Rob Reis, AIA, President, AIA Virginia

Grassroots ’19 was awesome! Prior to attending my first Grassroots years ago, I had no idea what a compelling experience the conference can be. At that first Grassroots, with expectations low, I attended what for me stands as the most revealing and inspiring seminar ever on leadership.

With a focus again on architects as leaders in our communities and nationally, Grassroots ’19 offered both opportunities to lead and insights on how to do so. On topics of climate change, transportation, and infrastructure we engaged mayors from across the country. Diversity, inclusiveness, and equity were explored with insights from industry experts and the personal stories of member practitioners. And finally, with our senators and congressmen we discussed school safety and climate change, with architects and the AIA as a key part of effective solutions.

Grassroots ’19 was crowned by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, presidential historian, and Keynote Doris Kearns Goodwin delivering Leadership: In Turbulent Times – and deliver she did! A highpoint and fitting culmination, Ms. Goodwin presented a nonstop succession of anecdotes and insights from who she considers the greatest leaders among US presidents – Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson – with the authentication and nuance of five decades documenting presidential history she distilled great leadership to perspectives and practices adoptable by all with a desire to grow and a mindset open to change.

“…some strengths are inborne, but far more important are ordinary talents developed to an extraordinary degree” – Doris Kearns Goodwin

And so Grassroots ’19 challenged us all to lead, with our ordinary talents delivering extraordinary outcomes.

Sean Reilly, AIA, Vice President of Government Advocacy, AIA Virginia

On a brisk, sunny day in early March, hundreds of architects from around the nation met with federal lawmakers on Capitol Hill to advocate for issues that are important to society and our profession.   AIA Virginia representatives were among the 605 total AIA members that met with their Senators and Congressional Representatives on March 6th to advocate for two significant issues:  Energy Efficiency and School Safety.  Architects attended a total of 474 meetings in the House and Senate.  In small group settings, we briefed each lawmaker or their staff representative on the two issues before taking questions and asking for their support.

One of the AIA’s top federal priorities this Congress is to create new tax incentives to increase energy efficiency in existing buildings. There is a vast stock of existing buildings that were built to an earlier energy code, or in many cases, to no energy code at all.  Of all commercial buildings, 82% were built before 2000, prior to modern versions of energy codes that guide their design and construction.  Too many existing buildings are energy “guzzlers” instead of energy “sippers” as many new buildings are.  The good news is Congress is planning to make corrections to the Qualified Improvement Property (QIP) section of the federal tax code. Our “ask” to lawmakers is to include an amendment to the QIP section to include energy efficient technologies. This change would allow building owners and developers to write off a certain percentage of depreciation related to the costs of installing energy efficient systems and materials such as HVAC systems, building management systems, lighting, windows, exterior walls and roofing in existing buildings.

Another top federal priority of the AIA this Congress is to support a design-centered approach to address school violence.  After 9-11, all three levels of government worked together to make building design a key part of the process to address terrorist threats in public projects.  The AIA believes a similar approach should be taken to address school safety, which has become a necessary national conversation.  As Architects, we are the first to say that design cannot prevent school violence, but we are an important resource that can help make facilities safer through design.  However, school officials are often put into a position of making piece-meal decisions, purchasing and installing safety security systems from vendors.   Architects are uniquely qualified to listen, propose solutions and integrate safety measures into the design of schools.  In this design-centered approach, schools can be made safer while still embodying a welcoming, positive, user friendly environment and not end up looking like prisons.  To support school officials in making design-centered safety decisions, we recommended lawmakers take two important actions:  1.)  Authorize design services to be an eligible use of funding in any federal grants that support school security and 2.) Establish a federal clearinghouse of resources and best practices for school officials to access.   With a design-centered approach to school safety education officials will be in a better position to make informed decisions while maintaining a positive, healthy learning environment.

The lawmakers’ staff we met with were generally open and supportive of the AIA’s “asks” on both issues.   They were generous with their time and genuinely interested in the two issues.   AIA folders with contact information and policy briefs on both issues provided an informative leave behind for each meeting.   AIA’s Government Advocacy team will follow up and work with lawmakers to provide additional information, craft language and facilitate lawmakers’ ongoing support of the AIA position on these two important issues.

Architects are at their best when they lead and transform the creation of better-built environments everywhere.   Architecture is a relatively small profession that has the potential to bring tremendous value to people and their aspirations for a better, healthier life.  Architects are not guaranteed a critical role in society.  Advocacy allows us to strengthen our profession and remain relevant to the benefit of society and AIA members. The AIA gives us that voice. The Government Advocacy team at AIA Virginia continues to work hard to advance pro-built environment policies before government decision-makers and help ensure that architects remain relevant to society for generations to come.   Speaking with a unified voice on Capitol Hill Day 2019, Architects were able to advocate for two vital issues to society and demonstrate the value of our profession to Senators and Representatives from across our nation.