Having recently completed her first 100 days on the job, AAO took a moment to catch up with AIA Foundation Executive Director and AAO member, Sherry-Lea Bloodworth Botop. Here’s your opportunity to read up on this new philanthropic arm of the AIA, and the opportunities Sherry-Lea’s team is pursuing in the areas of design and health and resilience.
AAO: What drew you to leave Architecture for Humanity and come build up the newly formed AIA Foundation?
Sherry-Lea (SL): First and foremost, I’m passionate about the value of architecture and the impact it has on our lives; that was just understood [by the Foundation board], mostly around the work I’ve done for Architecture for Humanity over the past decade and through some foundation work. But it was the opportunity to work with AIA, where there is such expertise, and to try to catalyze that knowledge into actionable programs out in the world that sold me. I’ve said it before: it’s like Christmas every day for me here because the AIA has such deep research on core issues like resiliency, design and heath, preservation, things that are near and dear to all of us… and to have that expertise at my fingertips and then link it up to resources like Public Architecture and other humanitarian design organizations and committed funders like the Rockefeller Foundation, to me that’s too good to pass up.
AAO: So what will the Foundation be doing?
SL: Well, for the AAO audience, I think it’s good to know about our Regional Resilience Design Studio Project, which is pretty cutting edge in the design world. We’re launching five studios that are interconnected in various ways… a platform where the expertise of architects will assist communities in actionable, on the ground projects, that’s how we’ll be helping create a public face to promote the value of architecture. It’s a multi-layered program, with lots of partnering; in fact, between the AIA Foundation and our partners at Architecture for Humanity and Public Architecture, we have access to 90% of the architects in the US. Convening or talk programs will happen eventually, it’s inevitable; but, for now, it’s about setting actionable programs. To me, this is something to watch. Great potential.
In addressing issues on the ground, the network of resilience studios will be supporting municipalities and community organizations. And as part of the Clinton Global Initiative and its goals, the studios will be operating day-in, day-out; architects on staff will be there prior to disaster and after disaster; and there’s a technology component, so lessons learned are shared over an open platform. We’re working on that last piece with Rockefeller, but, to be sure, these studios will be sharing out information and a lot of it will be of interest to AAO member organizations.
Also, the AIA has been convening for a time now around the idea of design and health and the importance of addressing this and creating a shared language among architects and public health officials, doctors, and planners. Out of this, the Foundation is now developing an initiative that will launch at the end of the year to help train communities about how to design healthier environments. It’s a seven-year initiative with the first year focusing on physical activity. Our aim is to train professionals from multiple disciples (local planning officials, real estate developers, others in the A/E/C sector) and community organizations on the ground about things they can do at a smaller scale. We think when people have looked at the macro scales of transportation and major changes they need to make, they get overwhelmed easily, so we’re focusing on teaching them little acupuncture projects they can do, and then we’ll actually fund a project each year… so a national initiative, with an RFP that will go out to all AIA components this fall.
AAO: Are there any “early wins” that have you particularly excited about the Foundation’s prospects?
SL: A huge win for us is the fact that we just put together a partnership and launched our first studio in Newark and received seed funding for it. San Francisco will be next. We haven’t formally announced that yet, but we are putting together a really dynamic group there. And, I’m really pleased to be working with the White House and their Innovation Initiative – that’s a big win, as we are representing the built environment in the conversation about resilience and technology in disaster preparation.
AAO: There’s a growing list of AIA chapters pursuing public outreach programs and permanent architecture centers. How might they come to be involved in the Foundation’s work?
SL: For me, the focus of the Foundation is to support work on the ground and catalyze expertise so it can be put out there and put to good use. It almost can’t be said enough: AIA has, since the 1960’s really, been cultivating deep knowledge that we can absolutely use in our Foundation’s programs around resiliency, design and health, and preservation… so remaining action-oriented is key for us.
That said, the centers for architecture are a vital public face for architecture. It’s incredibly important that, daily, they address the value of architecture and do so in a ranging manner. I see the centers as absolutely complementary to our efforts.
AAO: How can our audience keep tabs on your work?
SL: We’re working on building the Foundation website right now, along with a microsite for the Resiliency Project because it’s such a massive undertaking and, at minimum, a five-year program commitment for us. We will be launching our social media presence in the fourth quarter of this year with names and handles to be shared soon.