Founded in 1857, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) is the most significant non-governmental organizations for architects working in the USA. Everyone involved in architecture in the USA must join this institution to practice professionally.
Although the AIA is now headquartered in the nation’s capital, it was originally formed in New York City and was called the New York Society of Architects. At their first meeting, the 13 architects who founded the AIA said their mission was twofold. First, they wanted the AIA to help encourage scientific interest in the field of architecture. Second, the architects wanted the AIA to help improve the public image of American architects. A few of the most prominent original members of the AIA included Henry W. Cleaveland, Richard Morris, and Jacob Wrey Mould. Richard Upjohn (1802–1878), who is best known for his many Gothic-themed churches across the USA, served as the AIA’s first president.
Believe it or not, before the AIA was established, anyone in America could claim to be an architect even if they didn’t have any formal training. The AIA was set up in part to standardize the architecture profession in the USA.
In addition to setting up a framework for architecture credentials in the USA, AIA members decided to invite over 15 new architects into their fold at their first meeting. These new architects included well-known masters like Thomas U. Walter and Jackson Davis. Walter was actually the first member to suggest the group change its name from New York Society of Architects to the AIA.
By 1857, the AIA completed its first formal constitution. In April of the same year, everyone involved in the AIA signed the constitution. Once news spread of the AIA, architects from all around the nation wanted to join. Just 20 years after the Civil War, the AIA had branches in almost every major American city stretching from Albany and Boston to San Francisco and Cincinnati. Today, the AIA has over 300 local chapters and around 90,000 members.
The AIA formally moved to a building on New York Avenue in Washington, D.C. in the 1960s. In addition to housing the AIA, this building is also used by the American Institute of Students and the National Architectural Accrediting Board.
Robert Ivy is the current president of the AIA. Ivy earned his BA in English at Sewanee: The University of the South and then went on to earn a Masters degree in architecture from Tulane University. Shortly after his graduation, Robert Ivy became the principal of Dean/Dale and wrote for numerous architectural magazines. In the late 1990s, Ivy got a job working at the prestigious magazine Architectural Record. He then became the Vice President of McGraw-Hill Construction Media. The AIA chose Ivy to lead their NGO in 2011.
Besides heading the AIA, Robert Ivy is well known for his 2001 biography Fay Jones: Architect. Considered a masterful work of historical biography, Ivy’s book tells the story of one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s finest students who earned the highly coveted AIA Gold Medal. For this work, Ivy received massive praise from the Art Library of North America.
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