Although most great American architects have traditionally looked upon the build environments of the likes of Greece, Rome and Georgian England for design and construction inspiration, today, it is largely the great cities of American to which architects the world over turn for their own source of inspiration. That American, in slightly over 150 years, has gone from an empty country of lawless frontiers and sod prairie homes to one of the greatest laboratories for the synthesis of architectural and design languages is a testament to the ability of the American architectural profession to develop some of the best talent and best schools that the world has ever seen.
None of this would have been possible without the American Institute of Architects. Today, the company is headed by Robert Ivy, one of the most renowned architects and historians of architecture in the country today. Ivy holds a highly honored chair, a position that has been held by some of the greatest practitioners of American architecture throughout the history of the country.
But for the first 80 years of its existence, America lacked any professional organization for architects at all. It was not until 1857 that a number of prominent architects decided to form a professional organization for their trade. Not only would the American Institute of Architects be responsible for creating standards by which its members were bound, but it would also enable a place where a strong sense of fellowship among the leading architects in the country could be fomented. The organization has, further, settled into a role of lobbying in the interests of those in the building trades, a very important function that has yielded major advances in U.S. building codes and other crucial areas.
But the greatest contribution of the American Institute of Architects has perhaps been the rapid professionalization that it achieved in the architecture profession throughout the 1860s and 1870s. It’s no coincidence that, throughout that time period, the country began developing into a place where one could find the most sophisticated cities and advanced industrial installations. With the advent of the skyscraper, in 1884, the country put itself on a path to global economic domination that still has not ended today. It could be plausibly argued that the American built environment, relying heavily on the use of the skyscraper as a place in which to live and work, was a major driving factor behind the great prosperity of the American 20th century.