The AIA’s astonishing milestone — 150 years since its founding — is something to admire. AIA was established to give architects a voice, a place to commiserate, network and learn about architecture. There’s no doubt these goals, and more, have been achieved.
In 1857, 13 architects led by Richard Upjohn created the New York Society of Architects. Sixteen more architects were invited to the second meeting held March 10, 1857. It was at this meeting that Thomas U. Walter came up with the name we know today: The American Institute of Architects. One month later, this group of elite professionals stood before a judge at the New York City Hall and filed a certificate of incorporation.
Ten years later, architects across the country expressed the desire for a voice similar to what AIA offered to the New York area. AIA realized that chapters were the next logical step for the organization. The New York Chapter thus is considered the first official chapter.
The front (left) and back of the AIA Gold Medal.
In 1884, a competing organization was created in Chicago called the Western Association of Architects. Five years later, both the AIA and WAA realized the benefit of merging into one collaborative effort and became one organization.
Through its 150-year history, the AIA has grown while celebrating architects and their creations. The organization celebrates important and influential architects by awarding the Gold Medal. Designed by A.A. Weinman in 1906, the Gold Medal was first awarded to Sir Aston Webb in 1907. The most elaborate Gold Medal ceremony was held in 1923 when Henry Bacon, architect of the Lincoln Memorial, was presented with the award by President Warren G. Harding.
Throughout AIA’s history, conventions have been important to its members. In fact, the AIA constitution originally required a special meeting to be held annually on Feb. 22. The reason for this specific date was to celebrate the creation of AIA and George Washington’s birthday. On Oct. 22 and 23, 1867, AIA held its first convention in New York City. The largest convention was in 2006 in Los Angeles with 19,453 attendees.
The 2007 AIA convention is in San Antonio, May 3-5.
As AIA commemorates 150 years, multiple celebrations are planned. One such celebration is AIA’s Green 150 Project, which includes a planting of 150 trees as a gift to San Antonio to acknowledge its commitment to the local community.
Another celebration of 150 years is AIA’s Blueprint for America. This program is an opportunity for architects to give back to their communities. Throughout the country, architects and AIA chapters are working with government officials and citizens to explore areas of improvement throughout their communities. Indirectly, these efforts will express the importance of how architects can contribute to a better way of life. On the occasion of AIA’s 150th anniversary, AIA will give the nation a gift of these blueprints that point toward the future.
The member experience
To learn more about personal experiences of being an AIA member, Residential Design & Build magazine interviewed two chapter presidents, Tom Meyer, FAIA, president of AIA Minnesota and Mark Smith, AIA, LEED AP, president of AIA Florida. Both expressed that being an AIA member is important to their practice as well as their growth.
Mark Smith, principal of Smith Architects in Sarasota, Fla., has been involved in AIA since 1983. Tom Meyer, principal of Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle in Minneapolis, has been involved for 25 years. The two presidents were driven to join the AIA by different factors. “After I (became) registered as an architect, I joined to do what is the norm — to complete my professional affiliations. [To become a member] seemed like the natural thing at the time,” Meyer says.