"Walking the Walk”

From Washington, DC to Albany, NY

Originally published in the 2008 newsletter of the American Institute of Architects, Westchester Mid-Hudson Chapter.

by Michael Shilale, AIA, LEED - February 27, 2008

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For the last seven years, every Presidents’ week, my family and I would sail off to the Caribbean for a brief escape from the harsh NY winter. This Presidents’ week I caught a very early train out of Penn Station towards our nation’s capital, the things we do for AIA.

As VP of Gov Advocacy for AIANYS, I had to attend Grassroots (our national Legislative and Leadership conference) early. It’s a pre-conference conference titled State Government Network (SGN). The focus of SGN is to collaborate with other states on critical legislative issues such as sustainability, licensing, tort reform, and professional service taxes.

The sessions were meant to inform the various state representatives about how AIA National is supporting our efforts. Programs on AIA’s tools and services for sustainability, emerging members, energy star, and national grants given to components for Government Advocacy encompassed the first day’s agenda.

AIA national is supporting our efforts with information, knowledge, toolkits and money. Our new Vice President of Integrated Web Strategy and Technology, and a member of the “technorati” (whatever that is) explained to us that the world is changing and the use of technology and the web for services and information is increasing. We learned what blogs, widgets and mashups are. During this high tech presentation, our president-elect sent me an email which would have been unremarkable except for the fact that he was sitting right next to me. I used to pass paper notes in school, today’s teens and AIA officers use email and text messaging.

The most interesting and informative part was the one hour ‘town hall’ session that involved an open dialogue among the states to see how others combat issues from interior design licensure to sales tax on professional services.

My biggest surprise occurred when I was attempting to garner support for our national President-Elect candidate from New York; George Miller FAIA. Chatting with representatives from all over the nation I ran into a friend who I have not seen in 23 years. We traveled through Europe together with two other classmates enrolled in the RPI Roman Studies Program. It was wonderful recounting our excursions in France, Switzerland and Italy whose highlight was one glorious day sightseeing and sketching the seductive shapes of Notre Dame du Haut at Ronchamp.

The second day of our SGN conference dealt with issues in more detail. Architectural Registration Examination (ARE) timing is a hot topic nationally. With a downward trend in the numbers of architectural licenses being issued, many asked how to assist our young professionals in their internship efforts. The Intern Development Program (IDP) is being looked at for improvements as well as when the ARE’s can be taken. IPD or Integrated Project Delivery (which needs an new acronym to keep me from confusing IDP with IPD) is more than a hot topic, it seems to be a pathway to a new and improved project delivery method. It has yet to gain widespread acceptance, however there is significant interest in the industry and AIA Contract Documents is introducing standard IPD documents at our national convention this May in Boston.

Many states are grappling with efforts by Interior Designers to gain licensure and title protection which has been around in NY for some time. One topic, perhaps coming to a state near you is a sales tax on professional services. Several states including Georgia, Nebraska and Michigan have successfully fought off these efforts but with State Governments looking to generate additional revenue, a sales tax on professional services is an appetizing bite.

I’ll leave the detailed description of the grassroots conference to others; however I certainly missed the visits to the ‘Hill’.

The Accent on Architecture is always a wonderful culmination and this year an especially poignant definition of the purpose of our endeavors. Why do we advocate, politic, fundraise, network, lobby, lead, and help legislate? - Many would answer great design. We see that great design in the work of Gold Medal winner Renzo Piano, and the other award recipients.

We were also treated to a presentation by Studios Architecture, the firm chosen for the renovation of AIA’s national headquarters. An impressive session, Studios did what every architect would dread, presenting their design ideas to 500 ‘clients’ with the added challenge of all of them being architects themselves. AIA members were assured that the renovation will not increase dues. More importantly we learned that if successful, we will have a model for how to pursue a renovation project using the best ideas in sustainability, and the latest thoughts on a 21st century workplace. The renovation, all built using IPD, if it truly is on time and under budget, will prove that Architect’s can not only talk the talk, but using ourselves as examples, walk the walk.