Architects and Grassroots Leadership

by Lara LaFontain

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend the American Institute of Architects’ 2018 Grassroots conference. This annual event brings together AIA leaders from across the country and focuses on empowering attendees to best serve their chapters, communities, and the profession. As someone actively involved in events with my local chapter (AIA Portland) and recently elected to its Board of Directors, the Northwest and Pacific Region awarded me a scholarship to attend the conference. This was my first time attending a national AIA event, and it was an inspiring experience.

   Lara with fellow Northwest and Pacific Region scholarship recipients, from Hawaii, Alaska, and Oregon.    

Lara with fellow Northwest and Pacific Region scholarship recipients, from Hawaii, Alaska, and Oregon.
 

The first thing that hit me as I attended the opening receptions was the huge scale of the organization. The AIA was founded in 1857 and currently has over 90,000 members with over 260 chapters around the world. At Grassroots, I met people from all over the country and all over the world, from Hawaii to New York and Brazil to Hong Kong. It was really cool to talk with so many people with such different backgrounds, and to find so much in common via our shared experiences in the profession.

AIA Grassroots 2018.jpg

The conference’s three days of panels, talks, and workshops explored the theme of “leading through influence”. Participating in these events gave me a better understanding of the depth and breadth of what architects can accomplish in our communities, from assistance with disaster relief programs to values-based legislative advocacy. Building on that idea, the final keynote of the event by William Taylor of Fast Company really hit home for me the idea of design leadership. We are living in a time of rapid change and disruption to the status quo--to truly be an innovator, one cannot play it safe. As architects we can embrace how we see things differently and use design thinking to drive positive change.

   Stepping outside my routine to find inspiration-- and purple sand dollars on the beach.    

Stepping outside my routine to find inspiration-- and purple sand dollars on the beach.
 

Grassroots was a fantastic opportunity to step out of my routine and be inspired by new ideas and ways of thinking about the impact that we as architects can have in our communities. I am so thankful to have had this chance to meet other designers from around the country and understand what architects can accomplish beyond the scope of a typical project. I am inspired by the work of other chapters to bring new ideas back to Portland, and I am so excited for what the future holds as I grow in my career as not just an architect, but a design leader.