By Dominique Davison

I’m just returning from the Big Sibs conference for AIA National (American Institute of Architects). It’s the annual gathering of the AIA’s 20 largest local component chapters. (Fun fact – AIA Kansas City is the 16th largest local chapter in the world.) The President or President-elect joins their Executive Director to meet with leaders from all over the country- Baltimore hosted this year. As the 2024 President of AIA KC, I had the honor of attending with Dawn Taylor, Executive Director of AIAKC.

The topics of discussion ranged from giving updates on what each component has achieved, is struggling with, and is excited about (rose, thorn, bud) to strategic planning methods and updates from both the CEO of NCARB and a researcher at the Brookings Institute, who focused on the state of downtowns.

I had meaningful conversations with folks from New York to Austin to Los Angeles about how their cities are evolving and what crucial issues they were considering. Two universal concerns were affordable housing and the unhoused. One attendee from the Denver component shared a fascinating piece of research where he layered the latest compensation data from the AIA with the cost of living/housing. It was remarkable how many cities don’t have affordable housing available for new graduates coming out of accredited degrees in architecture. This discrepancy, layered with the debt burden for that degree, makes particular cities untenable for our workforce and dissuades many people from continuing or even pursuing architectural careers.

I was delighted to see the cost burden of housing in the Kansas City metro rates very low, with an average cost of housing at roughly 23% of the average base salary. This alignment might explain why so many younger professionals are making the move to the heartland. Our neighbors in Denver have a very different situation, with housing costs reaching as high as 40%. Not surprisingly, Boston, New York, and San Francisco scored the poorest in affordability for young architects.

Another critical conversation topic concerns DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging). Many chapters or components around the country have ramped up their focus on DEIB over the past few years, adding committees and making efforts to improve diversity of representation. Each chapter fulfills its membership’s interests in expanding representation and a sense of community in its own way; for example, New York recently created an LGBTQ committee to address community topics. Learning of this addition renewed my commitment to improving DEIB efforts here in Kansas City.

We also had a great conversation with NCARB CEO Michael Armstrong, where we discussed how to lower the expense and time to licensure to open the field up to a more diverse cross-section of people without lowering the bar on registration requirements while defending the value of an architect’s stamp. NCARB is actively working on this and seeking input from the architectural community – from emerging and established professionals. If you have thoughts, please share them in a comment or email.

Having the opportunity to examine these pertinent issues with a diverse group of architectural experts is essential to keep the profession moving forward sustainably and beneficially. I am looking forward to the continued dialogue.

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