AIA Grassroots 2022: Driving Purpose and Progress through Fearless Leadership

By: Arch4e | 5 May 2022



May 04, 2022

Grassroots 2022: Driving Purpose and Progress through Fearless Leadership

For busy architects caught up in their day-to-day deadlines and commitments, this year’s AIA Grassroots 2022 conference was a great reminder of something which, from time to time, slips from view: the bigger picture. Sessions each tapped into the conference’s central themes – the impact our profession has upon world progress and human health, and the importance of living up to our highest ideals and values to positively impact society.

As the President Elect of AIA Pasadena Foothill Chapter I felt this year’s Grassroots did something particularly well for all AIA leaders around the country – it challenged attendees to find motivation in a purpose beyond the present. In this vein, two sessions stood out to me: one on net zero design, and the other about leadership itself.


“Key Strategies for Building and Designing in Response to Zero Energy Design

This session addressed some of the hurdles we continue to face in our profession as we work to meet the challenges of achieving net zero:


Earning Clients’ Confidence

Skepticism over cost, complexity, and viability is still common among clients. Architects endeavor to change these misconceptions. One approach is to find the intersection between net zero design and your client’s specific needs or value system. For example, if the project is strongly oriented toward health and wellness, user comfort, or resiliency, there are touchpoints between these needs and what net zero design will provide. Illustrating these connections for clients, and supporting them with relevant real-life success stories, is essential to earning their buy-in.


Leading an Integrated Design Process

The next hurdle is achieving net zero in a timely and cost-effective manner. Even the most credentialed among us may feel challenged by unique project requirements that demand nimble and out-of-the-box solutions. The path to net zero starts with a truly integrated and iterative design approach. Work closely with your engineering team and client representatives to identify passive design strategies, then efficient building envelope and system approaches. Investigate funding and assistance provided by local utility agencies for renewable power options. You are not alone; reach out to your architectural peers or to the AIA State and National Advocacy Committees for data-driven solutions.


Driving Momentum Behind Net Zero

Architects are best positioned to keep the net zero conversation current, but also to continually push it to the next level. This will require consistent engagement – not just with our clients, but also with our colleagues and peers. In recognizing the broader societal importance of net zero design, we should not be afraid to share data publicly or with competitors and to educate the junior members of our profession. Sharing your firm’s perspectives and concerns with your local Code Action Committees will push back against burdensome requirements. Reducing our carbon emissions is just one step – one very large step – toward reaching the AIA 2030 Commitment of Carbon Neutral!


“Transformational Thinking: Becoming the Leader You’d Want to Follow

The lessons of this next session dovetailed nicely with the objectives identified in the net zero presentation. Through improv-inspired exercises, participants learned to let go of control, the fear of getting things wrong and of not knowing what comes next, and how to build empathy for one another. The session powerfully demonstrated how well the tenets of improv align with the tenets of effective leadership:


    • Make my partner(s) look good
    • Use the environment for ideas
    • “Yes and…” not “Yes but….”
    • Listen without judgment
    • When unsure, proceed anyway


These principles are clearly applicable when thinking about the necessity of staying ahead of the curve in net zero design.


My Takeaways

Making net zero the norm in the built environment is one of our profession’s most urgent responsibilities. I appreciated that Grassroots 2022 gave its participants an opportunity to analyze the fundamentals of leadership that will propel the success of such a mission. Sharing knowledge, pivoting when needed, and persisting through tough circumstances are just some of the leadership qualities explored that I hope will define the profession’s approach as we work to reduce carbon impact.


Rachel Adams