As the AIA is holding its 2013 National Convention this week in Denver, it is time to call out the organization and explain why I am no longer a member. First off, what is the “AIA?” It stands for American Institute of Architects and according to the their web site, the AIA is “…the leading professional membership association for licensed architects, emerging professionals, and allied partners since 1857.” The National Chapter is based in Washington, D.C. with nearly 300 state and local chapters across the United States.
The AIA provides a number of valuable services including contract documents, continuing education and a knowledge base listing of architects for the public to search. In addition, there is the annual convention. The convention is typically held in an architecturally rich city and provides a number of workshops and educational events in addition to an expo where architects can discover new products and speak with their representatives. I have been to several of these conventions and found it is the connections made with fellow architects that make them an enjoyable and educational experience. But unless you are heavily invested in the AIA culture and political scene it is difficult to justify the expense of attending.
Cost is a major factor when it comes to membership in any professional organization. Below is a listing of several professional organizations and their annual membership costs.
- NKBA (National Kitchen and Bath Association) - $150
- ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) - $225
Note: Sliding scale for the first five years after graduation starting at $50.
- AMA (American Medical Association) - $420
Note: Sliding scale for the first two years of practice starting at $210, but there are state and local associations that raise the total cost for physicians.
- ABA (American Bar Association) - $399
Note: Sliding scale for the first 10 years starting at $125.
The AIA's national dues are $251. Not so bad compared to the AMA or the ABA, but unlike those associations the AIA is a three-tiered organization requiring membership at the local, state, and national levels. The California Council and East Bay Chapter cost an additional $272 and $221 respectively, bringing my total to $744 per year.
But the annual AIA membership fee does not stop there. There is a list of supplemental dues that are required. If you are a sole practitioner (an additional $55, bringing my personal total to $799) or have a firm with employees you will pay extra. Yep, you read that right, you will pay an additional fee for each licensed (AIA member or not) or non-licensed architect along with every member of your technical or “other” staff. Your AIA membership fee could easily run into the multiple thousands of dollars. Do not fret though, all those fees also include a subscription to the architectural magazine of your choice. Oh wait, no it does not. You will get the official magazine of the AIA and nothing else.
As an architect, you make lots of money, right? So really, what's the problem? These fees are just a drop in the bucket compared to the money architects have rolling in. But wait, lets look at how much an architect actually makes and compare that to some other professions.
Average income for an architect, lawyer and doctor from the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics.
2010 Median Pay $72,550 per year or $34.88 per hour
2010 Median Pay $112,760 per year or $54.21 per hour
Physicians and Surgeons
2010 Median Pay $166,400 per year or $80.00 per hour
The costs of membership are high and proportionally higher then other professionals. So, not only do lawyers and doctors pay less to be members of their professional organizations, they make far more on average than architects. It doesn’t seem fair does it?
For more information about what an architect makes, check out Bob Borson’s of “Life of an Architect” site where he wrote a great piece about architects and their salaries.
What do architects get for these fees? In addition to the benefits previously noted, the state chapters are involved in legislative representation and the local chapters provide meeting space for a variety of user groups, educational seminars plus organize and put on local home tours. These are all benefits to the architectural community and to be honest, ones I rarely take advantage of.
My local chapter is located in Oakland, California. It is a 45-60 minute drive from my home office, which makes a lunchtime seminar at the East Bay Chapter office a half day commitment. My family and position on the local Planning Commission occupy many of my evenings, which makes attending after hours events difficult. As I am not currently involved I cannot justify the cost of membership just to be able to slap “AIA” after my name.
To the AIA’s credit, they have done a masterful job at convincing the public that “AIA” after your name identifies you as an architect. Of course, that is not true. In the Untied States, each state licenses architects, not the AIA. No longer being a member means I cannot have those initials after my name. I run the risk of having a potential client think I am not really an architect, but at $800 per year, I cannot afford it. This is a problem that is not new, in 1985 the architect I worked for dropped his membership for the same reason. It is a serious issues that the AIA needs to evaluate. Even as the economy gets stronger, many architects are questioning the high price for membership. It is a problem that I hope is being discussed this week in Denver as I would like to be able call myself a member in the future.