Remaking the Association Workplace
Refreshed Spaces

A Remodeled Workplace Where Staff Wants to Be

In this article:
The new CEO of the American Institute of Architects wants her organization’s office space to lead by example. AIA is undertaking a remodeling project that will transform its headquarters into a state-of-the-art, eco-friendly facility where employees want to come to do their best work.

At the American Institute of Architects, an organization that you might think would stump hard for mandatory in-office work, the vision for the future is a headquarters made up of workspaces that are healthy and sustainable and that encourage collaboration—when people come to them.

“The building has not been renovated since 1973,” said Lakisha Woods, CAE, who took the helm as AIA’s CEO in January 2022. The renovation “is something we must do, but also we’re in a changing work environment. In this design process, we are thinking about the future of work and how we could revolutionize our workspace. We are looking at several elements, especially climate, equity, and collaboration.”

The plan for AIA’s reimagined headquarters has been several years in the making, with input from members, staff, students, and the board. The new space will be designed with those principles in mind, but Woods said the goal is also to create a place where employees want to come.

“There will be people who don’t want to come back to the office, and if those positions don’t require that, why would we force people back in?” she said. “It’s a new world that we’re living in. People have different ways to work. People have different hours where they work best. If you seek to be an employer of choice, you try to adjust your environment to allow for people to work when they are at their best in the places and spaces that make them most successful.”

Woods intends that AIA headquarters will be that kind of place.

“There’s creativity that comes from gaming. That's what we want to incorporate into the space.” — Lakisha Woods, CAE, American Institute of Architects

In-Person Engagement

AIA’s redesigned space will have fewer individual offices—the team will use hoteling, a practice where employees reserve desk space for when they’re in the office—and more space for collaboration and ideating.

For Woods, requiring full-time in-office work is a relic, but she recognizes the importance of teams getting together in person and collaborating. And, based on surveys, the staff agrees.

“Most people said they are happy coming back to the office as long as it’s to engage with other people,” Woods said. “It’s about coming together for brainstorming, for recreation or adaptation of programs and services, and then also just to team-build.”

One way she envisions the space being used is for gaming. “When you’re going to brainstorm, instead of talking around the water cooler, you play some AIA-branded cornhole while you’re debating what we need to do,” she said. “There’s creativity that comes from gaming, and it allows people to think a little more innovatively. That’s what we want to incorporate into the space.”

The renovation is slated to begin by January 2023 and will take two years to complete. During that time, AIA staff will continue working remotely but will meet in person periodically. Other related associations have offered to let AIA staff use their space to help maintain connections and team-building. “I think this will be an opportunity for us to collaborate more closely with our association partners,” Woods said.

Embracing the New Order

Renee Yancey, chief external equity, diversity, and inclusion officer at AIA, says the staff supports Woods’ vision that headquarters can be a place that people come to work together and enjoy being there. “I think this is going to be the place where you want to be,” Yancey said. “It doesn’t have to be every single day, but this has to feel good, and that part of the design has been very clear through the engagement phase.”

The building includes many green components (see sidebar) and focused on equity in the design phase. “The design process has intentionally incorporated HBCU [historically Black college and university] student internships into this project,” Yancey said. “They got real-world paid internships, and we got to engage the next generation of future architects in the early stage of the design of AIA’s headquarters.”

Because the building will be unavailable until 2025, Woods recognizes that additional modifications may be needed to accommodate how the staff envisions working. But she’s OK with that, knowing that workplace innovation comes with learning new things and adapting to change.

“We want to lead by example,” Woods said. “We want to showcase what the future of hybrid work looks like—everything from the technology that we use within those conference spaces, where people who may not be in the room still feel like they’re a part of the conversation, to incorporating new collaborative spaces for people to engage with each other.”

An artist’s renderings of the finished building and a fly-through video can be found on the AIA website.

Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now.

More from Refreshed Spaces

The Northern Virginia Association of Realtors staffed up and revamped its spaces to make its office more inviting and useful to members, who needed meeting space and help with new business practices like multimedia production.
COVID-19 shuttered association offices for extended periods, and with many organizations continuing remote work at least part time, leaders are reconsidering their office space. Many want less square footage and more flexible lease terms—and they have more leverage to get them.