Architecture is Amber Lombardo’s first love. When she would go to work with her dad at Peavey Electronics in Meridian as a kid, she’d spend her days wandering around the historic downtown buildings – climbing up and down freight elevators, tip-toeing across rafters and exploring dusty corridors. “The infrastructure was simply fascinating to me,” says Amber, “how it all worked in harmony to build an entire society.”
This preoccupation with the way buildings shape our lives has stuck with Amber throughout her career, although she hasn’t always worked in the architectural field. After graduating from Mississippi State with an interdisciplinary degree in architecture, civil engineering and marketing, she found herself working in the web industry. “That peculiar blend of skills sent me into a career in the web industry in the late 90s when businesses were just beginning to purchase websites – it was hopping!”
She built web services divisions for three organizations, but then she decided to move on and build her own business: a creative agency. Over the next 17 years, her company grew into four companies: an ad agency, a magazine, a print shop and an art gallery. In October of 2016, however, Amber sold her “hive” and was hired by the Mississippi Heritage Trust.
The MHT is an organization that works to preserve Mississippi’s architectural legacy, a mission close to Amber’s heart. During her time with the MHT, she developed the Mississippi Historic Preservation Toolkit, a collection of financial incentives and best practices for people wishing to restore historic buildings.
When asked what her favorite historic building in Mississippi is, she is taken back to her childhood days of wandering downtown Meridian’s buildings. “The Threefoot Building in Meridian, for me, represents breakthrough,” says Amber. “Watching its restoration journey is thrilling, and I can’t wait to see Meridian’s downtown explode with commerce when it’s done.”
Amber’s path has led her now to the position of executive director of the Mississippi branch of the American Institute of Architects, a professional organization that advocates for architects and provides the resources they need to do their best work. The MHT and AIA Mississippi have very similar missions, so the transition was only natural for her. “MHT worked well with AIA Mississippi, so when its executive director, Joe Blake, decided to retire, I threw my hat in the ring,” she explains.
As director of AIA Mississippi, Amber’s job is, in short, to educate. She offers educational opportunities to local architects to give them a professional edge, promotes their work to the public and informs lawmakers about policy to improve their experience. She says her favorite part of her position is getting to create opportunities for the architects who choose to invest in Mississippi and, quite literally, build our communities.
“Mississippi’s challenges are no secret, however, her champions tend to be,” says Amber. “The people I serve choose to practice in a state with very limited resources. I admire their decision to stay, to tie their shoes every morning and go about the work of making my world beautiful, functional and elegant.”