In February, Sherry-Lea Bloodworth Botop was named executive director of the American Institute of Architects Foundation (AIAF), the philanthropic arm of the AIA that focuses on architecture and design advocacy and education. Prior to this position, Bloodworth Botop was a senior adviser and director of strategic development for Architecture for Humanity.
AIAF is launching the first of five Regional Resilient Design Studios. The first one will be in the New York metro area. These studios, developed in partnership with Architecture for Humanity, the Rockefeller Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities program, and the Clinton Global Initiative, will work on resiliency projects in places selected based on factors such as threat level and the availability of university partners. ARCHITECT spoke with Bloodworth Botop at the AIA headquarters in Washington, D.C.
So what exactly does the foundation do?
We have a mission statement, but I would say more broadly that the mission is to educate the public about the value of architecture in the world and how it impacts your life, your day-to-day life.
Will these studios be functioning as firms?
Community-based design studios. They will have a chief resilience architect that will be a full-time leader of each of these. They will all be connected, of course, to each other, the five chief resilience architects. Those will also be connected to the network of sustainability or chief resilience officers that Rockefeller is hiring, so that will broaden the network nationally and globally, they will already have that platform. And then there will be a couple other full-time architects working there as well.
Resiliency seems to be a buzzword right now.
We address it from the built environment perspective. You have people like [the Garrison Institute's] Diana Rose, who is working on cognitive resilience—you have the whole emotional piece of it too. There are other parts of resilience—it's not all about property being destroyed, but that is the piece that we’re focused on and it’s a big part of it.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Lots of travel, lots of engagement. I feel like it's Christmas every day here for me. Every day I find out about some expertise—like deep knowledge that AIA has housed in their partnerships, relationships, staff, components—that people don’t know about, and has never been really catalyzed and used to drive a national strategy to impact something like resilience. I grab things every day from people, and I find out about this deep expertise and put it all together to broaden the impact of the programs.
What accomplishments are you particularly proud of?
I’m proud of developing a network of studios on the Gulf Coast to come together and propose to be the recipients of millions of dollars from [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] so that architects could plan and stamp the housing that was being built. You have a lot of volunteer organizations coming in and building things, and that’s great, but I struggle with those that are not working with architects and engineers in their rebuilding process.
Your long-term goals?
For me, the biggest long-term goal is helping the general public understand the value of architecture, so it’s not something that’s reserved for skyscrapers or the elite; it’s something that should be accessible to everyone, it’s something we all should know about and have access to, period. So that is a long-term goal. How does that happen, how do we do that? It's educating the public, building things, and showing people the value of what architects do.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.