American Institute of Architects Has Cultivated the American Panoply of Architectural Schools

     The United States is nothing if not eclectic. This is as true as its various architectural schools as it is of the nation itself, with landscapes ranging from boreal rainforests to burning deserts and a populace as diverse as the human race itself. America’s contribution to the art and science of the architecture is both singular and impressive. Even many schools that did not originate in the United States have found their fullest expression here. And all of this has been the direct result of having an authoritative institution to oversee and professionalize this great art that was once considered little more than a pastime for the privileged.

Architecture goes from a parlor trick of the polymath to respected profession

In the early days of the Republic, when Thomas Jefferson designed the campus of the University of Virginia, much architecture was the work of the leisured upper classes, who may not have even considered it to be their first trade. Throughout the first part of the 19th century, anyone who could have letterhead printed could call themselves an architect. This situation did not always instill public confidence in built spaces. Ultimately, the prominent architects of the day resolved to create a level of professional rigor that would keep out the unqualified and bind to a code of standards and ethics all those who wished to call themselves architects in the United States.

In 1857, many of top architects in New York convoked a meeting and established the American Institute of Architects, one of the first such professional organizations outside of the American Medical Association and the American Bar Association. Like the latter two, the American Institute of Architects sought to create a body of standards and an aura of respectability around the profession that its members had chosen. This would prove to be a sagacious move. The AIA would go on to play a critical role in winning over the public’s trust as the American city transformed from the ground-hugging European paradigm to the skyscraper-dominated, iconic 20th century metropolis.

When the first genuine steel-framed skyscrapers began appearing in the mid-1880s, the professionalism of the architectural industry reassured a wary public that it was safe to do things that we now take for granted, such as riding an elevator to the 20th floor. The skyscraper quickly became the sine qua non of the American city, expanding the possibilities of commerce and facilitating a level of efficiency in work and trade that had never before been seen.

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