Grassroots 2019: Takeaways, Talking Points, and What it Means to be a Citizen Architect

Axis Architecture News

Earlier this spring, Axis’ Ashley Thornberry traveled to Washington, D.C. for Grassroots. The annual conference brings together architects and chapter leaders from across the country and helps them become better civic leaders. The conference included workshops, panel discussions, and a trip to Capitol Hill to advocate for safer schools and energy efficiency. In this Q&A, Ashley shares her takeaways, talks about the importance of advocacy, and explains the term “citizen architect.”


Grassroots - Capitol Hill - AIA Indiana
As part of Grassroots, AIA members from Indiana lobbied on Capitol Hill for safer schools and sustainability. // Photos by Jason Shelley, c/o AIA Indiana


How would you describe the main goals of Grassroots?

Grassroots brings together component leaders from across the country to educate them and help them develop into more effective civic and chapter leaders. It provides an opportunity for current and emerging leaders to 1) network on a smaller scale, and 2) attend workshops designed to provide guidance and share ideas with one another about what is happening across the country.


What or who is a “citizen architect?”

A citizen architect is someone who understands what their community is experiencing and how to put the community’s needs above their own. A citizen architect is someone who advocates for those who may feel they don’t have a voice. They have a passion for community and use their understanding and love of design to help improve the surrounding environment. They stand up for their community and ask themselves how they can help find a solution.


Why is it important for architects to advocate for public policies?

Many times, public policies can have a direct impact on our profession, whether it’s at a small or large scale. This goes back to being a citizen architect. It is important for architects to understand what public policies are being introduced and advocate for the policies that will better the community.


This year, AIA advocated for improved energy efficiency and school safety. How can architects help advance these issues?

We need to do a better job of incentivizing the use of energy efficient technologies on existing commercial buildings, not just new construction. There is much new construction occurring locally. But renovating and adapting existing buildings is on the rise, and technology has developed to allow these buildings to become more energy efficient. At Grassroots, we were able to talk to senators and representatives about creating a new tax incentive to decrease the high costs of renovating and retrofitting existing buildings with energy efficient equipment and systems.

When it comes to school safety, we need to help schools and the public understand that, while design cannot prevent school violence, architects can be part of the solution. We can help make design-centered security decisions and still maintain a positive learning environment. Currently, STOP School Violence grants and Title IV grants do not include funding for design services. (Instead, schools can purchase security devices like metal detectors, locks, and lighting.) We need to raise awareness so that future funding can include the design services of an architect. While we don’t hold the answers to school violence, we can be part of the solution. We can provide design ideas that help schools create a comprehensive plan for their security needs.


What was it like to speak to members of Congress?

Getting to Capitol Hill and talking to senators, representatives, and their staff about issues that are important to architects was a powerful experience. They took time out of their schedule to meet with us and were truly interested in what we had to say. It was nice meeting with André Carson’s staff, because they represent Indianapolis and understand what we’re advocating for.


What resonated with you the most?

How important it is to be a citizen architect. How to engage with other big city leaders to better shape our communities. And that anyone can be a citizen architect – you are not limited by how much experience you may or may not have.


If you would like to learn more about Grassroots or how you can advocate for improved energy efficiency and school safety, contact Ashley Thornberry at or 317.264.8162.