Grassroots 2020: The Big Takeaways

Grassroots 2020: The Big Takeaways

By Michelle Fanzo Posted on February 28, 2020

Every year AIA holds a national gathering for Chapter and Component leaders – the Grassroots Leadership Conference. This year, four AIA Pittsburgh members and one staff attended the event, held February 18-20 in New Orleans.

This year’s agenda emphasized an increased commitment to sustainability, equity and civic leadership.

Asserting a leadership role

President-Elect, Peter Exley, FAIA acknowledged the implications of being in New Orleans, a city that became synonymous with a new normal of more extreme and more frequent storms driven by climate changes. “This is our leadership moment, and it comes with the most important deadline of our careers.”

Exley highlighted four ways architects can lead:

  • Mitigating GHG sources and owning the footprint buildings have in cities/ regions
  • Adapting those impacts and transforming practices
  • Catalyzing all architects to make this shift
  • Finding ways to engage and lead (i.e. media interviews, city council meetings, advocate for better legislation, move a client along the sustainability spectrum, etc.)

Disaster preparedness was another topic of increased importance, with a number of Chapters or officials sharing their stories of fire, heat, water, wind, or man-made emergencies and the importance of designing for resilience. In one city, architects helped think through water flow and river management; in another, architects identified community buildings to be reinforced as safe havens during a disaster.

AIA identified mayors as the number one group for AIA to partner with as a way of providing leadership and support to bettering our communities. For the fourth year in a row, mayors and elected officials played a key part in the Grassroots program, talking about the valuable role that architects play in their communities. Later this year, AIA National will be a key sponsor of the U.S. Conference on Mayors in DC.

Strategy for the future of architecture

The best strategies build backwards from a desired end-state. This year, the clear message was the end-state is a sustainable world, and architects have a frontline role to play. The vision: Drive positive change through the power of design and focused activism.

“Our changing environment affects every person, every project, and every client,” said Exley, who shared the following big picture vision for AIA and its members:

“To succeed, we must talk about climate action in a way that sounds, looks, and feels entirely different. In terms our members will immediately understand, this is:

One site.

Countless challenges.

A looming deadline.

7.5 billion clients.

This is the ultimate design project.

This is why we are here.

It’s time to show what design can do. The biggest design organization in the world is taking on the biggest designing problem in the world. AIA and its members are dedicated to designing a sustainable, healthy, and equitable world together.”

In Pittsburgh, the Committee on the Environment is in the midst of a seminar series offering an array of topics that help architects and partners address sustainable practices at the local level. The next is March 11th, covering deconstruction and reuse.

Key resources for architects and firms:


Comment Policy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *