Contributed by:
Michael Malone

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Why AIA Matters

Over the last year, I’ve had many occasions to answer questions about the value of AIA and the importance of membership. Sometimes these inquiries were posted to me in the form of direct questions, other times as sideways comments. I treat them all as if they were sincere and the person asking really does need to know what we do at AIA and why it matters to them. I believe if we cannot discuss and answer these questions, we, ourselves, need to be better informed because AIA is the voice of our profession and is critical to the mission of what each of us does in our individual circumstances and practices.

To me, AIA has become an essential resource to my way of practicing and, by extension, my way of life. AIA is my professional home—what it stands for and how it represents me matters a great deal, not only to me, but to the thousands of us who practice as architects. AIA is made up of people just like you and me, practitioners from firms large and small who care about the built environment and quality of life in America. On an intellectual level, I know what the Institute does in the areas of legislation, green building, and advocacy for building programs that benefit the citizens of this country; but to me, that has become secondary. I am involved within AIA and dedicated to service because of the folks I have met and with whom I have become friends.

AIA is the place where I can be with people who share the same values with me; people who feel concerned about the same things and look around at the world we live in and are both edified and disappointed. We speak the same language, have the same sensibilities, and are dedicated to the same ideals. We know the same disappointments and experience the same missed opportunities. Sadly, that sense of common understanding is missing from most of my non-professional peer relationships so I count on my fellow AIA members to provide me with the assurance our cause is noble and the outcomes worthwhile.

At my firm, we feel AIA membership is critical, and we back that up by paying for membership for everyone on our staff. That’s right, full membership payments made by the firm for all of the staff to join and belong. In return we require them to be active and involved.  This takes different forms for different folks, but as examples, here is how some of us are engaged at the local and state level. My partners Bob Borson, AIA and Audrey Maxwell, AIA both have important roles in AIA.  Bob is the AIA Dallas Vice President for Programs and chair of the TxA Digital Communications Committee. Audrey chairs the TxA Publications Committee, the group tasked with the creation of our award winning magazine, Texas Architect. Paul Pascarelli, AIA is the Chair of the TxA Continuing Education Committee. Ryan Thomason, Assoc. AIA is on the Dallas Tour of Homes Committee. Morgan Newman is on the TxA Digital Communications Committee. Finally, I am the current president of the Texas Society of Architects.

I am often asked why we made this choice to provide membership to everyone and if we feel it is worth it. Unequivocally, I answer yes. My co-workers all understand the value of AIA, but more importantly, they feel engaged and part of it.  They’ve all made friends with other architects around the state and have a good sense of how other practices work. It allows them the opportunity to be architects outside of our firm, to stand as professional on their own, to make decisions and work in teams. Most importantly, it has made them more entrepreneurial, an important trait in a small firm. I want them all to understand the importance of personal relationships, exuding competence and making decisions. Within our firm we cannot always provide leadership opportunities, but in AIA there are a plethora of such roles.

I believe that all firms, but particularly large firms, miss an opportunity when they don’t offer membership (even with strings attached) to their architectural staff. The best way for someone to know what membership means is to provide it to them and set expectations for being involved. Once they are members, especially if given active roles, they feel engaged, know they have a personal stake, and understand what it means to be part of our organization.  I believe encouraging and supporting membership is a crucial mentoring role; compelling architects to be AIA members and then following though by asking them to be active only benefits us all.

I am happy to discuss my views and would love to hear from you. Feel free to call or email me. My email is: and my phone number: 214-969-5440.