AIA prepares members to champion issues in design, leverage leaders of all ages
“This is the profession that decided to lead on the biggest issues of our time, with fighting the climate crisis and fostering and advancing equity and inclusion at the top of the list,” said AIA’s 2024 President-elect Kimberly Dowdell, AIA, NOMAC, who hosted AIA’s 2023 Leadership Summit, formerly Grassroots. “That is why I’m proud to be an architect, and I am honored to help lead this movement of doers, innovators, and above all, leaders.”
More than 600 architects from across the country came to Washington, D.C., for the four-day event, focused on Architecture’s Generations at Work, a theme Dowdell selected to help architects value the perspectives that make the industry unique and support its diverse growth. This year, AIA Lobby Day was incorporated into the event, which focused on training architects to take an active role in government at the federal, state, and local levels.
Citizen Architect and AIA Lobby Day
Use your voice. Share your expertise. Focus on the impact.
AIA President Emily Grandstaff-Rice, FAIA, made a compelling call to action to the architects filling the Marriott Marquis ballroom for “Citizen Architect,” a lobbying 101 session held on February 14, before members visited Capitol Hill.
Grandstaff-Rice outlined AIA’s two strategic goals:, climate action for human and ecological health and advancing racial, ethnic, and gender equity in the profession, reminding attendees that “that good design involves community.”
Grandstaff-Rice introduced a video message from Senator Edward Markey (D-MA), who shared his insights into the legislative process and why architects are necessary in the fight for climate action, which he said was “the challenge of our generation.” Congressman Buddy Carter, (R-GA), a co-sponsor of the Democracy in Design Act and a leader in Congress working to prevent federal design mandates, shared his deep appreciation for architecture and the design process.
Kara Kempski, senior director of federal relations and strategic alliances at AIA, gave members a primer on the 118th Congress and the bills AIA is championing, the Democracy in Design Act and the Resilient AMERICA Act.
Kevin M. Holland, FAIA, NOMAC, 2023 Chair of the AIA Government Advocacy Committee, reviewed AIA’s public policy priorities: A Future Economy; Climate Action; and Healthy & Equitable Communities.
AIA EVP/CEO Lakisha Ann Woods, CAE, underscored Holland’s call for consistent involvement in the process.
“I have worked with associations in DC for many years and I can tell you without hesitation: policymakers respect the groups that keep showing up,” said Woods.
Woods introduced political icon James Carville, an international political consultant and best-selling author, who gave AIA members insight into how to have a successful Capitol Hill visit and build a powerful advocacy program. He told the audience to use their expertise in building things that last to make their case to lawmakers.
“Every architect is a professional in their community, and politicians know that,” said Carville. “Explain how architects save governments time and money.”
Carville also encouraged “sending a couple shekels” to state and federal political action committees to invest in a unified voice for the profession, after reminding the attendees why politicians value buildings. “They especially love getting their names on them,” joked Carville.
AIA Lobby Day
More than 400 architects took their voices to Capitol Hill for AIA Lobby Day, held February 15. Members met with Members of Congress and their staff. As professionals and constituents, AIA members are advocating for two bipartisan pieces of legislation that benefit communities and their inhabitants.
The Democracy in Design Act is a bipartisan bill that would prevent future administrations from establishing a federal mandate on architectural design, including attempts to favor one design style or attempts to ban the use of another design style. Last year, there was a bipartisan bill in the House supporting this measure, but no bill in the Senate. This year, a Senate bill was introduced by Senator Van Hollen of Maryland and Senator Lujan of New Mexico. The Resilient AMERICA Act would increase the federal funding dedicated to pre-disaster mitigation through FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program. AIA is calling for a bipartisan reintroduction in the House and a bipartisan introduction in the Senate.
“Fortunately, as a nonpartisan organization, AIA is uniquely well positioned to move the needle on our policy objectives,” Kempski told attendees, reminding architects how their work compares to tasks lawmakers face. “You have a natural kinship with policymakers. You’re all dealing with tight budgets, demanding deadlines, and you’re all trying to build something that lasts.”
Generations at Work
“Everyone in this room is a leader,” Dowdell told AIA members on Thursday as they gathered to learn how to elevate architects, firms, and employees at every age. “And everyone plays a vital role to help realize a future that is more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable.”
Attendees heard from a variety of experts, who shared insights on, among other things, how to use the power of design to address society’s most pressing challenges and advance positive and lasting change.
Kim Lear, a researcher on generations in the workforce, opened with a keynote address. Ginger Downs, CAE, a partner at Martin and Downs Consulting Solutions, shared her experiences and ideas on how to create, maintain, and strengthen an effective staff/board partnership. Business and philanthropic mogul Sheila Johnson shared her insights on how to lead and thrive in an era of rapid change. Johnson reminded attendees it was okay to fail and take “baby steps” toward leadership, a risk she frequently encourages young people to take.
“If you don’t go through those things [failure], you’re never going to be successful,” said Johnson, who encouraged leaders to get to know employees at every level of the organization to help elevate others. “I want to build careers.”
Other highlights included a conversation, moderated by Korey D. White, AIA, 2023-2025 At-large Director, between Dowdell, Woods and Amber Lombardo, CACE president and celebrating award recipients. Woods and Dowdell honored Excellence in Public Architecture Award recipient, David M. Powell, FAIA, for his role as the champion of Nashville’s built environment over the last three decades. Jeffrey Potter, FAIA, the winner of the Edward C. Kemper award, was recognized for his many AIA leadership roles. Component AIA Pasadena & Foothill was recognized for 75 years of service to the profession and its community. Dowdell closed the event thanking members for their dedication to the profession, leadership, and with an invitation to A'23, scheduled for June 7- 10 in San Francisco.
Learn more about AIA’s Advocacy efforts >