President’s Message – June, 2019

Community and connection

A’19 has wrapped up and what an exciting and educational few days! Las Vegas was a unique host for a convention of sustainability-minded architects. It was a vastly different experience than A’18 in NYC, where hotels, educational courses and events were scattered throughout the city and walking and riding the subway were the norm. While Las Vegas was both warm (literally 103 degrees warm) and welcoming, ride-sharing and shuttle vans were the preferred modes of transportation. Much of the human-scale urban design largely happened inside the city-like casinos and shopping centers instead of outside. Las Vegas of course, evolved around tourists and cars and the opening keynote, focusing on Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi’s seminal work Learning from Las Vegas, was a reminder of the critical role that the automobile has played in shaping our cities and neighborhoods. It takes continued effort and focus from private sector and government leaders to remake many of our existing neighborhoods into walkable, inclusive, accessible, socio-economically diverse and ultimately sustainable places to live and work.

As much as I look forward to connecting with former colleagues and meeting new ones, I am just as excited about attending thought-provoking learning sessions. On this front, the conference was outstanding. More than any conference I have attended, this one had session after session focused on the role that research can and should play in guiding and enriching planning, architecture and design. In school, architects are taught the basics of building science and human-centered design, and in practice we develop a fundamental understanding of how to use this knowledge. So, it’s easy to continue designing projects and engaging with clients knowing that what we’re doing is responsible. One thing we can clearly take away from the climate science and humanitarian crises around the world is this: we, as architects, must do more. In the environmental and socio-economic world we live in, being responsible is not enough. The built environment can have such an immediate and lasting positive, or negative, impact on the world that we must dig deeper. We need to understand how people use our buildings and what resources our buildings use on a micro level that will ensure that we are doing the absolute best we can for the users, the community and the planet.

It was wonderful to see research-minded firms like Kieran Timberlake, HKS, HDR, Gould Evans and others share not only their results, but also their business strategies and methodologies around evidence-based design. Medium and large-sized firms can build research into their business plans and embed it into their workflows. Small firms, or ones with limited resources can develop case studies or apply for one of the numerous grants that are available for design research. There are tons of resources out there and we can all learn from each other’s good work. If you’re interested, a great place to start is the AIA website and the recently published AIA Architectural Research Agenda. And of course, reach out to your architectural community and connect. We all have a lot to gain from shared knowledge and there is no time like the present to share it!