Inside A’23: Overland’s Allison Lerma & Sabrina Ortiz Spotlight AIA Convention Brilliance

National AIA Convention 2023 Immerses and Inspires Overlands’ Young Professionals with Experiences and Resources to Design a Better World!

Last week, Overland Partners’ own Allison Lerma, AIA, NCARB, Senior Architect and Sabrina Ortiz, Designer II, set their projects aside to participate in A’23, the AIA National Convention held in San Francisco. Centered around the theme “America By Design®,” this year’s convention brought together over 13,000 professionals from across the United States and around the world at the Moscone Center, the nation’s First LEED Platinum Convention Center. The conference featured a wide range of engaging events, including daily keynotes, roundtable discussions, an expansive expo hall, as well as studio and project field tours. Reflecting on their experience, Allison and Sabrina have shared their key insights and takeaways from this exciting conference.

  • The national convention for architects exceeded Allison’s and Sabrina’s expectations with its impressive scale, meaningful discussions, renowned speakers, diverse exhibits, and amazing studio and project tours. Highlights included enriching interactive opportunities with fellow architects, thought-provoking roundtable discussions on equity, diversity, and inclusion, tours of architectural studios and innovative projects that address climate change and the housing crisis.


  • This year, the keynote speaker at the convention included a captivating presentation by Jacinda Ardern, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, who began her tenure at the age of 37. She faced numerous formidable challenges during her time in office, including a live-streamed domestic terror attack on the Muslim community, a volcanic eruption, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Ms. Ardern’s leadership, rooted in her values of people-centricity, kindness, and what she refers to as “pragmatic idealism,” led New Zealand to achieve one of the lowest COVID-19 mortality rates among developed nations, saving countless lives. Her inspiring story highlighted the importance of embracing vulnerability while maintaining resilience and strength. These powerful messages were also echoed by AIA National, as the organization made history with women holding leadership positions in the organization for the first time ever.


  • The Women’s Leadership Luncheon emerged as an incredibly inspiring event during the convention with invaluable advice shared by women leaders. One key piece of wisdom emphasized the importance of building a network of champions, a notion that highlights the significance of cultivating relationships with individuals who believe in and support one’s aspirations. Additionally, the luncheon underscored the significance of finding one’s tribe, a supportive community that fosters personal and professional growth. Moreover, the role of a good leader was highlighted as being committed to securing the future, demonstrating the essential responsibility to mentor and empower the next generation. These messages left a lasting impression, encouraging Allison and Sabrina to approach their work with enthusiasm, collaboration, and a sense of purpose.


  • An overarching message of this year’s convention was the imperative of Equity + Justice. Attendees were deeply engaged in discussions and presentations that focused on the critical need to foster inclusivity, equality, and social justice within the field. The convention provided a platform to address systemic barriers, promote diversity in all its forms, and amplify the voices of underrepresented groups. They learned that a mere two percent of architects in the U.S. are Black (NCARB 2023.) This means that out of approximately 121,603 licensed architects practicing in the country, only 2,492 identify as Black. This concerning statistic highlights the need for greater diversity and inclusivity within the field of architecture.


  • The convention brought attention to critical challenges, particularly the urgent housing crisis, which disproportionately affects individuals experiencing homelessness and is a pervasive issue across metropolitan areas in the U.S. During their visit, they had the opportunity to explore 1064 Mission Street, the city’s largest supportive housing development. This pioneering project utilized a combination of site-built and factory-built modular housing, with the goal of setting a national example. It integrates numerous elements designed to support San Francisco’s most vulnerable and chronically homeless community members in attaining housing stability, improving their health outcomes, and fostering greater independence in their lives.


  • Climate change and sustainability took center stage during the convention, with a strong emphasis on these critical aspects of design. A noteworthy topic was the involvement in policy-making that directly impacts the climate, presenting attendees with a fresh and proactive approach to tackling this global issue. The convention served as a platform for exchanging ideas and fostering a collective commitment to creating a more sustainable and resilient future.


  • The list of experiences was further enhanced by field tours of various studios and projects. Internationally acclaimed studios such as SOM, Foster+Partners, and the Autodesk Technology Center showcased the next frontier of architectural design, leaving a lasting impression on attendees. They also were able to learn more about Enscape’s new energy modeling program.


  • In addition, Allison and Sabrina had the privilege of visiting the newly completed Caymus-Suisun Winery. The tour offered a unique insight into the design strategies employed to create a warm and inviting hospitality environment while simultaneously addressing the distinct climatic challenges presented by the beautiful Suisun Valley. The focus was on crafting a winery that not only provides a delightful experience for visitors but also becomes a vibrant community destination in harmony with its surroundings.


  • Lastly, the convention explored strategies to address significant issues that have a profound impact on both society and the profession. One crucial approach is to focus on exposure and education about architecture to underrepresented groups at an early age, starting in elementary school and providing ongoing support and mentorship through college and into the workforce, particularly for marginalized communities. Advocacy and policy work play a vital role in addressing challenges such as climate change as well as diversity and inclusion, and it is the responsibility of all professionals to actively engage in these efforts. By promoting education, diversity, and policy involvement, architects can contribute to positive change and make a lasting impact on both the industry and society as a whole.


“It was my second time going, but the last time I went, I was still a student. Experiencing it as a professional added a whole new level of perspective that I really enjoyed! “

Sabrina Ortiz Luna

“It was my first time going and I found it very rewarding on multiple levels.”

Allison Lerma


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