January 2012 Reginal Director’s Report

By Jerome Leslie Eben, AIA
AIA NJ Regional Director ’11-‘13

In my Regional Director Report addressed to our new Chapter President, Laurence Parisi, AIA and co-addressed to Officers and Trustees of AIANJ, I mentioned that my first article of 2012 E-Newsletter would be dedicated towards a call for all of us to work together and to start on this road by attending what I believe is AIA’s best organized and presented program, OUR Annual Grassroots Conference.

There is no doubt that the profession has fallen on some hard economic times.  As such, OUR membership numbers have suffered, causing many to questioned “Why the AIA”?  Well I found that this question is an age old one and was asked and explained in a speech given at the University of Florida School of Architecture by Edwin Bateman Morris, in April of 1952.  Mr. Morris was a member of a much smaller professional staff at AIA, then Headquartered at the Federal-period and original home of the Col. John Tayloe and family.  The Octagon OUR home from the turn of the last century had been the temporary executive mansion for President James Madison and his wife Dolley. It is most famous as the place where the Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812 was signed on February 17, 1815.

Why the AIA?; was dedicated to the concern many had as to the direction and intent of the Institute. In reviewing the speech I found that Mr. Morris covered it all.   The AIA is a professional organization where we can find companionship with others similarly trained with the same ambitions, tastes and aims.  There was mention of the earliest goals for continuing education though he used the word ‘encyclopedia of gathered knowledge’ to be shared by all in place of CEUs.  Fellowship was in the forefront.  He mentioned meetings where architects would gather congenially together and where information can be and is often easily exchanged. Grassroots is just such a meeting where this happens. While the word intern is not mentioned, the explanation of the transition from schools of architecture to the practice of the profession was clearly advanced.

With interesting and sometimes outright funny quips such as the tale of the man who realizing that McKim, Mead & White employed a large drafting force, asked Mr. Stanford White how many men were in the organization, Mr. White was said to reply, “One hundred and ten.  One hundred at the drafting-boards; and ten in the toilets!”

Certainly the goal of the speech was to instill vigor, foster and encourage change in the profession directing young people to joining the AIA.  He explained that the Institute was taking charge of public-spirited items formerly supported by collateral architectural organizations.  Legal facets, legislative needs, but above all the respect and approval of the profession by the public were being advanced by the Institute. We continue to do that today.

Grassroots is the gathering where AIA can prove to any skeptic that being involved in the organization pays.  While the foundation of our education is in schools of architecture, the understanding of the practicality of what we do for a living is advanced at this meeting of leaders.  The perfection of meeting nearly 800 other architects from all over the country is accelerated by the imagination groomed and improved as well as brought into focus by the break-out sessions offered over just a few days in Washington, DC.   There is no doubt that one can acquire the qualities that make a great architect, working alone.  However, the union of many architects working together makes for an uplifted profession.  The guiding hand of an organization such as the American Institute of Architects is where we want to be and you want to be with your peers at Grassroots in March.   I call for the Chapter and the Sections to fund as many of our young leaders as is possible to attend what has evolved in a GREAT gathering of ideas to help move OUR organization forward.  I look forward to seeing many of you there!

Thank you,
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