Our View: 2017 AIA Grassroots Leadership Conference

Annual Grassroots Conference offers an opportunity to hone leadership skills
and network with architects from across the country.

By David Dunfield and Jeff Minar

This year’s AIA Grassroots Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., March 8-10, was a combination of listening, learning and networking. We listened to insightful presentations from the nation’s leaders in architecture and leadership, learned about lobbying the legislature and leadership models, and interacted with other AIA leaders from different demographics throughout the country.

The Annual Grassroots Conference is an exclusive event for AIA leaders. The conference focuses on component leadership and workshops designed to help component officers become more effective chapter and civic leaders. Attendees are able to provide input on AIA initiatives, and share ideas and best practices with their peers. In addition to regular programs devoted to building stronger component leaders, this year’s conference introduced attendees to the role of architects in shaping lives through design.

The overarching theme was the role architects can play as leaders in urbanism. Peter Calthorpe opened with an argument that urban design has “fallen through the cracks” as a design discipline and that it’s up to architects to step up to the challenge. There were also sessions on walkability, heritage (urban preservation and adaptive reuse), resiliency (ability to survive disasters), and future city form.

One highlight was a session on how to talk about architecture with clients and the public, including the media. AIA has published a 39-page booklet on the subject that has lots of good information. Much of it may seem obvious, e.g. don’t use jargon, but is worth reviewing. Note: A large firm was presenting design alternatives to a client, describing them as “schemes.” Client interrupted and asked, “Why are you guys always scheming?”

But among ourselves, the jargon was flying. This year’s most popular word: “resilience” (because “sustainability” is so 2000). Most popular phrase: “equity, inclusion, and diversity” (EID, because IED and DIE both have negative connotations). Another new concept: “well building,” which means designing buildings to enhance the wellness of their users.

One of our favorite workshops was on “Culture, Diversity and Inclusion.” It included a great discussion that hit home not only because it touched on topics our firms routinely discuss, but because the session provided information that pertains to all businesses, whether in architecture or any other profession.

And last but not least, one session featured a member of our Kansas team, Jeff Minar, role-playing an interview as a member of a design team pitching its qualifications. That session was entitled, “Being the Strategic Partner Everybody Wants,” and it’s worth viewing the PowerPoint. Click here.

From beginning to end, the Grassroots Leadership Conference was an excellent learning experience that we recommend to all leaders in AIA.




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