Ayla Abiad (MArch '12) to deliver keynote at AIA 2019

Ayla Abiad's efforts to help Syrian refugee families in Buffalo led her to form Build A Bridge (BAB) Foundation, which builds economic independence for refugees and immigrants.

Ayla Abiad's efforts to help Syrian refugee families in Buffalo led her to form Build A Bridge (BAB) Foundation, which builds economic independence for refugees and immigrants.

by Rachel Teaman

Published May 7, 2019

Syria native Ayla Abiad (MArch '12) will share her work serving refugees and immigrants with thousands of architects gathering next month for the 2019 conference of the American Institute of Architects. 

Abiad is among a distinguished roster of A'19 keynote speakers that includes Ryan Coogler (co-writer and director of the Academy Award-winning film Black Panther); Reshma Saujani (founder and CEO of Girls Who Code); and Roman Mars (host and creator of 99% Invisible). A'19 takes place n Las Vegas June 6-8, 2019. 

Abiad, Assoc. AIA, is a designer with the architecture firm AE7's Pittsburgh office, came to the United States in 2009 with plans to return to Damascus after earning her Master of Architecture at UB. Syria's civil war would keep her in Buffalo, however. Eager to find a way to help, she began volunteering with the International Institute of Buffalo and assisting Syrian and other refugee families across the city.

By 2015, she dedicated herself to this mission with the founding of Build A Bridge (BAB) Foundation, a nonprofit that assists refugees and new immigrants rebuild their lives by connecting them with resources in the local community. Its goal is to make the transition to life in the United States as seamless as possible, while challenging communities’ pre-conceived notions about refugees and immigrants.

Abiad began her architectural design career at Wendel in Buffalo, where she served on the design team for a number of health care and mixed-use projects across Western New York. At AE7, Abiad works on projects including large, international mixed-use developments, medical offices, and corporate tenant fit-outs. She is a leader in design and detailing and actively engages with existing clients and business development.

Of her invitation to speak at A'19, Abiad says: "It's such a great honor...I am so excited it's hard to put it in words. I will be talking about the importance of architects and architecture in building a culture of equality and inclusivity, and how we can use our ability to orchestrate interdisciplinary collaboration to drive civic engagement."

Abiad's featured talk will take place on Saturday, June 8, at 8 am, as part of a conversation series with Roman Mars. Also featured in this session is Ryan Coogler; Keller Rinaudo of Zipline (which is building drone delivery for global public health customers); and Eric Liu of Citizen University. 

On Friday, June 6, Abiad will participate in A'19's live sessions, where she will present "Design Must Break Biases" on the complicated adjustment process facing immigrants and the power of design to erase preconception. Abiad will also join design professionals and civic advocates for "Civic Engagement: Architects Making a Difference" (June 8, 11:30 AM).