Architecture Center Toolkit

Want to open an architecture center? You're starting in the right place! The Association of Architecture Organizations (AAO) and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) have teamed up to provide you with a one-stop-shop of resources. You'll find answers to practical details, food for thought on the bigger picture, and everything in between. Learn about best practices from leaders of established architecture centers across the country.

Video Playlists

For each of the topics below, there's a collection of short (2 minute or less) videos organized into a YouTube playlist. You can either sit back, press play, and watch them all in a row, or after pressing play you can click on "Playlist" to jump to the segment that interests you most.

Resource Documents

Each topic also has a pdf that gives you a sneak peek into the internal working documents of actual architecture centers.

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Architecture Centers in the Press

Want to learn more about what community-based architectural organizations do? This brief set of articles highlights some AAO-member architecture centers, and the roles they play in their local communities.


TOPIC 1: Why start an architecture center?

Margie O’Driscoll, Center for Architecture + Design San Francisco

Is it a physical space your organization requires or just new programming and/or an expanded audience? Have you tested any programs to determine if a center is necessary? What are some of the different ways centers function/what do successful centers look like? 


View Resource Document:

PDF iconArchitecture + The City Festival Programs List


TOPIC 2: Cultural Needs Assessment

Lynn Osmond, Chicago Architecture Foundation

Constructing programs intended for public audiences will likely shift your organization into the nonprofit arts & culture realm: that’s where many of your future partners will be, including foundation and corporate donors (beyond the building trades). How will your organization fit into the local scene? What unique benefit will you provide?


View resource document:

Mission Statements of Architecture Organizations


TOPIC 3: Talking Architecture with the Public

G. Martin Moeller Jr., National Building Museum

You must address a different set of communications needs and goals when interacting with individuals outside the architecture profession; emphasis on storytelling and training of docent corps for different audiences; approaches to improve audience experience and retention of presented information.


View resource document:

Architecture Exhibition Proposal Guidelines


TOPIC 4: Board Governance

John Claypool, Philadelphia Center for Architecture

If you’re involved with an AIA component considering the build out of a new architecture center, then you’ll be faced with plenty of practical questions on how to coordinate oversight between your traditional chapter activities and the new center-based activities. What makes for a productive working relationship between these two entities? How does one separate 501(c)(6) and 501(c)(3) reporting obligations and funding opportunities? 


View resource document:

AIA Philadelphia and Philadelphia Center for Architecture Joint Strategic Plan


TOPIC 5: Developing a Leadership Team

Greg Brown, Dallas Center for Architecture

Any architecture center requires a committed board of directors to lead the charge in the community. However, breaking into a given community’s arts and culture world can present challenges, especially for professional societies that are not traditionally viewed as being part of that industry. In this section, we hear from a younger program director about the daily tasks/requirements of leading an architecture center and efforts to cultivate a board that can support its programming and financial needs. What makes a good director and what makes effective board leaders? 


TOPIC 6: Where Does the Money Come From?

Jennifer Van Valkenburg, Chicago Architecture Foundation

This section provides an overview on the differences between operating and programming dollars, and how an organization can maximize its funding opportunities. Ultimately, we ask: how does an organization begin to achieve a “balanced” giving portfolio (government, foundation, corporate, member, board, and special events revenue)? The emphasis here is on 501(c)(3) opportunities, and practical first steps for organizations without the luxury multiple person fundraising departments.


View resource document:

Prospect Identification Scorecard


View resource document:

Case Statements