Posts tagged with "AIA":

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Takeaways from the AIA New York’s COVID-19 town hall

This afternoon, the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIANY) hosted a webinar designed to explain what’s going on in New York City during the ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, how resources are being shared with the national chapter, and what architects can do to contribute. In Town Hall: Coping with COVID-19 Together, Barry Bergdoll, president of New York’s Center for Architecture joined Ben Prosky (executive director of AIANY), Jessica Sheridan, (AIA director at-large), and Kim Yao (AIANY 2020 president) to discuss how the chapter is navigating these difficult times (moderated by Kavitha Mathew, AIANY leadership and engagement coordinator). Most of the concerns raised and addressed by participants were practical ones. To start, AIANY staff is now working from home, like many of its members. Because of that, the Center for Architecture is closed for the time being and is working to move lectures and other events online for those who are self-isolating. Their K-12 education programming will also ramp up as well while schools are closed. On the business side, Yao mentioned that they had reached out to 770 firm principals in the last few days—so far AIANY has spoken with over 300 of them and left messages for the rest. Their aim was to see how offices were moving to remote work, how principals and their staff were handling things, and software was being used. As one could probably guess, having to juggle nine-plus hours of Zoom meetings with familial duties, or being stuck home with no human interaction, is wearing thin on morale and many architects are growing increasingly stressed. Compounding that stress is the payment issue; how are architects transitioning to digital checks and wire transfers, while avoiding the fees? Clients have also been slow to send their payments in many of the instances raised by town hall attendees, and the chapter is working to put together resources for getting paid digitally, and may hold a future webinar to help firms apply for local and federal loans in the meantime. Kermit Baker, the national AIA’s chief economist, is also working to put together an economic outlook for early next week to gauge the impact of coronavirus. One elephant in the room, especially for the New York-minded attendees, was Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement this morning shutting down all “non-essential construction” across the state. That means job sites across New York State, except for affordable and homeless housing, hospitals, infrastructure projects, transportation, and power generation, have been shuttered for the time being. If construction sites are closed, will architects working on those projects still get paid? Prosky spoke on how they’re in conversation with the city’s Department of Design and Construction (DDC) to make sure firms are paid, but continuing work was an ongoing discussion. While the city was willing to contribute money to public projects during the 2008 recession, this time, it seems, they’re drawing a hard line and may soon start implementing severe cost-cutting measures citywide; the coronavirus crisis has already blown a $15 billion hole in the state’s budget and could cost the city over $6 billion. Still, the chapter noted they would continue to advocate for their members, though many ongoing projects could be scrapped. On a more uplifting note, many of the attendees wanted to know how they could contribute to combatting the spread of coronavirus, and mentioned that Pelli Clarke Pelli and a number of schools had begun 3D printing face shields for medical personnel. The AIA is currently working to coordinate between interested firms to help them more efficiently pool and distribute resources to those who most need them. Managing construction administration and figuring out site visits, students looking for potential internships, and the ramping up of virtual continuing education programs were all touched upon as well, but the meeting was more for members to voice their concerns and let the AIA know where they should focus their attention. The AIANY is coordinating with its neighbors and the national chapter to figure out the best path forward, and in the meantime has put together a resource page for those looking for more support and updates at aiany.org/resources/covid-19-resources/.
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AIA urges Congress to address the effects of coronavirus on the architecture profession

On March 19, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) president Jane Frederick and CEO Robert Ivy sent a letter on behalf of the organization to Congress regarding the economic impact that the novel coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19, will have on the architecture profession with suggestions for an economic stimulus package. Representing around 95,000 members, making it the largest design organization in the United States, the letter implores Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to provide temporary relief measures for business owners and to make a long-term investment in 21st-century infrastructure. To address the already-felt economic impact of the pandemic on building design and construction, the first initiative requests an investment in Small Business Interruption Loans for businesses under 500 employees. Providing relief in the short run, the letter contends, will allow employers to avoid layoffs while covering costs associated with payroll, rent, and other obligations in the immediate term. “Furthermore,” the letter reads, “the federal government should suspend the collection of business taxes, including payroll tax, for the duration of the pandemic.” The second initiative speaks to both the current needs and future threats facing America’s built environment, including climate change and sea-level rise. “This global pandemic has laid bare the preexisting resource shortage currently facing many of these facilities,” the letter reads. “Looking to the future, the World Health Organization (WHO) has predicted that climate change will contribute to worsening storms and more frequent pandemics. Buildings must be resilient in the face of these disasters while also not contributing to the underlying problem by generating greenhouse gas emissions and unhealthy air quality. We must expect more from the built environment than ever before.” The letter estimates that the government should invest a minimum of $300 million over five years towards the construction of resilient and sustainable public buildings. These two measures, the AIA argues, will “provide necessary relief in the short-term, reassurance to global markets, and will help prepare this country for the challenges ahead.” Congress has not yet offered a response. The letter was sent to Congress only four days after the AIA announced that it would postpone its 2020 National Conference in Los Angeles to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
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What to make of the draft executive order to classicize federal architecture?

In early February, when Architectural Record broke the news that President Trump might force classicism on future federal architecture, the design industry erupted in anger. Despite the fact that the rule still hasn’t been enacted weeks later, the frustration remains for many. Jean Baker, professor and author of Building America: The Life of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, argued that Latrobe, who contributed to the design of some of America’s most important government buildings, including the White House and the United States Capitol, would be “aghast at any politicizing of his designs.” The process of designing federal structures in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the Capitol was built, was fairly informal, she said. President George Washington solicited designs for the Capitol through a competition advertised in various newspapers, and the resulting building was unfinished when the government moved there in 1800. Latrobe pushed for the Capitol to be a significant and permanent structure and worked on the north and south wings until the War of 1812 diverted funding. “Latrobe was very conscious of the connection of architecture to the political ideals of the United States,” Baker told AN. “He argued, in a famous oration that was three hours long, that architecture, along with other arts, served freedom, and in Greece and Rome had strengthened those governments and would do the same in the United States.” According to Baker, Latrobe’s vision for the Capitol was for it to be functional, rational, and understandable “without any need for expert explanation, as he believed some European buildings needed, or a connoisseur for appreciation.” Opponents of Trump’s draft order have argued that a return to neoclassical architecture would result in buildings inspired by another time that need some amount of translation for the present or elevate certain cultural traditions over others. The National Organization of Minority Architects, for one, wrote in a statement that such structures embody “cultural exclusivity” and “would signal the perceived superiority of a Eurocentric aesthetic.” The contemporary buildings cited in the draft order “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” have “little aesthetic appeal” according to Trump, but have been lauded elsewhere. Both Arquitectonica’s Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. U.S. Courthouse in Miami and the Morphosis-designed San Francisco Federal Building have won national design awards. Two weeks after the story broke, former presidents of the AIA added to the organization’s earlier, immediate reaction in a letter of dissension to the White House asking Trump to reconsider the proposed mandate. They argued that dictating a uniform style of architecture, whether neoclassical or modern, sets a precedent for suboptimal design. “The investment of federal funds into public buildings demands an appropriate return on investment to the American people—the taxpayers,” the former AIA presidents wrote. “That return is not guaranteed by stipulating a singular design style; it is achieved by engaging in a rigorous process that engages the most qualified and experienced design and construction professionals. In fact, it is well-known that neoclassical design often equates to higher construction costs and extended time schedules for project completion.” The issue extends beyond neoclassical aesthetics—material choices would be affected, as well, which would influence building performance and carbon footprints. If a certain style dictates the use of copious amounts of stone, then contractors have to seek out manufacturers and quarries that can deliver the quantities needed for a federal project with such a large square footage. Baker said that Latrobe, even in his time, sought out local materials for his buildings. The breccia marble found in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall, for example, was quarried along the Potomac River. “Pure neoclassicists would demand marble,” she noted, which could complicate sustainable supply chains and material sourcing decisions. Federal projects located within the U.S. wouldn’t be the only built works affected by the order—it could affect the renovation and construction of embassies around the world. Many recently announced projects, like WEISS/MANFREDI’s update to the Edward Durell Stone–designed U.S. embassy in New Delhi, would have to reflect classical European values of architecture instead of a reinvented modernist aesthetic fit for India’s climate. Sources who spoke anonymously to AN said that design-excellence advocates have been fighting for high-design federal architecture at home and abroad for years in Washington, and it’s been an ongoing battle. Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the U.S. General Services Administration oversees the construction of overseas embassies, which is in fact managed by the State Department.
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AIA postpones 2020 national conference in Los Angeles over coronavirus

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) announced it will postpone its upcoming annual conference due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Slated to be held May 14 through 16, the AIA was expecting scores of attendees to arrive in Los Angeles for the Conference on Architecture 2020 but is now considering alternative options.  In a statement, AIA 2020 President Jane Frederick said the decision was made in conjunction with numerous event cancellations and other closures around the United States:
“AIA has been closely monitoring directives from city, county, and state officials, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization throughout this crisis,” she said. “The health and safety of our members, colleagues, exhibitors, and speakers is paramount and we feel compelled to postpone the annual conference to minimize the risk to our valued participants and partners. By making this decision in advance, we also hope to minimize any stress or inconvenience for our participants and partners.” 
The organization said that it’s looking into potentially rescheduling the event and will issue refunds to registrants for now. All exhibitors and sponsors will be able to receive a refund, too, or gain credit for the rescheduled conference this year, or the 2021 event scheduled for Philadelphia.  These details come on the heels of various local AIA chapters deciding to close their doors as well. In Manhattan, the AIA New York and the Center for Architecture shuttered its office and gallery space on Saturday and will remain closed through March 28. On Friday, The Boston Society of Architects announced it too would close off its gallery to the public for 30 days and its office areas until further notice.  Other industry-related events in the United States have been canceled or postponed including the 2020 Tall + Urban Innovation Conference in Chicago, as well as programming at several universities. Speaking of students, last week the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) announced it would adjust its testing policies due to the global pandemic. NCARB stated it would waive any fees associated with rescheduling the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) through April 30. 
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Critics speak out over the draft federal architecture mandate

Everyone from critics to commentators to professional organizations came out swinging this week in reaction to President Trumps draft executive order to impose a neoclassical style (now publicly available) on all future federal architecture. AN reported yesterday that the American Institute of Architects (AIA) released a statement strongly opposing a uniform style, and according to Contract, the organization had prior knowledge of the draft and expressed concerns over it during a mid-January meeting with James Sherk, a top policy aid in the White House In a statement published today by Contract, the AIA issued a letter to Trump after news broke about the leak, asking the president to “ensure that this order is not finalized or executed.” At the time of the aforementioned meeting, the AIA said it believed the draft was not moving forward. “We were shocked and disappointed to hear that it is still in circulation,” the organization wrote in the letter.  The AIA isn’t the only top-level advocacy group in the industry to speak up so far, but it is one of the main avenues for those interested to take action against the draft order, outside of cold-contacting the White House Below, AN broke down highlights from the AIA’s letter to Trump, alongside responses from other major players in the industry:  American Institute of Architects  “The draft we have seen also attempts to define ‘classical architectural style’ to mean architectural features derived from classical Greek and Roman architecture with some allowances for ‘traditional architectural style,’" wrote the AIA in its letter. "Given that the specific type of architecture preferred in the order can increase the cost of a project (to up to three times as much), we would hope the GSA, Congress and others would take pause. Since these costs would have to be borne by U.S. taxpayers, this is not an inconsequential concern… “President Trump, this draft order is antithetical to giving the ‘people’ a voice and would set an extremely harmful precedent. It thumbs its nose at societal needs, even those of your own legacy as a builder and promoter of contemporary architecture. Our society should celebrate the differences that develop across space and time.” The Architecture Lobby  (T-A-L) “Seizing on architectural styles is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes,” wrote The Architecture Lobby in a statement. “The particular appeal to classical architecture often uses the nostalgic appropriation of style by fictionalizing national heritage and manufacturing an ideal subject to marginalize and other while simultaneously claiming moral superiority. The Lobby wants to draw attention to the larger ideological implications this implies, implications that go beyond a conservative approach to style or limitations to freedom of expression. Neoclassicism in the US is directly related with the construction of whiteness. It was whiteness that was sought after in the many plantations houses that chose the style, justifying it as an emulation of ancient Greek ‘culture’ to separate themselves from the Indigenous peoples whose land was stolen ad the enslaved African people forced to build and work in them. Thomas Jefferson’s excitement with the work of the Beaux-Arts school in Paris was motivated by a desire to make America ‘European,’ and white... “Privileging historicist architecture is a common tool of the capitalist class in the United States as well. This tactic is used in planning codes and by homeowners associations to favor traditional aesthetics under the guise of human-centric design, but whose true purpose is to continue the legacy of red-lining by preventing the densification and diversification of neighborhoods. The ultimate goal is to inflate property values and maintain the racial and class segregation of our cities, to create an environment fo capital to continue the destruction of communities through gentrification.  The ‘Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again’ executive order is a reformulation of these local aesthetic strictures at a national level and a blatant attempt to leverage aesthetics in the service of white supremacy.” National Trust for Historic Preservation While the National Trust values—and protects—traditional and classical buildings throughout the country, to censor and stifle the full record of American architecture by requiring federal buildings to be designed, and even altered, to comply with a narrow list of styles determined by the federal government is inconsistent with the values of historic preservation,” wrote the National Trust in a statement. “The draft order would put at risk federal buildings across the country that represent our full American story, and would have a chilling effect on new design, including the design of federal projects in historic districts…We strongly oppose any effort to impose a narrow set of styles for future federal projects based on the architectural tastes of a few individuals that will diminish, now and for the future, our rich legacy of federal architecture.” Vishaan Chakrabarti, Founder of PAU Studio “Like the fundamentalists who desecrated Bamiyan and Palmyra, it is only the most insecure, arrogant and petty of leaders who attempt to remake the world in the delusions of their dominant image,” Chakrabarti said in a statement provided to AN. “Once again the Trump administration is making their hatred of our diversity clear, a hatred we must fight to defend the pluralist idea of America that most of us hold dear. Make no mistake, this is artistic censorship, and censorship is yet another step towards the fascism that clouds our land.” National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) “Diverse cultural influences on the creative expression of our collective built environment is vital to the strength of our society and paramount to our freedom as Americans,” wrote NOMA. “Given the historical significance of NOMA, rooted in the African-American experience, we are especially cognizant of the notion that for many of our members, such buildings in certain contexts stand as symbols and painful reminders of centuries of oppression and the harsh realities of racism. As architects, we are called to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public. We have a duty to advocate for design that reflects the values of the people we serve: ALL of the people. The proposed Executive Order, if enacted, would signal the perceived superiority of a Eurocentric aesthetic. This notion is completely unacceptable and counterproductive to the kind of society that fosters justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. Freedom of architectural expression is a right that should be upheld at the highest levels of government.”  The Architectural League of New York The Architectural League fundamentally opposes the imposition of a “preferred” style—whether classical or any other—by diktat as the enforced representation of the American people and their institutions,” wrote Paul Lewis, president of The Architectural League NY, and Rosalie Genevro, executive director. “Such a policy would be anathema to the idea of a free, diverse, and inclusive society. “Architecture that represents the American people must be created in response to specific sites and specific needs, responsive to local communities and conditions, drawing on the skills of the country’s most talented architects.” American Society of Landscape Architects  “The American Society of Landscape Architects has profound concerns about a proposed executive order that would impose uniform style mandates on federal building projects,” said Wendy Miller, president of ASLA. “Our nation’s design professionals are admired around the world for their creativity, innovation, and diversity of thought. Designers of the built environment should not be confined by arbitrary constraints that would limit federal building projects to a single style.  ASLA believes that the public interest is best served by a collaborative place-based process that continues to produce federal projects that reflect the unique needs and values of each community and its citizens.” Docomomo US “The draft executive order which states, “the classical architectural style shall be the preferred and default style’ would roll back Federal architectural policy by nearly sixty years and set a dangerous precedent for how we value our nation’s architectural diversity and history," said Todd Grover, the vice-president of advocacy, at Docomomo US. “We, along with our colleagues at the American Institute of Architects (AIA), oppose this change in policy to promote any style of architecture over another for federal buildings across the country. This decision could create long-standing issues with new and also existing facilities that have achieved significance since the 1960s.”
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AIA rejects Trump’s draft order for uniform federal architecture style

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) issued a response yesterday to the potential executive order that could force all future federal buildings to be designed in the neoclassical style.  On Twitter, the organization rejected the Trump administration’s proposal, stating:
“The AIA strongly opposes uniform style mandates for federal #architecture. Architecture should be designed for the specific communities that it serves, reflecting our rich nation’s diverse places, thought, culture, and climates. Architects are committed to honoring our past as well as reflecting our future progress, protecting the freedom of thought and expression that are essential to democracy.” 
Yesterday, Architectural Record published news that it had access to a draft of the White House order which implied that the President wanted the Guiding Principles of Federal Architecture to be rewritten in favor of creating a singular style. Neoclassicism, the design style that the founding fathers chose for the U.S. Capitol, would become the “preferred and default style” under this new rule and would change the core value of the General Service Administration’s Design Excellence Program Rather than pre-qualified architects receiving the chance to design uniquely-contemporary federal structures for the cities they serve, all future government buildings would instead be reminiscent of the monumental, white construction that has defined Washington, D.C., since its inception, as well as the structures built-in ancient Rome and Greece, and more recently, in Hitler’s Third Reich. Tradition is beautiful, the order argued; modernism (especially Brutalism and Deconstructivism) is ugly. Case in point: the draft order was titled “Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again.” Numerous classicism-loving groups feel the same way. On Twitter, several accounts called out the AIA for showing its “true colors,” accusing the organization of being opposed to “beauty and tradition.” Fast Company spoke to Steven Heller, co-chair of the MFA design program at the School of Visual Arts, who clarified that it’s not uncommon for governments to impose a preferred design style as a way to indicate authority. Think the projects built during the Works Progress Administration under FDR.  Still, Heller said this move by the White House signals a larger issue: “When one design style is preferred over another, that may be construed as an aesthetic preference,” he told Fast Company. “But when it is linked to a presidential act of decree, especially a president that exhibits authoritarian tendencies, then there is reason for alarm. We tend to ignore the nuances of power, like graphics and architecture styles, until it’s too late.”  
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Architecture Billings Index up in November after a rough year

For the second month in a row, the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) grew slightly in November with an average national score of 51.9 (anything above 50 indicates an increase). The change, calculated by the American Institute of Architecture (AIA), comes just months after the ABI dipped to record lows in August, revealing the demand for design services in the U.S. had been dramatically declining. Over the fall season, it seems things took a positive turn when the index rebounded with a score of 52.0 in October. Although November’s numbers are a bit lower, both new project inquiries and design contracts netted higher average scores of 60.9 and 52.9 respectively—higher than the previous month. Based on the index, architects in the southern half of the U.S. have been busier securing more work opportunities: the region received a score of 54.5, which is 3.2 points higher than the next saturated market out West.  Of the four regional divisions (each calculated quarterly), the Northeast failed to grow from October to November, getting a total score of 47.5. It’s possible that the area saw a decrease due to lack of room or hesitation for new development, according to the AIA’s chief economist Kermit Baker. “The uncertainty surrounding the overall health of the economy is leading developers to proceed with more caution on new projects,” he said in a press release. “We are at a point where there is a potential for an upside but also a potential for things to get worse.” The index revealed that commercial and industrial projects are largely on the rise across the U.S: The sector scored an average of 52.9 while mixed practice work, multi-family residential, and institutional scored 52.2, 51.5, and 50.1 respectively. The industry won’t know until mid-January how the overall 2019 index shaped up but based on the recent increase, it’s likely the national average will even out just below positive, given it spent the majority of the year flat from spring through summer. 
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The 2019 Monterey Design Conference was as rowdy as it was informative

This year’s Monterey Design Conference (MDC), held from October 25 through 27 was hot and crowded. With over 900 registrants, the main hall was packed, and the overflow lounged in comfortable chairs in the chapel. There was music around the campfire, and for the first time in my memory, marijuana smoked openly. The bar was in full swing. It was the "partiest" MDC in ages. As David Hecht, the new chair of the MDC committee told me, they hoped that each participant could find their own theme—this time, it felt like “Humility Not Spectacle.” Many architects mentioned inspirations, teachers, and mentors. On Friday, October 25, the first headliner was Alberto Kalach of TAX/Taller de Arquitectura X in Mexico City. He set the tone with humor, humility, self-effacement, and beauty. As Kalach said, “We are the canvas of the planet” and advocated reconnecting vegetation and water systems to create integrated cities. Kalach moved on to show some of his best-known projects, including his own office building and his controversial "hanging" library in Mexico City (a concept recently mimicked by the renovation of Cornell's Mui Ho Fine Arts Library). Like much of Kalach's work, it felt as if the structure has grown out of the garden. Every project Kalach shared integrated nature in a way most Californians advocate, but don’t often achieve in practice. Mark Cavagnero, one of the luminaries of the Bay Area scene, linked his personal story to his architectural one. Edward Larrabee Barnes was Cavagnero’s mentor and early employer, and Barnes was one of Marcel Breuer’s students. Cavagnero knew some of Breuer’s Connecticut homes as a child, as well as the Torin Building, where Cavagnero’s father worked. These early lessons in what Cavagnero calls “the long, low line” still hold. Cavagnero’s presentation was humble and precise, similar to his buildings. One of my favorite Cavagnero projects is the subtle renovation of the Oakland Museum of California, originally designed by 20th-century modernist Kevin Roche. Cavagnero inserted alterations that could be easily identified yet support the original concept. While most of Cavagnero’s horizontal buildings have very developed ideas about space, light, and a limited palette, he is just beginning to apply his reductive and horizontal approach to larger scales. The San Francisco Public Safety Campus he designed with HOK looks a little tough. More recently, with SOM, he has helped turn the bland Moscone Convention Center into something more distinctive. Following this lecture was the surprise announcement of the 2019 Maybeck Medal, bestowed to another San Francisco modernist, Jim Jennings, who received a well-deserved standing ovation. Saturday’s first speaker, Yvonne Farrell of Grafton Architects in Dublin, Ireland, stole the show. Along with her partner Shelley McNamara, Farrell has picked up the modernist mantle and moved it forward with gentle good humor. Although their powerful buildings are not exactly humble, they read as humane. Farrell cited Jørn Utzon as one of her influences, beginning with his porch in Mallorca. One of Farrell's main themes was architecture as the new geography, the container of our lives. Like Cavagnero, she does not use context as a pattern for replication but as inspiration for new forms, shaped with light and space. Saturday’s second headliner, Brian MacKay-Lyons, is another architect of place. One of his memorable phrases was “buildings hung from the horizon.” Although his approach is very different from Cavagnero’s, he faces a similar challenge. How does one scale up? MacKay-Lyons sticks to some of his basic ideas of framing views and seeing light and air as free. But his larger buildings, although derived from place, don’t feel tucked in the way his smaller buildings do. He also cited Charles Moore as an influence. Moore seemed to hang over much of the conference like a guardian angel. Bob Harris of Lake|Flato knew Moore in Austin and mentioned the sparkle in his eye. More than the other presenters, Harris focused on his practice, how it was organized, and emphasized the value of collaboration. One of the core values of Lake|Flato’s practice is restraint, and this came across at a variety of scales. Charles Moore’s former business partner in San Francisco, Donlyn Lyndon, talked about their early years together at a session with architect and historian Pierluigi Serraino. Moore wanted architecture to create new kinds of spaces that enhanced the sense of place. It was a kind of humble position that he staked out. But as Lyndon said in his presentation, “he held onto the pencil,” which meant control. In addition to showing Moore’s hedonistic exuberance within his own small Orinda house, Lyndon presented images of the Hubbard House (1959) in Corral de Tierra. Lyndon also said something critically important about Moore: “He was thinking about the movement of the body,” a key thread in the work. Over drinks afterward, longtime MDC committee member David Meckel of California College of the Arts joked, “It was well into day two before we saw any parametric design!” That sums up the 2019 Monterey Design Conference pretty well.
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2020 AIA Gold Medal awarded to Marlon Blackwell

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) announced that Marlon Blackwell will receive the 2020 Gold Medal, the AIA’s highest annual honor which, according to their website, recognizes individuals “whose work has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture.”  “Marlon Blackwell is a student of his ‘Place’ in the world. This ethic provides a philosophical coherence to his work,” Brian MacKay-Lyons wrote in a letter supporting Blackwell’s nomination. “His is a uniquely American Architecture; he builds confidently upon the American cultural landscape.”  Blackwell received a Bachelor of Architecture from Auburn University and his Master of Architecture from Syracuse University. Although he was born in Germany, the AIA describes Blackwell as a “product of the American South”, which shows through his large body of work in Northwest Arkansas. His first monograph, An Architecture of the Ozarks: The Works of Marlon Blackwell, was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2005 and in the Fall of 2020, a new monograph will be released under the title Radical Practice His achievements are not only in practice but in strong academic leadership. As the department head of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas, Blackwell was named one of DesignIntelligence’s “30 most Admired Educators.” He also served on the U.S. Department of State’s Industry Advisory Group for the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations from 2012 to 2019.  “Every Marlon Blackwell design is a new lesson in the transformative ability of architecture to reveal the uniqueness of every site and give meaning to any program, to achieve an expressive clarity in strong and simple forms,” wrote Julie V. Snow in another letter supporting Blackwell’s nomination. 2013 Gold Medal recipient, Thom Mayne, wrote, “As a practicing architect and educator myself, I have become aware of the growing estrangement between the world of the practitioner and that of the academy. Marlon teaches because of the great sense of responsibility to add a measure of reality to the education of architectural students while also supporting the theoretical or less pragmatic aspects of their education.”  The 2020 Advisory Jury consisted of: Kelly M. Hayes-McAlonie, FAIA (Chair), The State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York Emily Grandstaff-Rice, FAIA, Arrowstreet Inc., Boston, MA Norman Foster, Hon. FAIA, Foster + Partners, London, United Kingdom Marsha Maytum, FAIA, LMS, San Francisco, California Takashi Yanai, FAIA, Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects, Culver City California Scott Shell, FAIA, EHDD, San Francisco, California Melissa Harlan, AIA, Christner, St. Louis Missouri Maurice Cox, City of Detroit, Detroit, Michigan
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AIA urges Trump to reverse decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement

Yesterday President Trump formally notified the United Nations that he intends to pull the United States from the Paris Agreement, which he had been promising to do since he took office in 2017. In response to the Trump administration’s notice, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) called for the decision to be reversed.  “The AIA deplores the administration’s shortsighted decision,” said AIA 2019 president William Bates in a statement. “The economic impact of the United States as a participant in the Paris Agreement is a fraction of the toll we will pay if we do not make climate action a top priority as a nation. The stakes couldn’t be higher—a reversal of this decision is critical.” Nearly 200 countries signed the accord in November 2016, which served as a collective pledge to combat climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions around the world. President Obama brought the U.S. into the agreement, but President Trump—who once described climate change as a “hoax”—has been warning neighboring nations that he would withdraw. As of Monday, the first day possible to do so, the Trump administration submitted its intentions to remove the U.S. from the agreement. It will take a year for the formal exit to go into effect on November 4, 2020—the day after the 2020 election.   While cities and states across America from Seattle to Los Angeles, Maine, New York State, and even Washington, D.C., have announced individual plans to go carbon neutral in the decades to come, having little-to-no federal oversight is still not acceptable to many believers in climate change, including several architects. AIA’s Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer Robert Ivy said the “abdication of America’s leadership on climate action undermines our nation’s credibility on the global stage.”  When AN reported earlier this year on the Green New Deal, design industry leaders noted how the impact of climate issues goes beyond global warming. While the Green New Deal calls for decarbonization across the entire U.S. economy, it also pushes the idea that a carbon-free economy is a socially-just one, too. That means thinking beyond environmental impact and shifting the focus to public projects that benefit all people, like affordable housing.  The AIA and many among the architectural community, in general, aim to solve the climate crisis by promoting healthy building design and reducing carbon waste during and after construction. In August, many architects took to the streets for the Global Climate Strike with climate activist Greta Thunberg. Even if President Trump is able to get what he wants by removing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, there are a number of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates running against him who have trillion-dollar plans to reverse his damage. Regardless, the AIA has announced its opposition to the president’s move this week and urges him to think again:  “In order to move the needle on this global crisis, it will take the efforts of every industry, every company, and every citizen in the United States as well as the leadership of the United States government,” said Ivy. “The AIA will continue to prioritize climate action in an effort to support architects—and the entire design and construction field—in this critical role.” 
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A federal database for designing safer schools is working through the Senate

A bipartisan bill to improve school safety reached the floor of the U.S. Senate this week. Senators David Perdue (R-GA) and Doug Jones (D-AL) introduced the proposed legislation known as The School Safety Clearinghouse Act on Monday, an aisle-crossing effort that would help state and local officials make schools safer through smarter design. “Children deserve to go to school and learn in a safe environment,” said Senator Jones in a statement. “School leaders should always have the resources they need in order to protect our children and their teachers.” The School Safety Clearinghouse Act would establish a federally-funded national database full of information on the best design practices for enhancing security and safety in schools across the country. Managed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the clearinghouse would include recommendations from architects, engineers, building security experts, first responders, and mental health advocates. It would not, however, advocate or advertise for specific technologies or tools for schools to use.  The program is the follow-up to the STOP School Violence Act which gave school districts access to funding for safety-enhancement projects. The School Safety Clearinghouse Act provides information to those districts so stakeholders can make informed design decisions using that money.  The American Institute of Architects released a statement confirming its commitment to working with Democrats and Republicans, as well as DHS, on the build-out of the clearinghouse—an idea first brought forward by the organization to the federal government when AIA members testified in front of the Federal Commission on School Safety last August. The AIA’s support is the latest move in its growing effort to address school safety and gun violence. In 2018 and 2019 alone there were over a total of 40 school shootings that resulted in injuries or death, according to Education Week “More than 20 years after the attack on Columbine High School, our schools deserve to be safer. As architects, we know how to help,” said AIA EVP and CEOOffice Robert Ivy in a press release. “Design serves as a critical element in making our airports, stadiums, and office buildings safer following September 11. Senators Purdue and Jones should be commended for introducing new legislation that will give education officials the vetted information they are desperately seeking to create and secure schools for America’s children and teachers.” 
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Ricardo Álvarez-Díaz on why Puerto Rico needs the help of more architects

Less than two years after Hurricane Maria hit the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, the politics behind its recovery and rebuilding efforts have come to the forefront of national news again and again. In recent weeks, two FEMA officials were indicted and arrested for taking bribes, committing fraud, and using federal funds for personal gain.  It’s a massive relief, but one that wasn't too surprising to Puerto Ricans who knew the money set aside for post-hurricane recuperation was being mismanaged by the federal government. One Puerto Rican, an internationally-renowned architect who served as a liaison between the private sector and FEMA for the past two years, has been very vocal about this.  “I’ve been trying to explain that Puerto Rico has been unfairly cast out as the most corrupt place in the U.S,” said Ricardo Álvarez-Díaz, founder of the San Juan- and Miami-based studio Álvarez-Díaz & Villalón. “And most of the attacks have been labeled towards local people. But this news is a silver lining and basically what I’ve been saying for the last year.” Álvarez-Díaz told AN that only a sliver of the $92 billion promised by President Trump last year has been managed locally. “Some of the people in FEMA were forcing local people to hire companies from the mainland that were not necessarily the right fit for what we are trying to do in our rebuilding," he said. "If you don’t use them they said, they would not refund the investment.”  Now that the news is out that ex-FEMA deputy regional administrator Ahsha Tribble had allegedly taken bribes from the Oklahoma City-based energy company contracted to restore the island’s power grid, it’s not crazy to think that other projects there have been subject to corruption as well. Álvarez-Díaz, who has been busy promoting the resiliency of the Puerto Rican people and making the case for more help, said the key to stopping this is three-fold: to get more locally-based architects and companies involved in the rebuilding process “to ensure it’s done in a very localized manner,” encouraging mainland architects to help out, and lastly, educating the next generation of Puerto Rican architects.  “We don’t have enough people on this island to do the work that needs to get done,” he said. “In Puerto Rico, there are less than 600 licensed architects out of 3.2 million people, but there are 15,000 licensed engineers. We need more help.”  Álvarez-Díaz’s firm practices in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, New York, and Florida. As the founder and co-chair of the local chapter of the Urban Land Institute (ULI), and a board member of both Invest Puerto Rico and the ENLANCE Project Corporation of the Caño Martín Peña, two governor-appointed positions, he’s keenly aware of the island’s poor reputation and is constantly working to change it. His studio recently completed what’s been touted as the most resilient structure in Puerto Rico. Completed this summer, Renaissance Square is a $35.5 million mixed-income affordable housing project located in San Juan’s Gold Mile financial district. Though construction began years ago and was only 80 percent done when Maria hit, not a single window was broken. It was built through a public-private partnership between the Department of Housing, developer McCormack Baron Salazar, Citi Community Development, and Hunt Capital Partners. Of its 140 units, 60 percent were reserved for low-income families and there’s currently a 1,500-person waiting list to get a space. The demand is high. “Materials can be scarce here on the island and because there’s so much construction, the perception of lack creates a false sense of inflation, so people just want to use the cheapest materials instead of the best ones,” said Álvarez-Díaz. “We aim to convince the next group of developers that doing sustainable housing projects like this is actually profitable.”  Creating awareness is Álvarez-Díaz’s main mission. That’s why he’s also urging the American Institute of Architects (AIA) to use its influence to spread the knowledge that Puerto Rico is looking for outside assistance. He wants a chunk of next year’s AIA convention to be dedicated to educating architects on working in disaster zones, helping them connect with companies or organizations that need help, or advocating on behalf of equitable recovery efforts. “The AIA traditionally tends to be inside out instead of outside in,” he said. “Many architects aren’t invited to the table where big government decisions are being made and therefore are forced to talk among themselves about how to make things better. Local engineers are very successful in putting the word out there that Puerto Rico needs a lot of licensed engineers, experienced contractors, and developers. The more engineers we bring in and the less the amount of architects we attract, the more likely it is that we will miss an opportunity to create a holistic architectural vision for Puerto Rico.” The AIA already has an initiative set in place like this, its formal Disaster Assistance Program. But the goal of the program, which has certified architects for 47 years, isn’t for professionals to get more paid work, said an AIA spokesperson. Instead, it’s to provide technical expertise on development, planning, and policy, coordinate with local agencies, advocate for Good Samaritan legislation, and train for and share lessons on post-disaster building safety assessments—all things Álvarez-Díaz sees as good, but still not enough.  “We need to make sure this isn’t just about disaster recovery,” he said. “That’s the first step out of a three-step process. Once that’s done, we have to plan a whole island for the next 100 years. It’s not every day you can start from absolute scratch and benefit the next four generations of Puerto Ricans. I see the island as a kind of guinea pig for post-disaster development. Other places could one day learn from our successes and failures.”