AIA New Jersey Benefits from Leader Experience at Grassroots 2020

March 4, 2020

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AIA New Jersey Benefits from Leader Experience at Grassroots 2020

Grassroots is an exclusive annual conference for leaders of the AIA. This year’s agenda emphasized component and community leadership with workshops designed to help component officers become more effective chapter and civic leaders. Keynote speakers shared how both good design and leadership are fueling the success of communities and offering solutions to the most pressing needs facing cities.

AIA New Jersey is all about Citizen Architects, so this agenda was a perfect fit for our attendees.

Annually, the venue alternates between Washington D.C. with visits to Capital Hill and other cities around the country. This year’s event was held in New Orleans, co-hosted by AIA National and the local and state chapters. The schedule was set to fall just before Mardi Gras hit, as the social component of Grassroots is equally powerful, as those in between times allow for the attendees to discuss what they are hearing and learning, bond and plan with their own components and with colleague chapters.

Seventeen members of AIA New Jersey attended in person this year,  some representing the state and some representing their local section. Architects League of Northern New Jersey member William Martin, AIA, co-chair of the AIA NJ Public Awareness Committee, added a brilliant Social Media campaign to our participation, attending as #FlatArchitect, and drawing a lot of attention to AIA NJ.  Participants are expected to attend sessions that will educate, inform and improve their performance as leaders for our components, and bring best practices back to New Jersey.


This year’s attendees included:

Christina Amey, AIA                            AIA South Jersey

Cecilia Cano, Associate AIA                AIA Architects League

Anna Chang, Associate AIA                AIA Architects League

Christy DiBartolo, AIA                         AIA Newark and Suburban

Francisco Grimaldi, AIA                      AIA Newark and Suburban

Michael Hanrahan, AIA                      AIA Central New Jersey

Lauren Harris, Associate AIA              AIA West Jersey

Troy Harris, AIA                                  AIA West Jersey

Christopher Henrickson, AIA              AIA Architects League

Marissa Iamello, AIA                           AIA Jersey Shore

Steven Lazarus, AIA                            AIA Architects League

Vincent Minkler, AIA                          AIA Jersey Shore

Jessica O’Donnell, AIA                        AIA West Jersey

Brian Penschow, AIA                          AIA Jersey Shore

Joseph Simonetta, Hon AIA                AIA New Jersey

Andrew Thompson, AIA                     AIA Newark and Suburban

Joshua Zinder, AIA                              AIA Central New Jersey


Some of our attendees, many attending Grassroots for the first time, have shared their experiences…



Francisco A. Grimaldi, AIA, AIA Newark and Suburban Secretary

Grassroots was an incredible experience! It was very powerful, getting to spend a lot of time with the entire AIA NJ contingent.

One the session that I sat in, “Engaging with Mayors”, was particularly inspiring and informative.  The session was led by Matt Lister (Partner at Gehl and Managing Director of NYC office) and Tim Kearney AIA (PA State Senator from 26th District).  While Matt focused on how the public realm can be re-imagined to be more people centered, Senator Kearney spoke about how an architect (or the AIA as a group) can take a more active part in policy-making to make government work better for people. 

There were also a couple of other mayors in the audience.  One of them was involved in the roundtable held during the morning session, Kathleen Ehley of Wauwatosa, WI.  During the open discussion after the presentation, she shared what the local AIA component/chapter did for her city that I think could be implemented here in New Jersey.  She mentioned that instead of waiting until a position opened up on the council, or on the planning or zoning boards, the group had already curated a list of individuals who, as architects, could be resources for the city for either city government positions or as policy or design advisers.  I think we could start doing that at the state level and through the local components.  It can be a more direct way of reaching out to the public.


Brian, Christy, Marissa and Christina

Christy DiBartolo AIA, LEED AP, AIA Newark and Suburban Board Member

The idea of spearheading efforts to combat climate change seemed to pop up quite a bit.  One of the break-out sessions I attended, which was the Environmental Stewardship: Sharing Your Story – Economy session with Ilya Azaroff, AIA.  One of his case studies was interesting in that, due to the hurricanes of years past, the island of Dominica (in the Caribbean) was destroyed, and how he worked with the locals to use materials and redesign their structures to their own vernaculars.  This contrasted with how the government and ICC would come in and dictate certain materials and methods that either did not sync with their cultures or did not perform as well during these disasters.

So how can we apply this to NJ?  Our natural disasters that will increase due to client change are intense storms and hurricanes, possible earthquakes.  What else?  And then how should we respond to these disasters as to respect our culture, materials, vernaculars, local techniques etc. that may be outside of the ICC recommended practices. 

Much of the performance of his buildings were then measured (how much energy savings and therefore cost, for example).  These actual numbers can then help aid in selling these practices to our clients who are otherwise driven by upfront cost.

What also struck me about this session was that after these projects, Ilya explained that he openly shares his designs with others; that spreading a better, more respectful way of building is more important to him than the money he makes. 

Grassroots was a great experience all around, once again.


Lauren, #FlatArchitect, Vin and Marissa

Marissa Iamello, AIA, AIA Jersey Shore President

As has recently been the conversation, the message in the keynotes was to encourage architects to get involved in city council so that you can become a resource to your community. 

The breakout session on Climate action I attended was with Jeffrey Huber and addressed affordable housing using passive design to address climate change. Using 4 prototypes the firm he worked for was able to create a 20-house neighborhood in which all units were 40% more energy efficient than neighboring houses. The firm uses plugins for Rhino like Grasshopper, Ladybug and Butterfly which are all free to download to model energy efficiency. 

Leading Through Influence  was a fun workshop on teamwork and improv and learning to create environments where you feel psychologically safe. 

I also attended a workshop on gender and race bias. It was extremely informative and probably like the Bias Interrupters workshop. there is free video training available at: 


Brian, #FlatArchitect, Christina, Marissa, Christy, Anna and Andrew

Andrew E. Thompson AIA NOMA LEED AP BD+C, AIA Newark and Suburban President

This was my 5th time visiting New Orleans and it has always been for business/conferences. Through NOMA I have attended two Board meetings and attended two National conferences in New Orleans.

The Bias Interrupters workshop was very valuable and addressed issues in the workplace as we implement equity, diversity and inclusion amongst our firms. Some very good case studies and examples were presented. I was told that the presentation would be available on the AIA website and I would like to discuss with our board and focus on pieces relevant to our membership and how they practice.

The Local Advocacy and Legislative days at City Hall was an important seminar. It scaled down how architects can engage with our local legislation and our elected officials. Rather than focusing on a visit to the state capital in Trenton, focus on a day on the section’s towns and municipalities. For AIA Newark and Suburban, cities such as Newark, Bloomfield, town such as Maplewood and South Orange would be delighted to have architects visit for a day to discuss local legislation and how architects can assist. There was a councilman who was an architect and he stated that architects should get more involved in civic duty. I see the need for every planning or zoning board should have an architect on that board.

It was nice to have Grassroots the week before Mardi Gras, our members got a chance to experience the community on their special celebration.


Cecilia Cano, Associate AIA, AIA Architects League of Northern New Jersey

The session that impacted me the most and I believe we can apply to our work here in NJ (and everywhere) was “Embracing our Differences”, which was presented by former AIA President Bill Bates. In his panel, he had Karen Brattmayer, FAIA, who has been in a wheelchair all her life; Chris Downey, AIA, who lost his eye sight; and Greg Burke, FAIA, who was born with a physical birth defect.  In this session all the panelists spoke about their “disability” and how several people in their lives always had something to say to put them down.  That only meant, that they needed to continue and be the best they can be as their disability did not define them.  Chris did say “instead of defining the person, is better to embrace them first” which is very true.  It doesn’t matter if a person has a disability or birth defect, we are all capable of doing amazing things in this life. 

The main takeaway for me regarding this session is that here in NJ, we should embrace our differences by educating our clients, colleagues and employees regarding all the opportunities to make buildings universally useful. Often our clients only want to do the bare minimum when it comes to ADA. We should communicate with them and advise that the spaces we design should be accessible to all, regardless of any disability one may or may not have. 

We as architects, design for the public, for everyone to be comfortable to move around within a space.  Our buildings, new or existing, should be designed to accommodate and make everyone as comfortable as they can be, therefore, we should maximize spaces for all.


Christy, Anna, Cecilia, Francisco and Troy

Troy Harris, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, AIA West Jersey President

Stacey, The one big takeaway that I had throughout the general sessions this year, and was a key topic last year as well, was how we need to become more involved speaking with mayors, council people and other municipal staff as that is where we can help to provide solutions to civic problems and promote good design decisions from the start.  This could be accomplished thru helping to advise on good zoning and planning decisions or providing initial insight on a municipal project.  I think that AIA NJ has made a good step in that direction with their Mayors Symposium, but I think that only taps into a select group of mayor’s and officials from larger municipalities.  I think the sections can do better jobs to communicate with the smaller municipalities that are not likely to attend a Mayor’s Symposium with a more localized event or conversations as these municipalities are likely to need our knowledge even more as they may be experiencing or entertaining a type of project for the first time and do not have previous experience to rely on.


Christina, Christopher, Joshua and Michael


Christopher A. Henrickson, AIA, NCARB, LEED Green Associate, AIA Architects League President Elect

At Grassroots 2020, I learned a lot about strategic planning, working together at board meetings and communicating but the biggest take away was related to the themes of sustainability, inclusivity and equity. Any way they can be promoted within the profession, and to the public at large is a top priority. 

Additionally, I think it might be worthwhile for AIA New Jersey to have a “legislative day” including a reception or event which local mayors, politicians, etc. are invited to.  AIA members could meet with legislators and explain key positions we have taken about sustainability, equity, etc. and make a case for appropriate legislation or policies.  This could be done at a state level, or at a local section level, or both. The Mayors Symposium is a great start.


Cecilia and Anna

Anna Chang, Associate AIA, AIA Architects League EPiC Section Director

Workshop # 1 Bias Interrupters

  • A series of study / research regards to the bias interruption in firm and working environment.
  • To study how to fix the system, the stereotype, activation, the “unconscious bias” in group and profession.
  • Architect (AIA) is one of the most notable profession groups.
  • Survey was asked to take as part of the research.
  • Four different sectors are presented in the session, mainly about the different reaction which Women, people of color, or individual with disabilities. Also the Gender / Race stereotype plays part of role.
    • Prove-it-again (PIA)
    • Tightrope
    • Maternal Wall
    • Tug of War
  • Discussion went along provided topic. The handout is provided after session and is ready to be shared. The research is ongoing and is encouraged to share out the survey.


Bus/Working tour #3 Small Center for Collaborative Design

  • A brief tour to The Albert and Tina Small Center for Collaborative design, and bus tour to their projects.
  • The Small Center works with community and school (as part of the student program) to provide their work and design solutions to local organizations or individual, which is part of local community improvement. They also provide workshops, connect local with architects, study and research on post-disaster rebuild.
  • The Parasite skatepark, city farm, mid-home, riverside landscape installation and other small projects are covered on the bus tour. The projects are build in different materials and method, are great example of the collaboration in between local, school, architects and organization.
  • Could be a great way-to-go as a reference for our future move. Small center is willing to share their experiences.


Sharing Climate Story: Energy

  • Panel # 1 , Case study presented by Samuel Assefa, Director of Seattle office of planning and community development.
    • The case study is more focused on urban planning, mostly about re-planning and re-construction of the city block in certain area to improve living quality and economic situation for the resident.
    • One interesting point is the relationship between zoning and energy / heat-island effect. The Energy usage in city is connecting to zoning and other issue.
    • Sharing skill and tips, which invite local people to involve the decision making and planning progress.
    • Legacy and zoning of racism and wealthy.
  • Sharing: Stories
    • Local rebuild and energy use after disaster
    • A chance to allow community and government work together. Where to have architects involve is a good discussion point.
    • The disaster, even its not good, works as a reminder of updating infrastructure, law and mindset of city and its resident.
    • Information share is one of the most important point.


Opening: Mayors Panel – Urban resilience & equity
(Wade Nomura of Carpinteria, CA  / Quinton Lucas of Kanas, MO / Kathleen Ehley of Wauwatosa, WI)


  • Urban planning – resident friendly
  • Rebuild after disaster: Santa Barbara region fire, debris flow / flood, and preparations for future disaster. (Case study of Santa Barbara fire and debris flow was provided.)
  • Aging city infrastructure improvement
  • Homeless solutions – mental / physical.
  • Relocate resident, affordable housing, multi-generation society and the hardware of city to be provide.
  • Equities of information sharing, language-wise, culture experience to be included / provided into gathering space and program.
  • “Do not affect “foot print” but affect the result”
  • Redeveloping – Zoning – City plan.
  • Public transportation or more parking?
  • Landscape architects to be involve to city planning
  • Having guideline instead of city architect, in order to have more design options and affordability to city.


Session #A5 Speak like a pro

  • Personal speaking skill tips sharing / improving session.
  • Focus on how to make a speech, however, this session is not focus on Architectural presentation, but for mostly public speech. Notes are taken, will share if anybody is interested.


Session #B6 Taking root: Sustainability & Resilience resources for components

  • New information updates for AIA frameworks and design excellent. (10 points as on leadership meeting)-
  • Disaster assistance program and DAP. Each section is recommended to have disaster assistance committee / Disaster coordinator. – Does ALNNJ have one / planning to have?
  • AIA 2030 Commitment information update. Encourage firms to sign up of DDX reporting tool and SAP. – Are we work with individual firms and business to join the commitment? COTE?


Session #C2 So the winner is…?

3 Case studies regards to local chapters working with organization, government, and school.

My personal opinion that these are great examples for AIA and EPiC to bring young people back to the organization.

  • <Next Generation Showcase> (Kate Shelton, AIA Charlotte)
    • Membership focuses service, targets young, new licensed member architects and associate member.
    • Student can attend.
    • Lunch program. To provide a place for members to show their recent job and project, no limited to presentation method, only provide a outlet and space for boards.
    • The event has run for six years and is a success example for emerging professions to have an opportunity to freely showcase their work. This is NOT a competition.
    • Budget is limited, only food and space (if with sponsor will be great)
    • Timeline will need to be work ahead. Including promotions and calling for presenters.
    • Mentoring and networking could happen. – Can EPiC / ALNNJ have something like this?


  • <Student design competition> (Jeffrey Gill, AIA Orange County)
    • Due to the lacking of architectural school, the AIAOC is having this event with “pre-college”
    • (A remainder if we are too bonding with NJIT and other major large architecture school which we are close with? (no offense))
    • Design award gala will be hold by sponsor,
    • Member and student meet each other and project
    • To earn public recognition and promotion of AIA local
    • Mostly with firm support budget and tickets, AIA cover merit.
    • Timeline and pre-communication is required. The school support will need to be build by relationship.
    • Member engaged as mentors.
    • Help student and young architects portfolio.
    • With program requirements, the team or individual to have preparation to professional environment.
    • AIA – Education – Local community – I understand AIANJ has failed experiences on this kind of event. But is that possible to restart or have a different way to do this? Is that possible to go with different education institutes??


  • Question to AIACharlotte and AIAOC – does young profession back to AIA because of the attendee? A- Not a specific number guaranteed relating to the event. The member number has been increase since. Not evidence that young member is increasing. However, it is great opportunity to allow young professions and students to get intern jobs and networking.


  • <ACE Joint Owner Forums> (R. Corey Clayborne, AIA Virginia)
    • ACE includes Architects (AIA), Construction, Engineer
    • Invite different joint owner from different fields:
    • 2018 – State Government and Educational institutes.
    • 2019 – Local Government and local institutes.
    • 2020 – Healthcare institutes.
    • Budget is covered by ticket – spending and revenue is split equally between ACE.
    • Program provide:
    • Interactive panel discussion (2CEU)
    • Networking
    • Mid / evening event hours
    • Giving a chance to sit with government people which is not usually happen (except board or other reviewing)
    • Limited tickets
    • Different from trade show but more focused on in between ACE and organizations, institutes and government.


Closing: Former Mayor (Michael Earl Cornett sr. / Oklahoma City)

  • Urban design / re-planning of the city.
  • From vehicle city to pedestrian friendly. Redesign of the street and city infrastructure.
  • Film share about local project at Oklahoma.







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