Founded in May 1881 as the Pacific Coast Association of Architects, AIA San Francisco was organized to protect the integrity of the profession and to standardize the conduct and practice of its members.
Following the formation of a short-lived professional society in 1869, an association of prominent San Francisco architects founded the Pacific Coast Association of Architects in May of 1881. Augustus Laver, an important founding leader of this group, submitted the petition that earned San Francisco architects their AIA charter in the spring of 1882, thereby expanding the AIA’s membership westward beyond Chicago. These men were convinced that support from the national organization of the AIA would further protect the practice.
In February of 1927 the San Francisco chapter was renamed the Northern California Chapter, and was incorporated on August 4, 1955. In 1980 the chapter became The American Institute of Architects, San Francisco chapter. The most recent name variation, AIA San Francisco, a Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, was adopted by members in 1992.
John Wright served as the chapter's first president. In his inaugural address, Wright expressed three concerns he found to be "the greatest need of the present day:"
"First, true taste and accurate knowledge of art in the designer, united with a thorough knowledge of materials and their proper adaptation to truthful construction; second, a public whose educated tastes will be satisfied only by the real; and third, a system of professional instruction for our students or young designers who shall educate teachers as well as be taught, and which, in effect, shall be practical, efficient and sure, and shall embrace not only the highest, but the lowest level of the art."
—Quoted in "History of the Chapter," by Elisabeth K. Thompson, in American Institute of Architects San Francisco Chapter Centennial Directory, 1982, 22.
A number of significant Bay Area architects have served as chapter presidents, including John Galen Howard (1912), John Bakewell, Jr. (1918), George A. Applegarth (1921-1922), Frederick Meyer (1930), Henry Gutterson (1931-1932), and George Rockrise (1961).
Noteworthy activities and issues taken up by AIA San Francisco include the 1910 AIA Convention; the 1912 competition for a new San Francisco city hall; the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915; the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1938-1939; WWII and the defense industry in California; the post-war population; large public and invitational competitions; and controversial proposals such as the rebuilding of the Palace of Fine Arts, the Transamerica Building, redevelopment projects, the height of downtown and waterfront buildings, landmark preservation, freeways, and open spaces.
Today, AIA San Francisco is the third largest chapter of the AIA and represents 460 firms, as well as international projects in more than 40 countries across five continents. AIA San Francisco works locally to advance the profession and improve the quality of life in the Bay Area.
The chapter proudly offers architectural expertise in a variety of practice areas, including alternative work environments, health care facilities, design for aging, sustainable design, Americans with Disabilities Act, affordable housing, residential design, disaster preparedness, and more. Through partnerships with local organizations, AIA San Francisco has helped launch major outreach programs, including the San Francisco Prize, Architects-in-Schools, the AIASF/SFMOMA Architecture Lecture Series, Architecture and the City, and Small Firms, Great Projects.
This history was written in part by the University of California, Berkeley, College of Environmental Design Archives. These archives form Northern California’s premier collection of historical architecture and landscape architecture records. For further information on these archives, visit www.ced.berkeley.edu/cedarchives/.