President's Viewpoint - Advocacy, Fees and Anti-Trust

Originally published in the 2006 newsletter of the American Institute of Architects, Westchester Mid-Hudson Chapter.

by Michael Shilale, AIA, LEED - May, 2006

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Last month I wrote about many of the benefits, (over 60) AIA provides to us at the national, state and local level. Advocacy for Architects and for our communities may be the most important thing AIA does. In May your president and other members of our chapter will be heading to Albany for our New York State Lobby Day called Architects in Albany.

Governmental advocacy at the national and state level is a major effort of our organization. At the New York State level we breakdown our advocacy efforts into two major categories. One is architects advocating for more sustainable, livable and beautiful communities. The second area, more important to our daily practice is our advocacy efforts towards improving our abilities as architects to provide our services more productively, profitably and with an appropriate level of risk.

This year Advocacy for our Communities include support for Smart Growth and Sustainable Development, Affordable Housing, Historic Preservation and School Facilities. There are many bills in the Senate and Assembly that we support and our mission is to get as many of our elected officials to co-sponsor or vote for this legislation.

Architects as Advocates for Improving Design and Construction Practice issues include our support of seven Assembly and Senate proposals. These bills include: funding for prosecution of illegal practice, Wicks Law reform, and Design-Build consumer protection. AIANYS has listed all the bills we architects need to support in their Spring 2006 newsletter. Call your local Senators and Assemblypersons and let them know what is important to you. You can make a difference.

Our efforts at the national level seem to have made a difference in the area of small business health care insurance. A new study shows that Senate Bill 1955, The Health Insurance Affordable Act of 2005, will reduce employers’ premiums by 12% representing a savings of about $1000.00 per employee. We have been advised that this bill has a chance of passage this year and encourage all architects to call their senators in Washington and remind them of this vote and its importance to architects and all small business owners.

As president of your chapter I have been included in an email dialog with presidents from other AIA chapters throughout the country and the world. We have heard from presidents throughout the United States and from AIA Hong Kong, AIA Germany and AIA Japan. The one theme that seems to be prevalent is the concern regarding the amount of influence our profession has on the built environment. Our eroding role in the design of cities and communities is a vision shared by architects from large firms and small, big cities, rural communities and throughout the world. It was somewhat comforting to hear that architects from all walks of life are challenged to provide services we know to be valuable for lower and lower fees. The subject of architectural fees had one of the longest email threads of any other subject. It seems complaints about the status of our profession are equaled only by complaints about the fees we can generate as architects. In a true “big brother” moment, midway through the discussion of architectural fees, the general counsel from AIA’s national component reminded us of the anti-trust actions brought against AIA some years ago and suggested that discussions among AIA leaders about architects’ fees can attract unwanted attention from the United State Department of Justice. We have been advised not to use the word “fees” in our deliberations and I hope that my use of that word seven times already in this article will not bring an unwanted visit from the local Justice Department investigator.

All that aside, if architects do not lead the world towards the development of more livable, beautiful, safe and sustainable communities, who will?