Citizen Architect: Laila Ammar

Laila Ammar, Board Member, NEST (Northsiders Engaged in Sustainable Transformation)

Firm and Role: MSA Design, Project Architect

What is the purpose of the organization that you are involved with? 

Born of grassroots passion mixed with professional wisdom, NEST has brought a clear vision for the redevelopment of the Northside community since our inception in 2006. Through renovation, new construction and partnerships with qualified owners, NEST has facilitated the sale or transfer of 39 properties—more than half of which were income restricted. In 2018, our scope of work expanded into commercial development, targeting affordable rental housing and business district improvement. 

Why did you choose to get involved? 

After buying a home in Northside I was looking for a way to volunteer my time in my neighborhood, and not long after it had been on my mind, a friend happened to reach out to see if I might be interested in joining NEST’s board of directors. They were starting to expand their goals into more commercial work and were looking for people with industry experience in that regard for the board.

How does your experience as an architect contribute to the organization? 

A better understanding of typical project timelines and processes gives foresight to making informed decisions for the community. I also advocate for critical, or at least thoughtful, design. Development has so many moving parts and intricacies to get meaningful or affordable projects done at all that “design quality” can be lost in the conversation quite easily.

How has serving in this role benefits you as an architect? 

A looking glass to sitting on the other side of the table, representing “the client”; A continued education in development; Learning about the structures that exist to develop affordable projects and the extreme gaps that exist in that system.

How much time and effort does your role require? 

I have at least one Board Meeting and one Committee meeting every month, many times with some tasks to work on between meetings. Our rules allow for four terms of two-years per term (8 total years).

Would you encourage other architects to get involved in a similar organization? 

Of course! Everyone should find a way to give back to their communities but Architects have a special knowledge to offer. If you have any interest in community advocacy, Architects are well positioned to be heard. Even if you don’t join an organization, go to your neighborhood council meetings or our city council meetings—and when anything has to do with our built environment, your opinion could carry weight and help amplify voices that aren’t being listened to.

Are you a Citizen Architect? Please let us know by emailing

Are you interested in getting more involved with your community? Check out AIA Ohio’s Finding Your Voice advocacy series or come to one of AIA Cincinnati’s Local Advocacy Working Group meetings (second Thursday each month at 8:30 am on Zoom).

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