June 6, 2008

The Users Guide: The AIA’s Knowledge Communities
A singular experience for every single member

by Zach Mortice
Associate Editor

Summary: The AIA’s Knowledge Communities offer members a personalized design- and practice-based experience that provides knowledge-sharing, networking, and leadership opportunities.

How do you ... take advantage of the AIA’s Knowledge Communities?

The AIA’s selection of knowledge communities offers example one of how AIA membership is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. This range of interest groups gives members access to 20 practice- and design-based groups, such as the Committee on the Environment (COTE), regional and urban design, religious architecture, and technology in practice. Any member can choose to belong to as many knowledge communities as they want to—for free.

“We allow members more choice in how they interact with the Institute,” says Douglas Paul, one of the AIA’s director of knowledge communities. “We hopefully give members the ability to get education where they need it most, when they need it.”

The benefits
Membership in a knowledge community provides access to a variety of knowledge-sharing opportunities, including online forums, publications, and listservs. Networking opportunities are also an important part of the knowledge communities, as they host their own conferences and workshops and maintain their own awards programs. There is also an important leadership function of the knowledge communities, as participants are encouraged to become experts on their respective topics within the Institute and outside of it. All of these experiences, Paul says, bind members together in a way that builds personal identification with the AIA and its mission.

We allow members more choice in how they interact with the Institute

Providing expertise to the AIA was how these groups started, but now they’re wholly focused on serving the needs of the members. The first proto-knowledge community began in 1891 with the Historic Resources Committee. One hundred years later, these groups had evolved into professional interest areas (PIAs), and AIA members were able to join one for free, but had to pay to participate in more. In 2002, these groups were renamed and became the knowledge communities and free to all members. As of this year, knowledge community staff managers are divided at a programmatic and functional level so that each staffer deals with a particular relationship or function for all the groups. Paul and Director Kathleen Lane are the primary contacts for all the knowledge communities. They lead long-term strategic planning and manage budgets, looking for other “points of collaboration” within the Institute, says Lane.

“We’re kind of their advocate for how to get things done at the AIA,” she says.

This big push we’re trying to help our groups with is finding the various avenues to get information out

Just a few of the things Lane and Paul are trying to help members get done at the AIA: They’ve been assisting local components in setting up their own knowledge communities, and they’ve been sponsoring cross-knowledge community and component events, such as the Regional and Urban Design Committee’s collaboration with AIA New Orleans, which addressed urbanism design issues for the post-Hurricane Katrina city. The groups also are offering more and more online seminars for their members. “This big push we’re trying to help our groups with is finding the various avenues to get information out,” says Paul.

Knowledge and networking
Each knowledge community is led by a rotating advisory group of five people, for which each person spends a year as the group’s chair. Any number of volunteers work with the advisory group on conferences and events, publications, and awards. The CBSP is the largest knowledge community, with more than 10,000 members, and the smallest group (the Retail and Entertainment Committe) has less than 1,000 members.

Any number of volunteers work with the advisory group on conferences and events, publications, and awards

Leslie Moldow, AIA, chair of the Design for Aging Knowledge Community, says that 25 percent of her work at Perkins Eastman in Oakland is directly related to designing for senior citizens. Her knowledge community just received a grant from the AIA to study building performance and programmatic data. Moldow says she appreciates the networking aspects of participation. “There’s a side of me that really likes to be a matchmaker, to get people to meet each other and network,” she says. “Being in this position, I’m able to tie a bunch of people together who may never have worked together or known each other before.” Bringing architects she works with into contact with clients and end-users (via awards juries) is another positive experience Moldow says she can credit to her knowledge-community leadership.

It’s great to know that architecture is universal and that everybody has the same issues

Accessibility and designs for an aging population have also reached into the knowledge community experience of Kenneth Workman, AIA, the chair of the Housing and Custom Residential group. He says his participation has helped him anticipate emerging needs in the residential design industry. “Universal design is the next green,” he says.

Sara McCann, chair of the Practice Management Knowledge Community and principal of the 15-person Slack Alost Architects in Shreveport, La., says she’s gotten tips on how to retain talent in a tight labor market and how to survive the looming economic downturn. “The best information it has given me is that, coming from a small firm in Louisiana, the thought that my practice management issues are pretty much the same topics and struggles that someone at Perkins Eastman or someone at HOK has,” she says. “It’s great to know that architecture is universal and that everybody has the same issues.”


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AIA Government Advocacy and Advocacy Week

Visit the Knowledge Communities Web Site

AIA’s Knowledge Communities
Academy of Architecture for Health

Academy of Architecture for Justice

Center for Building Science and Performance

Center for Communities by Design

Committee on Architecture for Education

Committee on Design

Committee on the Environment

Committee on Leadership Education

Corporate Architects and Facility Management

Design for Aging


Emerging Professionals

Historic Resources Committee

Housing and Custom Residential

Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art, and Architecture

Interior Architecture

Integrated Practice

Practice Management

Public Architects Committee

Regional and Urban Design Committee

Retail and Entertainment Committee

Small Project Practitioners

Technology in Architectural Practice

Sign up for a Knowledge Community.

Listen to how specific members value their Knowledge Community membership.

Member to Member: Hear what some active KC participants have to say.

For more information, contact Kathleen Lane or Douglas Paul.