As the 2019 President of the AIA San Mateo County, I recently had the privilege of traveling to Washington DC to attend AIA Grassroots. Over 650 AIA executive members from all over the country and abroad attended this annual Legislative and Leadership Conference, which focuses on expanding public awareness of the built environment and advocacy for the profession.
On Wednesday March 6th, the conference opened with an early morning briefing at the Capitol Hill Visitor Center Auditorium where AIA’s leadership shared the latest updates regarding our meetings with members of the Congress later that day. “Our profession’s strong presence in the US Capitol is an important part of advancing our shared vision of driving positive change through the power of design because it reminds members of Congress what architects are doing in their communities today — and how much more we could do tomorrow with the right tools and resources,” said Robert Ivy, FAIA, AIA EVP / Chief Executive Officer. In all, a total of 474 meetings were scheduled with congressional staff and federal elected officials representing all 50 states.
The AIA San Mateo County team included our Executive Director, Jackie Tanner, 2019 President-Elect, Zeden Jones, and myself. Together with AIA Silicon Valley 2019 President Sharon Refvem, we met with the offices of Congresswomen Jackie Speier and Anna Eschoo. Members of their staff listened attentively as we detailed issues identified by AIA Advocacy. The first was a request for their support to extend 179D Energy Tax Deductions, to increase energy efficiency in the built environment. The second topic discussed was focused on creating federal funding for school design and a clearinghouse for best practices to make schools more secure. We conveyed to the legislative staff the need to focus on sustainability at the federal level, and offered ourselves as an innovative think tank for issues that arise.
Earlier that day, we had a brief gap in our schedule, and decided to tour the Capitol Hill building. While admiring the art and architecture of the National Statuary Hall collection, we had a surprising and brief encounter with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on her way to attend a hearing. The evening concluded with a reception at the Library of Congress, and our team savored every corner of the richly decorated Beaux-Arts building.
On the second day of the conference, the Morning Session included a welcome message from William Bates, FAIA, 2019 AIA President and an introduction by Jane Frederick, FAIA, AIA First Vice President and 2019 Grassroots Chair. The Mayor’s Panel titled, “Community Building: Mayors & Architects Working Together”, included topics such as adaptive reuse, revitalization of urban core, disaster preparedness and relief, the Paris Agreement, and an invitation for all citizen architects to join the conversation. The Plenary Panel titled, “People with Purpose: Designing Communities for Equity”, revolved around discussions of at-risk communities, the homeless, and indigenous minority groups. The three panelists offered personal stories of their experience in designing homeless shelters, social housing, and the equitable development of historical sites.
In the afternoon we split off to attend a variety of workshops designed to provide tools to further our leadership skills. AIA California hosted an evening gathering at the AIA National Headquarters for all CA chapters to meet and share thoughts on what they’ve learned so far. Many of our fellow Californian attendees were inspired by the Capitol Hill Day events and shared a few anecdotes from their meetings with congressional representatives and staff, and a few others were impressed with the mayor’s panel and responded positively to the call for more citizen architects to get involved at the local level.
The Keynote address for the final day of the conference came from Doris Kearns Goodwin, Presidential Historian and Pulitzer Prize author. Kearns spoke eloquently and engagingly on the topics of leadership and shared passages from her new book Leadership in Turbulent Times. In all, our team learned a lot and returned inspired by the events and presentations at Grassroots. We are committed to our roles at AIA San Mateo County and are looking forward to sharing many of the lessons learned with our fellow AIA SMC board members.
Juliet Hsu, AIA, LEED AP is a Project Manager / Project Architect at Field Architecture. She’s an energetic leader and collaborates with builders and consultants on mixed-use commercial and custom residential projects in Northern California. As the 2019 President of AIA San Mateo County, Juliet is excited to build on the momentum of the past years in strengthening the mentorship program as well as promoting technical and design focused events to AIA SMC members and the greater SF Bay Area community.