to make our visions reality. Our knowledge communities, committees, Chicago Architect magazine and chapter staff empower us to leverage our energy and passion like never before.
At a presentation about repositioning at last year’s Grassroots Leadership Conference, a lapel pin was handed out. It was one of those cheesy pictures that changes depending on the angle from which it is viewed. From one side it read ‘AIA’; from another ‘A we A’. A gimmick for sure, but it is as true today as it was in 1869.
Scott A. Rappe, AIA