8th Annual Design for Dignity

Speaker Bios

Ben J. Winter – Senior Vice President, Business Development and Strategic Initiatives
With substantial public sector experience and a clear understanding of the challenges and opportunities around affordable housing, Ben brings his unique perspective on the intersection of place, government, and people to his work expanding Linc Housing’s impact and collaboration with other mission-driven providers. His focus at Linc Housing is acquisitions, business development, strategic partnerships, and policy initiatives. Ben joined Linc after serving in the Biden-Harris Administration as deputy assistant secretary for policy development in the Office of Policy Development and Research at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In this role, he oversaw the Office of Policy Development (OPD), which sets HUD’s research agenda, advances evidence-based policymaking for the department, disseminates HUD’s policy and research findings, and oversees the department’s international and philanthropic engagements. Prior to his appointment, he was also a key member of President Biden’s transition team for HUD, helping to ensure the values and priorities of the new administration and a smooth government transition.  Before that, Ben headed the California Community Foundation’s housing and economic opportunity initiatives for Los Angeles County and served as chief housing officer for L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, where he led a comprehensive strategy to address the city’s enduring affordability crisis. His career focus has always centered on the issues surrounding the people side of planning, such as access to quality neighborhoods and affordable housing, community organizing, and immigrant and international development issues. Through these efforts, he has worked to strengthen disadvantaged communities and help realize a more equitable and sustainable future for everyone. Ben received a Master of Urban Planning from NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service and was a fellow at NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy. In addition, he holds bachelor’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin in Madison in Spanish, international relations, and global cultures.

Marc Janda – Senior Vice President of Development, AvalonBay Communities
Mark is a real estate executive with over 20 years of experience in all aspects of commercial real estate development and investment.
Specialties: Real Estate Development, Multifamily Development, Mixed-Use Development

Brian Lane, FAIA, LEED A.P. – Principal, Koning Eizenberg
Brian has overseen many of the firm’s award-winning community buildings, housing, mixed-use, and hospitality projects. He builds neighborhoods, drawing on experience that spans a range of project types for governmental, commercial, non-profit and private clients. His skills converged in the design of many award winning projects, including the 28th Street Apartments, which received a 2015 National AIA Honor Award. His visualization and graphics skills, combined with his planning knowledge, have enabled numerous cities and agencies to evaluate planning and urban design strategies. Recently, he has contributed to the dialogue on emerging ordinances that will aid housing production in Los Angeles and is frequently called upon to share his expertise in community forums and public programs. Under his leadership, Koning Eizenberg has earned over 170 design and sustainability awards, and was honored as AIA California’s Firm of the Year in 2009. In 2021, Brian was elevated to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects for design work that propels social benefit and accelerates affordable housing production, while raising the benchmark for neighborhood buildings.

Dana Sayles – Owner/Principal, three6ixty
Dana is the founder and owner of three6ixty. She envisioned the company as a full-service land use and entitlement firm that combined her experience with fast-paced project and construction management with her education and knowledge of urban planning and regulatory processes. After working as a Director of Development at Urban Pacific Builders and Vice President of Development at John Laing Homes, Dana started working independently in 2007 and founded three6ixty in 2012. Dana’s 27 years of project management experience, extensive knowledge of zoning code and land use policy, and an intuitive strategic approach ensures that three6ixty clients have the best guidance with their development projects internally, with cities and with local communities.
Dana has a broad network of relationships with city staff and elected officials, and she frequently participates with policy working groups and advisory committees. Dana holds an undergraduate degree in City and Regional Planning from Cornell University, a Masters of Urban Planning from USC and is a licensed member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. She served on the Culver City Planning Commission from 2013-2022, and has been actively involved in various non-profit organizations focused on philanthropy, and currently sits on the board of the Hollywood Central Park. Outside of the office, Dana loves travel, skiing and the outdoors, great restaurants, and spending time with her two sons.

Jeromy Rogan, AIA, NCARB – Project Executive, Morley Builders
Jeromy is a Project Executive with Morley Builders and has focused on a variety of building types including residential, commercial, and institutional projects . Jeromy has extensive experience building housing in the Los Angeles area including the 535 Unit El Centro Project in Hollywood among others. Morley Builders has been a leader in building affordable housing throughout Southern California and has multiple affordable housing projects currently in construction. Jeromy is a registered architect and licensed contractor in the State of California and has been with Morley Builders for 20 years.

Don E. Empakeris, AIA, ARA, NCARB – Principal, DE Architects, AIA
Don grew up in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and received degrees in Environmental Studies and Architecture from the University of Waterloo.  Jane Jacobs, the award winning author of Death and Life of Great American Cities was a resident of Toronto at the time and her writings have greatly influenced his perception of how buildings and neighborhoods impact the public realm.  In 2002 Don founded DE Architects, AIA, an award winning, full service Architectural Firm specializing in Mixed Use Urban Infill Multi Family Housing.  DEA has designed over 70 buildings, with 1/3 being publicly funded Affordable Housing Projects, and he is actively involved overseeing all phases of project development from feasibility analysis, design, and entitlement procurement, through construction documents and construction administration.   Prior to founding DEA, he was cofounder of REA Architects, AIA and previously worked as a senior designer for Arthur Erickson Architects and Welton Becket Associates.

Sean L. Leonard – President & CEO, S.L. Leonard & Associates, Inc.

Sean Leonard has more than 30 years of experience in the Southern California real estate development and construction industry, He began his career as a concrete subcontractor and progressed to general contracting and development management. Sean is the Managing Principal of S.L. Leonard & Associates, a project and construction management firm.

Among his most notable projects are Walt Disney Concert Hall, both The California Endowment headquarters, and currently, the restoration at Wayfarer’s Chapel.

One of S.L. Leonard’s first clients in early 2004 was Community Corporation of Santa Monica, and affordable housing has been a passion for Sean and his firm ever since. Mr. Leonard has overseen the development of over of 7,000 units of multi family housing in Southern California over the last twenty years.

Sean earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from UCLA and an M.B.A. from USC. He has been an Adjunct Professor teaching Construction Management at USC’s Graduate School of Civil & Environmental Engineering and at UCLA Extension.

Sean serves on several non-profit boards including the Ventura County Community Foundation (Chair), A Community of Friends (Immediate Past Chair), Casa Pacifica Centers for Children & Families and California Lutheran Homes Foundation.

Leslie Sydnor, AIA, NOMA, LEED APPresident, AIA Los Angeles & Director, Cumming Corp.

Leslie is a director at Cumming; currently working as a design manager for Los Angeles City College. She has over 25 years of experience in the design of education, aviation, industrial, and low-income housing projects. Leslie is past co-chair of the Justice Equity Diversity and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) committee. She teaches Architectural Project Management at Cal Poly Pomona, is on the Woodbury University Construction Management Program Advisory Board and mentors emerging professionals. Leslie has a B.A. in Architecture from Yale and an M.Arch from UCLA.

Dr. Rueben Smith – Vice Chancellor/Chief Facilities Executive, Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD)
Dr. Rueben Smith serves as the Vice Chancellor and Chief Facilities Executive for the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD). With undergraduate degrees in civil engineering and mathematics, an MBA in environmental sustainability and a doctorate in computer science, enterprise information systems, Dr. Smith understands the need for a sustainable future as a community partner focused on taking steps to decarbonize, electrify, conserve, and preserve natural resources. As a multi-faceted Built Environment Professional with over 20 years of experience in engineering design, construction, facilities, and environmental sustainability, he has led the design, development, and post construction management of dozens upon dozens of projects of varying delivery methods including the implementation of zero-net energy (ZNE) master plans and integrated energy resource plans at various college and K-12 Districts across the State of California. With a goal to facilitate and deliver the best possible teaching, learning, and working environment, Dr. Smith recognizes the commitment required to build, maintain, and operate green, healthy/safe WELL buildings and the infrastructure to support it.

Anne Riggs, AIA, CASp – Associate and Inclusive Design Lead, David Baker Architects
Anne is an Associate and Inclusive Design Lead at David Baker Architects, a San Francisco-based architecture and urban design firm specializing in multifamily affordable housing, where she provides access code compliance oversight for a wide portfolio of affordable housing developments throughout California and works to advance inclusive design principles for housing. Anne has been a Certified Access Specialist since 2016 and is experienced conducting plan review and facility evaluations for public facilities and public accommodations. She is committed to producing design that embodies an ethic of care—creating uplifting, equitable, and sustainable environments for all.

John Arnold, AIA – Partner, KFA
With an interest in housing, landscape, and urban design, John has contributed to much of KFA’s multi-family portfolio, starting in 1999, seeking to join great living spaces with their sites and the city as a whole. He has specialized in high-density urban projects and affordable/special needs buildings throughout Los Angeles. Concurrently, John heads up KFA’s adaptive reuse work and has completed over a dozen projects in existing buildings with historic designation. John enjoys community outreach and participates in many of KFA’s public presentations. He is actively involved in his South LA neighborhood of Jefferson Park with planning and zoning issues, being a long-time board member of the United Neighborhoods NC. John is currently serving on AIA|LA’s Board of Directors as AIA CA Representative and serves on the board of Abode Communities Housing. In 2023, John started the restoration of the historic Paul Williams residence in West Adams.

Tara Barauskas – Executive Director, Community Corporation of Santa Monica
Tara is the Executive Director of Community Corporation of Santa Monica, a nonprofit affordable housing organization based in Santa Monica, California. Joining in 2016, she oversees the functional areas of the organization, including management of over 2,000 units of affordable housing, housing development, resident services, maintenance and administration of 100 staff. Ms. Barauskas has over 20 years of experience in affordable housing development, having worked at both for-profit and non-profit affordable housing development organizations prior to joining Community Corporation. Her past experience includes overseeing and managing the development process of numerous projects throughout California. Ms. Barauskas holds a Bachelors’ Degree in English from California State University, Long Beach, and a LEED AP Accreditation from the US Green Building Council. Tara currently serves on several Boards – the Santa Monica Bay Area Human Relations Council, AIA-Los Angeles, and Westside Urban Forum. In addition, she is a member of the advisory council of Students4Students, a nonprofit that houses homeless students, as well as the UCLA Ziman Affordable Housing Council. She previously served on the Board of Directors (including one year as Chair) for the Southern California Association of Non-profit Housing (SCANPH), a nonprofit membership organization that advocates for effective affordable housing policy throughout Southern California. Tara also leads the housing committee of the Committee for Racial Justice. She is passionate about her children, her Lithuanian heritage, the environment and affordable housing. She lives in Playa del Rey with her two children, Julius and Linas.

Nerin Kadribegovic, FAIA – Principal, KADRE ARCHITECTS
As a Principal with Kadre Architects, Nerin Kadribegovic, FAIA is one of LA’s design leaders working on resolving homelessness through a variety of emergency and permanent housing solutions. An expert in design and delivery, he works closely with private and governmental officials and leads design efforts in providing emergency shelter and permanent housing for nearly 2,000 houseless Angelenos over the last two years. Nerin’s passion for navigating complex design problems, especially where economy is of paramount importance, captures an eye for beauty and design, notably in social cause, that results in unconventional, award-winning solutions. Obsessed with artfully directing natural light to create nuanced, playful moments, he ushers a spirit of dignity into places, where least expected. A third-generation architect who endured displacement as a refugee of the wars in Yugoslavia and Bosnia, Nerin has directly experienced the impact of chaotic social and environmental disruption on people and society. This alert awareness evokes deep empathic connection to critical issues facing metropolitan urban centers around the world; those gripped by environmental or socio-economic crises. The wartime reality imposed a fragility on life and shelter, that ignited his resolve in dissolving obstacles. Protecting a broken community, Nerin developed the uncanny ability to transform whatever material was at one’s disposal into something of functionality, beauty and meaning. Instilling hope and safety during hardship has become second nature, embedded into his mindset, both in design and leadership for social cause.

Tim Kohut, AIA – Director of Sustainable Design, National Community Renaissance
Tim Kohut, AIA, is Director of Sustainable Design with National Community Renaissance, a regional Developer/Builder of affordable housing. Tim works with design teams, construction teams and subcontractors implementing strategies aimed at high performance and energy efficiency, with an increasing focus on Zero Net Energy and Carbon Neutrality. He uses his skills as an Architect and a CEA to identify the most cost effective pathway to National CORE’s high performance goals. Tim is a Certified Energy Analyst (CEA), Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Rater, a Building Performance Institute (BPI) Energy Analyst, and a Certified Accessibility Specialist (CASp). Tim has spent more than 25 years designing, building, and consulting on affordable housing projects throughout Southern California.

Marcela Oliva, Assoc. AIA – Professor of Architecture and Environmental Design, LATTC
For 10 years, she was the Knowledge Architect for the 9 billion Building Program at Los Angeles Community College District. She envisioned and implemented the largest Virtualization BIM/GIS System in the nation following National Intelligence Standards. Metaverse, Digital twins for social mobility is her expertise.  She is a Professor of Architecture and Environmental Design at LATTC and founder of UCLA Extension Courses: Transforming Community and Design for Social Justice. At NASA’s Knowledge Management, she was a principal investigator for the Cyber-Physical Systems National Science Foundation Grant, and is a recipient of the California Governor’s Award in Geospatial Technologies and National Park Services. Presenter for the California Higher Education Sustainable Landscape and serves as a founder and member of multiple organization; STEAM, PANDO Populus, ENCOUNTER LA and UrbanRiver LAbs.  She presents at forums that encompass education, STEAM, technology, innovation, and social justice: USC “Building Information Modeling, for Executives”, International AIA, Caixa Barcelona “Focus the Nation”, Eureka International Mexico City, “IBCon Intelligent High Performance Building”, “International Open Government Data Conference” by the U.S. GSA, Data.gov, the World Bank Open Data Initiative, and the White House.  She is the USC recipient of the Alpha Rho Chi Medal and she was awarded 2012 Educator of the Year. In 2022 she received the AIA LA Presidential Award Educator of the year.  Her integrated model using biomimicry with digital twins was identified as a catalyst solution for Higher Education by Climate Neutral Campus Report, UNCF (United Negro College Fund) Building Green and the Kresge Foundation.  In London 2016, she was the winner for “Government Innovation” International Bentley Systems.  In 2018, the LATTC Architecture Program was awarded National Park Grant and her students won 1st place at JUNK Battle PANDO POPULOUS Design Competition.  Currently she is lead for Mayor’s Workforce Initiative for the Green New Deal for the AEC Industry Cluster -Careers by Design LA and part of the VisionLAB.
B.Arch from USC and M.Arch/Building Science Degree from Columbia University New York. Harvard GSD edX Architecture Imagination Certificate. 

Ali Barar, AIA – Managing Principal, GGA

Ali Barar draws upon his 30 years of practice in the Los Angeles affordable housing community to bring planning and design leadership to his valued non-profit clients and the residents they serve. As the managing partner of the firm, Ali is responsible for the firm’s strategic growth and client development. Ali has been instrumental in transitioning the firm to a new generation of partners, positioning the practice as a preeminent human-centered, design oriented regional expert in k-14 education and affordable housing.

His community involvement and planning expertise includes 12 years of service on the Pasadena Design Review and Pasadena Planning Commissions. Ali is currently serving on the Reconnecting Communities 710 Advisory Committee to Pasadena City Council. He is currently a board member of Pasadena Planned Parenthood of San Gabriel Valley, and a trustee of the Flintridge Center- an organization focused on breaking the cycle of poverty and incarceration through community planning, innovation, and action. Previous volunteer board engagements included service as Board secretary for Hollywood Community Housing, and Vice President and Chair of long-range planning for Sequoyah Community School in Pasadena. Prior to Joining GGA, Ali was the Sr. Vice President of architecture at Abode Communities.

Ali received his undergraduate education from both the Ecole des Beaux-arts in Paris, France and the University of North Carolina. He holds a Master of Architecture degree from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Ashley Marsh, RA – Senior Director, Advancement, MASS Design Group (Boston)

Responsible for securing strategically-aligned partners, supporters, and funding to advance the mission and secure the long term health of MASS Design Group, Ashley guides the stewardship of existing relationships as well as the identification, qualification and cultivation of new ones. Based in San Francisco on unceded Ramaytush Ohlone land,

Ashley is an avid bikepacker and a regular volunteer farmer at the largest agricultural site in the city, Alemany Farm, which gives all the food they harvest to neighbors for free.

Trained as an architect, Ashley’s early career specialized in consulting on the upstream stages of project and owner readiness, advising a spectrum of education, technology, creative and nonprofit organizations in design, strategy and change management capacities. She helped a public school in Oakland, California win a $10 million XQ Super School grant and was named ‘40 under 40’ by the San Francisco Business Times. Her research has received funding from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and been included in the conference proceedings for the Environmental Design Research Association, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, and the Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference. She is a recipient of the Design Futures Council Emerging Leader award and serves on the Advisory Board of the Boston Architectural College.

Mark Lahmon, a Los Angeles native who spent 7 years working as a carpenter before receiving a Bachelor of Architecture from Woodbury with honors in 1997. After working with OMA, Frank O. Gehry and John Sergio Fisher on performance theaters he refocused his efforts to concentrate on housing. Following 6 years at KFA, he became a founding partner of PSL Architects concentrating on affordable housing for 10 years before launching Lahmon Architects in 2015.
Specializing in all areas of privately and publicly funded housing the firm believes that well-designed architecture with unique character not only retains value better but also contributes to one’s self-worth through a sense of comfort, pride, and empowerment helping lay the foundation for upward mobility. LA’s design process is a composition of project requirements that explores the opportunities of the relationship between context and design through the unique and efficient articulation of innate building components defining mass, space, surface, and detail. Lahmon Architects is an active contributor to helping solve the current housing epidemic through design, outreach, leadership, and support service contributions. To date, Mark is responsible for over 40 housing projects providing over 2,000 units some of which have received AIA honor level awards at the local and national levels.

Aham Nwede – Senior Project Manager, Shawmut Design and Construction
Aham is a part of the senior leadership team at Shawmut Design and Construction’s Los Angeles office. Aham’s diverse history of projects covers multiple markets including hospitality, corporate, commercial, housing, education, and non-profit providing him with a proactive and holistic approach to any project he manages.

Giovanna Belmont Lima Araujo, LFA – Design and Sustainability Consultant, Modest Studio
Giovanna is a Sustainability Strategist and Social Impact Designer. As a Queer, Latina, first generation immigrant, she is dedicated to reimagining the role of architects in systemic change, applying the tools of design in service of under-resourced communities, and elevating the agency of designers in implementing visionary ideas. She believes dignifying spaces empower people to become the best version of themselves. Giovanna has nearly a decade of experience in Architectural Design and Construction, Certifications, Data Management, Education Programs, Business Development, Community Organizing, Research, Advocacy, Justice, and Equity. She has worked as a Designer at MASS Design Group on the design of hospitals, memorials, and affordable housing projects throughout the North American and African continents; as a Manager on the Buildings Team at the International Living Future Institute, supporting project teams pursuing certifications—including The Living Building Challenge, Core Green Building, Zero Carbon, and Zero Energy; as a Project Manager at YouthBuild Boston on the design and construction of LEED affordable housing projects; and as the AIA 2030 Fellow with the Boston Society of Architects on the collection, analysis, and report of the AIA 2030 Challenge yearly data for the New England region. She started her own consultancy studio, and works with clients including the Malcolm X and Dr Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Center and Harvard University. She studied Architecture with a focus on Sustainable Building Technology at the Boston Architectural College.

Giuseppe (Gio) Aliano, AIA – Board Director (AIA CA Rep), AIA Los Angeles
Gio Aliano is former Senior Vice President of Abode Communities and Principal of its architecture studio. In this role, he spearheaded client relations, provided executive studio oversight, and led project planning and design. Through his thoughtful and holistic approach, he promoted design excellence while ensuring clients’ expectations were achieved, projects came within budget and performance schedules were met.   
With more than 35 years of experience, Aliano is deeply committed to advancing social equity through architecture—including affordable and supportive housing, mixed-use community developments, Federally Qualified Health Centers, and educational facilities. Additionally, his work in the City of Los Angeles HHH Innovation Challenge has propelled the use of modular prefabricated design to drive cost and time savings in addressing the City’s homelessness crisis.

Martin Ramirez Jr., AIA, NOMA – West Coast Architecture Practice Leader, Gannett Fleming
Martin is the West Coast architecture practice leader for Gannett Fleming. Gannett Fleming’s office is in DTLA and is the 2023 Sponsor for the AIA-LA City Leader’s Breakfast. Martin’s involvement in the City’s Leader’s Breakfast allows him to assist in providing a forum and an opportunity to collaborate with City Leaders and design professionals with common interests in bettering our local community and having sincere discussions about issues and solutions for people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles. Martin Ramirez is also an adjunct professor and taught architecture studio the last three semesters at Arizona State University. His focus is on housing and most recently taught a housing studio sponsored by a private grant to focus the course for housing for people experiencing homelessness. In 2023, his studio sponsored guest lecturers from Los Angeles such Dr. Dana Cuff, Michael Maltzan and Michael Lehrer to provide their experience and expertise in the subject of housing. Martin Ramirez graduated with a Master’s of Architecture from Arizona State University and started his career in 1999 as an architectural drafter. His experience started in the infrastructure industry but then worked for three years for a studio designing multi-family housing until the economy took a hit in 2008. He went back to the infrastructure industry and worked on architecture for water and wastewater treatment plants. His most notable project in the water infrastructure industry is the Osborn Lift Station in Scottsdale, Arizona for the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. While he started his career in Arizona, he moved to Los Angeles in 2017 and started his career with HDR Inc. where his experience in public transportation excelled. He worked on the Los Angeles Union Station Expansion Program Management contract for LA Metro and gained notable experience with the Port of Long Beach for their Pier B Rail Facility project. He also is the architect for the new VA Parking Structure at the VA Medical Center in West Los Angeles, construction starting in 2023. Martin has recently started his new position at Gannett Fleming in 2022, is a Vice President and is the Principal Architect for the Inglewood Transit Connector project, a 1.6 mile elevated fixed-guideway system with three elevated stations serving the City of Inglewood community.

Kimberly Dowdell, AIA, NOMAC, 2023 President-elect, The American Institute of Architects
Kimberly Dowdell, AIA, NOMAC, is a licensed architect and frequent speaker on the topic of architecture, leadership, diversity, sustainability, and the future of cities. In her 2019-2020 term as national president of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), she worked to increase opportunities for women and people of color to gain more equitable access to the building professions. She also more than doubled the organization’s membership and significantly raised NOMA’s profile.  Kimberly’s career aspirations are rooted in her upbringing in Detroit, where she was initially driven to utilize architecture as a tool to revitalize cities. She earned her Bachelor of Architecture at Cornell University and her Master of Public Administration at Harvard University. Her professional experience has spanned architecture to government and teaching to real estate development. Kimberly is currently the director of strategic relationships and a principal with HOK, a leading global design firm. She co-founded the SEED Network in 2005 and has been a LEED-accredited professional since 2007. In 2022, Kimberly was elected to the Cornell University Board of Trustees.  Kimberly’s overarching mission is to improve people’s lives, by design.