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Developers Embrace AIACC's New Certified Development Strategist Designation

Architects who expand their skills to include all aspects of the development process find expanded business opportunities.

by ArchNewsNow
July 24, 2002

The architect always provides a project’s design excellence. Today, however, many clients are seeking consultants and advisors to assist in negotiating the turbulent maze of the development process. And, in fact, once the options have been explored, the destination for the project may not be at all what the developer originally envisioned.


As a result, the development industry is changing. More team players are required. Careful evaluation and scrutiny of the various options must be explored. A global view of not only the development in question, but also the process itself, is required. For those architects who have expanded their skills into the development arena, this global approach to the development process has placed them in the role as the client’s trusted advisor.


The new Certified Development Strategist designation, unveiled earlier this year by the AIA California Council, addresses this shift in the marketplace, and serves to recognize a broad based set of development skills that project teams in today’s arena require.


“The developer is typically the entrepreneur with the vision and the driving piece of the project, yet frequently he or she doesn’t understand how to bring all the critical elements together and effectively manage the process,” says Jack Illes, managing partner of Urban Labs, a Los Angeles- and San Diego-based company that specializes in the development of urban infill and mixed used projects.


As a result, many architects are choosing to move into the role of client advisor, focusing on the more global aspects of the development process, which more often than not does not involve design.


“Architects, by their training, are design-focused. Yet those interested in seeking a more global role in the development process have developed a skill set that revolves around the development of a strategic vision for the project, including program development, real estate, funding, design, and construction,” says Illes.


In essence, an architect with the CDS designation can offer an owner/client a single source of responsibility that will result in a predictable development process. Further, the architect who obtains the designation has demonstrated the diversity of skills necessary to help to ensure a business future that is responsive to market demand cycles.


This expands the traditional role in which an architect enters the development process mid-stream, responding to a client’s request for proposal. The AIACC Certified Development Strategists is able to help the owner develop a more holistic approach, and is qualified to serve as the client’s right hand person throughout the entire process, assuring the client of a predictable development outcome. From the initial concept to design, financing, real estate evaluation, and programming, the CDS brings a whole new perspective and approach to strategic management. Sometimes, the result is not even a built solution.


“Usually, a developer hires a list of a dozen or more people plus additional consultants,” says Illes. “An architect who is a CDS is there to expand the client’s vision, provide options, and in fact, may even recommend revamping an entire project if the numbers don’t pencil out. They are there to simply act in the client’s best interest.”


The CDS designation offers a benchmark for those seeking to bring a global vision to the development team. More often than not, the CDS architect is on board from the beginning, long before the RFQ is even designed.


“An architect with the CDS designation is a trusted source for the developer to turn to for credible advice,” emphasizes Illes, who volunteered to serve on the CDS formation focus groups to bring the developer’s perspective to the table. “A relationship built on trust results in a teaming environment, allowing the project to move forward in a smooth, efficient manner. That’s what good development is all about.”


Any architect with five years of registered architectural experience may apply for the designation. As part of the certification process, the architect participates in a competency based assessment process that allows the architect to show a broad understanding and competency of over 50 specific skills that relate to all entities involved in the development process.


The assessment includes an oral interview, portfolio review, and analysis of the architect’s knowledge, experience, and skills in client services, architectural and engineering services, construction services, and the core skills that tie the development team together.


Once an architect has successfully completed the process, he or she is entitled to use the CDS designation, has the option of placing their portfolio on the AIACC Certified Development Strategist Web site, and is included in the on-line certification directory.


For more information on the AIACC Certification Program for Development Strategists Contact the AIACC at 916-448-9082 or visit

(click on pictures to enlarge)


Jack Illes, managing partner of Urban Labs

© 2002