The Association was conceived in the minds of twenty seven forwarding thinking architects led by John Dobson. Created in 1858, their ideas still have a significant effect on architectural practice to this day.

These early members were keen on the advancement of the art and science of architecture. The opportunity was grasped to form a society which would elevate the practice of architecture as a profession. As early as 1860, members began initiatives towards the introduction of architectural education, while being the first to formulate a scale of professional fees, together with the promotion of architectural competitions as a fairer means of allocating work, based on design criteria. All of these provisions were later adopted by other learned societies including the Royal Institute of British Architects. Under the guidance of a further fifty six presidents, the Northern Architectural Association acted on behalf of the RIBA in the region, being responsible for representing and admitting architects to Institute.

From 1971, the RIBA took over these roles and the Association ceased to function. In the last years of the 20th Century, the Charity Commission permitted architects in the region to once again be included as members and pursue the intentions of the founders in 1858.

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