AIArchitectInstititute News
10/2006 AIA150, 1977-1986
Activism and Capital-A Architecture Are Alive at the AIA

by Tony P. Wrenn, Hon. AIA

In the 1970s and ’80s, the 120-year debate continued over who architects are and what they and their professional association should do. Among the answers that emerged: enhance the knowledge and talent base to create architecture of the highest quality, recognize architectural achievement past and present, and hold it up for the edification of the profession and public alike.

In the middle of the 1970s, as architects debated whether their discussions of the profession were self-serving or of benefit to society, AIA President John M. McGinty, FAIA, noted:

“There is another distinguishing hallmark of professionalism—the scale upon which the judgments must be made. And that is a primary allegiance to the discipline imposed by the prior body of knowledge which circumscribes the profession. This means a lawyer acts on knowledge of the law; it means a doctor renders judgments for the good of his patient based on medical science; and it means an architect places the welfare of his society and his client ahead of his own when called upon to do so by the discipline of the art and science of architecture … That is a lot of baggage we’re carrying on our shoulders. It implies not only honesty, but selflessness and even more terrifying, competence.”

In a search for competence, the AIA reorganized its professional interest committees in the 1970s—which till then were filled by appointment only—and broadened them to allow all AIA members, students, and libraries access to their publications, conferences, and discussions. The Intern-Architect Development Program (IDP) began, after a period of testing with some 60 firms in three states proved the program’s value in providing professional advice, guidance in important areas of knowledge and skill, and development of a measurement system and educational materials. Simultaneously, the Institute began developing a Continuing Education Network.

As orders for AIA documents, widely used throughout the construction industry, topped more than a million in 1977, updating of documents continued, along with a complete revision of Chapter 13 of The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice on General Conditions of the Contract for Construction and a number of other documents. Distribution by components was authorized, and 28 signed on to begin distribution at mid-year 1978.

New ways of working and thinking
Technological changes continued, as, as illustrated in the San Diego 1977 Convention proceedings: “keynote speakers preached from an elevated ‘cherry picker,’ 20 feet below convention-goers were entertained and informed by futuristic ‘television walls,’ computerized video displays, mini-theaters, color-coded exhibits, and an electronic message signboard reporting daily convention events.”

In Washington, there was still unfinished business, as Congress seemed bent on extending the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. “Skillful AIA lobbying and expert advice convinced Congress to delay funding ... pending further study.” The AIA received national attention in newspapers and magazines across the country for its efforts to insure retention of the West Front, avoiding its destruction and coverup by new work, such as had occurred on the East Front. Ultimately, the AIA won half its battle, for though the East Front was extended and covered, the West Front and the Capitol terraces have been restored. The Mall view of the building still evidences the quality work of Bulfinch, Latrobe, and Walter.

Nationally, seven Regional/Urban Design Assistance Teams dispatched during the year to different communities worried about urban decline. Preservation, as with the Capitol’s West Front, was increasingly seen as an option to the widespread demolition that urban-renewal programs had spawned. “Recycled buildings,” McGinty said, “can possess a warmth, a scale, a touch of humanity that is difficult to achieve in new structures. Rebuilt inner cities can provide convenience, maturity, and relationship to neighbors and people, and a variety of users that is seldom found in new suburbs.”

Presidents of the New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and British architectural societies addressed the AIA 1978 Convention, suggesting an international approach to solving the problems and promise of architectural practice. That same year, Louis de Moll, a Fellow of the Institute, was elected president of the International Union of Architects (UIA), the first American to head the worldwide organization, established in 1948 and representing some 300,000 architects around the world.

Elevating architects nationally
Still, as architects discussed intangibles, many worried about their own financial security. AIA President Elmer Botsai, FAIA, noted: “I know there are some architects who see profitability as the big goal—and I feel sorry for them. They should have become dentists.” He suggested concentrating on education and design rather than the dollar, nonetheless advising that entry-level architects be paid decent salaries. He noted “it is shocking that the best way for an architectural student to increase his future salary is to flunk design and switch to engineering.” Botsai suggested elevating the AIA Honor Awards program to presentation at an “elegant black-tie dinner” and pushing publicity as a means of emphasizing design.

The AIA found other ways to publicize architects nationally, including cooperation programs with the U.S. Postal Service, which introduced four stamps, titled “Architecture USA,” with first-day ceremonies at a special modular post office set up at the 1979 AIA convention in Kansas City. Featuring four historic buildings, the stamps underscored not just good design but preservation of that design. The stamp program continued over the next three years, with a different four buildings each year, culminating in 1982, the AIA 125th anniversary, with four buildings by AIA Gold Medalists: Fallingwater, the Illinois Institute of Technology, the Gropius House, and Dulles International Airport.

In Washington, D.C., the AIA financed banners proclaiming “Buildings Reborn” to be flown on 40 successfully recycled District buildings. At the same time an exhibit titled “Buildings Reborn: New Uses, Old Places,” at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery featured a sampling of the buildings. A brochure with map pinpointing the buildings urged walkers to have a look.

As energy conservation studies continued, the AIA completed retrofitting of its headquarters building in early 1978 and reported in mid-July that the work had already indicated a reduced energy consumption of 42 percent. At that rate, the cost of the work would be returned in energy savings in just 2.5 years.

Recognizing the contributions of others
In 1980, the AIA honored Lady Bird Johnson with an AIA Medal and honorary membership in the Institute for “her role in both fostering and influencing the architectural profession . . . In particular, the jury feels that the former First Lady has been greatly influential in the development of a sound and successful public attitude toward the conservation and rehabilitation of the historical architectural resources of this country.” The jury noted her founding, in 1965, of the Committee for a More Beautiful Capital—which had, it noted, transformed “Washington, D.C., into a city of flowers, improved parks, and public playgrounds.”

The importance of art in architectural design was also discussed in 1980. The Board supported including a “significant percent” of a total architectural project budget to include art as an integral part of the project and its surroundings. In other action, the Board voted to support the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and encouraged AIA components in unratified states to lend support to pro-ERA activities. It also voted support for “the creation of a national clearinghouse for architectural and archival material,” along with the “development of regional depositories to collect, conserve, and catalog original architectural documents.”

Visions for the profession
In the mid-May 1980 issue of the AIA Journal, the editors asked a number of architects, educators, and critics “What’s Next?” The answers are still worth reading. Among them:

“Largely leaderless in the areas of land use and land planning, the nation should be turning to the architectural profession for far-sighted directives and technical guidance. As I see it, there are no options. Either we, as architects, take our place on the front line or the velocity of destructive trends will be totally uncontrollable—and that’s when we will find ourselves ‘on the edge of survival.’”—Nathaniel Owings

“Architecture by itself cannot change the world. But it is part of the world, and it is an enduring way in which change is expressed.”—Thomas Hines

“I’d like to see an architecture that makes sense, and does so gracefully.”—Sarah P. Harkness, FAIA

“Those architects who will write the legislation, design zoning ordinances, conduct design reviews and act as client for major institutions and agencies will have a profound effect.”—Marvin E. Goody

“If architecture does [provide] solutions to the interconnected esthetic, technological, social and economic problems of the built environment … behavioral scientists, computer managers, engineers and interior decorators [will] take over.”—James Stewart Polshek, FAIA

“[A]rchitecture is our most . . . public. . . art form. . . [and will] be accorded that status. . . when it is seen as an essential part of general education.”—Marvin Filler

“The forces whose gravity are not yet fully recognized by society or its architects are: the scarcity of nonrenewable resources in general and energy consumption in particular; worldwide inflation; the widening chasm between the haves and have-nots. . . [P]rinciples used in past vernacular architecture that respond directly to the needs of daily life and the limitations of modest technology will re-emerge.”—Robert B. Marquis

Direction ’80s at 125
AIA President Robert Lawrence, FAIA, would echo Marquis’ sentiments in 1982 when he told conventioneers “We don’t want an Institute that appeals to the lowest common denominator. We do not want to reflect a mean, a norm, an average ... The Institute should be in the forefront of efforts to raise public awareness of quality in our environment.”

The Direction ’80s Task Force had begun work in 1981 on a report that would prioritize goals in five areas—body of knowledge, education, public policy, communications, and organization—and define appropriate roles for national, state, and local components of the AIA. Concepts gleaned nationwide set the agenda for a 1982 goals conference in Washington, D.C. Delegates included representatives from all AIA regions, government, education, and industry, along with non-architects. The report focused internally on architects and externally on architecture.

1982 marked the 125th anniversary of the AIA, celebrated with an exhibit at the Octagon that recreated an architect’s office as it might have appeared in 1857 contrasted with the actual operating office of a Washington architect, where the drafting table was replaced by CAD. In the AIA building, an exhibit of materials from the AIA Archives featured items that reflected “For the Record” the 125-year evolution of architecture from the practice of a few to a profession. A week-long birthday party in April featured not just the exhibits but concerts, forums, and tours and culminated in a gala reception for invited guests, including ambassadors, government officials, AIA officers, members, and staff. Birthday activities brought thousands into the courtyard, Octagon, and AIA building for an introduction to the AIA.

The Vietnam Memorial
One series of events of the long hot summer of 1982 had begun earlier when representatives of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund came to the AIA seeking guidelines for an architectural competition. From 1,420 entries, the jury, with Paul Spreiregan as competition adviser, selected Maya Lin, 22, a recent Yale University architecture graduate. Some argued the design—Modern, abstract, black, and below ground, with the names of U.S. troops who died in Vietnam—was anti-war; different from other Washington memorials. Veterans groups, with the support of several nationally known figures, including Secretary of the Interior James Watt, asked for a flagpole behind the apex of the monument and a statue of three soldiers at the intersection of the monument walls.

Lin steadfastly supported her design, and the AIA lent its support “to protect the public interest and preserve design excellence in the federal city.” In testimony before the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, AIA President Lawrence contrasted the “Open, careful professional design competition process,” that chose Lin’s design, with the “closed, politicized, nonprofessional” process that led to the proposed design.

“It is a new scheme in which the statue becomes the actual memorial and the wall designed by Lin an almost incidental backdrop supporting a flagpole,” stated the AIA position. “The statue would be a tortured and ambiguous memorial seemingly anxious to make a statement about the war but uncertain what the statement should be. This is precisely the kind of thing that the competition program sought to avoid and what the winning design, in quiet power and dignity, totally avoided … The best design was selected. That is the design that should come to fruition. Our veterans deserve nothing less, and the public trust demands nothing more.” The AIA campaigned throughout the long summer and fall for Lin’s design, just as it had in the first quarter of the 20th century for Henry Bacon’s design for the Lincoln Memorial less than 150 yards away.

Ultimately the Commission of Fine Arts noted that the Lin design articulated no entry point and proposed that the flag and sculpture be part of an entrance removed from the original design, which the AIA supported “so that this country’s memorial to those who served in Vietnam can be dedicated this November 11 as originally scheduled.”

The Memorial was dedicated and has become the most visited site in Washington. Lin’s design is breathtaking in its beauty and emotional impact. Still, notes Raymond Rhinehart, Hon. AIA, who was engaged in the AIA’s fight for Lin’s design, “the controversy ... simmers on; new figures are added to the sculpture group, the now-approved underground visitor center ... It won’t end probably even after the last veteran dies. The hurt is that profound, and the scar that deep. But the memorial also endures.”

Celebrating the old and ringing in the new
In 1983, the Institute, the Library of Congress, and the National Park Service celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). Operated under a tripartite agreement, HABS started as a Depression-era program to provide work to unemployed architects and drafters. In its 50 years, the Survey had recorded more than 16,000 structures and sites. “Since 1933, HABS has documented structures from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Currently, more than 40,000 measured drawings, 77,000 photographs and 42,000 pages of written architectural and historical data are housed in the Library of Congress and are available for public use.” HABS continues as an active program.

Concurrently, a new publication, Architectural Technology magazine saw the light of day. The new quarterly for AIA members was intended to respond “to the need of the profession to have the best that is being thought and written today about the science and practice of architecture.”

The same year, the AIA Journal changed its name to Architecture. “The new name reflects the fact that the magazine speaks for the profession, not AIA per se, and that reporting on AIA activities, while part of its content, is by no means the major part,” said editor Donald Canty.

It was a year of restructuring within the Institute, as well. A Governance Task Force began “to identify the authority and responsibility of all bodies within the Institute, including the Board of Directors, the Executive Committee, commissions, regional and state organizations, chapters, and national committees to study the Institute’s responsiveness to the membership ... and to develop a strategy for allocation ... [of] Institute resources to encourage ... effective communication with and participation of the membership.” The topic was, and remains, an ongoing process.

A new dawning for architecture
With his architectural critique, A Vision of Britain, still four years from the making, Prince Charles came to the AIA in 1985 to hear about and discuss successful American approaches to urban revitalization. Representatives from several American cities with successful design control programs that had led to urban revitalization appeared and participated. “While no one in this room professes to have the definitive formula for successful urban revitalization, each of us has been involved in successful urban revitalization processes. It’s our experience as participants in these efforts that we have to share. Perhaps some of the elements of the process are transferable and will be of benefit to other cities or countries,” said David N. Lewis, AIA, RIBA, of Philadelphia. Prince Charles expressed the hope that RIBA and the AIA would work together in studying and solving urban problems.

At one convention session in 1985, three panel members discussed the nature “of the architect’s contribution to the design process.” Hugh Newell Jacobsen, FAIA, Washington, D.C., stated that “there is a world of difference between a building and a work of architecture ... We’re building less and less of architecture and losing more and more to the lawyers and bankers, who don’t know their ass from page 12. . . We are responsible for the mess out there, not the developers. Our basic role is to educate our clients. Our own sloth is the enemy. We were better architects 50 years ago, because we had higher principles. . . We don’t supervise or inspect work. We observe it—periodically. That troubles me.” Jacobsen admitted that saying no to an inflexible program or a difficult client was not easy but stated flatly that “building a turkey is worse.”

Architectural Technology was folded into Architecture in October of 1986 to become “the most complete magazine in the field.” Membership in the decade 1977-1986 grew from 24,000 to just under 50,000. Dues income, “a total aggregate of basic and supplemental dues,” received went from $4 million to more than $9 million. And the annual budget for Institute operation rose from $8 million to $26 million.

Brendan Gill, keynote speaker at the 1986 AIA Convention noted this growth and urged architects to take advantage of the increasing interest in architecture. “Until recently, the profession of architecture was not one to be entered to become rich, much less famous. It is only within the last decade that architecture has become fashionable . . . One is expected at dinner parties to speak easily of contemporary icons such as Venturi and Gwathmey and Meier and Jahn. . . Now architecture—or rather architects—are all the rage.”

AIA President John A. Busby Jr., FAIA, followed Gill in suggesting architects take advantage of their opportunities, ending by saying “We proceed, we persist, we create, we change in order to give the world beauty, shelter, home and sanctuary. The new age is dawning, and this profession will build it. It is the greatest challenge that we face. And with skill, commitment, and willingness to adapt to new realities, it is going to be our greatest triumph.”

Copyright 2005 The American Institute of Architects. All rights reserved. Home Page Home Page

AIA150 Rolling History
 A Beginning, 1857-1866
 The Second Decade, 1867-1876
 1877-1886: Westward and Upward
 1887-1896: A Decade of Outreach, Inclusiveness, and Internationalism
 Women and Women Architects in the 1890s
 1897-1906: The AIA Moves to and Changes Washington
 The Institute's Influence on Legislative Policy
 At 50, the AIA Conceives the Gold Medal, Receives Roosevelt's Gratitude
 Spinning a Golden Webb
 1909-1917: The Institute Comes of Age in the Nation's Capital
 1917-1926: A New Power Structure: World War I, Pageantry, and the Power of the Press
 1927-1936: A Decade of Depression and Perseverance
 The AIA in Its Ninth Decade: 1937-1946
 1947-1956: Wright Recognition, White House Renovation, AIA Closes on 100
 The Tenth Decade: 1957-1966
 1967-1976: New HQ and a New Age Take Center Stage
 A New Home for the AIA in 1973; A Greener Home in 2007
 Diversity and the Profession: Take II
 'The Vietnam Situation Is Hell': The AIA's Internal Struggle over the War in Southeast Asia
 1977-1986: Activism and Capital-A Architecture Are Alive at the AIA
 1987-1996 Technology, Diversity, and Expansion


Image 1: The celebration of architecture was a recurring focus of the AIA’s 12th decade.

Image 2: First day of issue Architecture stamps from 1980 and 1981.

Image 3: AIA President Lawrence presents the Gold Medal to Romaldo Giurgola in 1982.

Image 4: Nathaniel Owings celebrates his Gold Medal in 1983.

Image 5: The 125th anniversary celebrations brought architecture to the public.

Image 6: Direction ’80s defined governance goals for the 125-year-old AIA.

Image 7: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial has become one of the most-visited sites in Washington.

Image 8: I.M. Pei, FAIA, accepts Gold Medal recognition in 1979.

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