Last year, recognizing general public’s low opinion of architects, the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the trade organization for the profession, launched an effort to “reposition” the industry by hiring marketing and brand-identity firms. (You can find a PDF of one of the Institute’s public opinion polls here.)

And now The New York Times, the ultimate arbiter of elite opinion, recently published an op-ed that declared, “For too long, our profession [architecture] has flatly dismissed the general public’s take on our work, even as we talk about making that work more relevant with worthy ideas like sustainability, smart growth and ‘resilience planning.’” The authors are not kooks on the fringe but architect Steven Bingler and Martin C. Pedersen, former executive editor of Metropolis magazine, both of them very much in the establishment.

The authors observe that self-congratulatory, insulated architects are “increasingly incapable … of creating artful, harmonious work that resonates with a broad swath of the general population, the very people we are, at least theoretically, meant to serve.” Bingler and Pedersen note that this has been a problem for over forty years (my emphasis), and that things are even worse today.

As a case in point, they mention the 2007 “Make It Right” charity program, founded by amateur architect and furniture designer Brad Pitt. The program invited firms, most of them avant-garde, to design housing for poor New Orleanians whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The architecture world was exhilarated: The initiative was to be a showcase for how the best contemporary design could improve lives.