As the architecture industry’s chief lobbying organization, it’s the American Institute of Architects’ job to get the issues architects care about up to Capitol Hill. It hasn’t always made decisions that resonate with everyone on both sides of the aisle, such as its pledge to work with President Trump, and it's been accused of being too slow to respond to obvious problems instigated by the government, like the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent new rule on asbestos. But it has continued to battle in the political arena on behalf of architects across the country and revise its plans based on its constituents' goals. This year, as part of 2018 AIA President Carl Elefante’s vision, the AIA is urging architects to exercise their role as architect-activists and “take a seat at the table” in order to guide leadership at the local, state, and federal government levels on the future of American cities. Following last week’s midterm elections, the AIA held a “Post-Election Debrief” to outline six key issues it’s set to focus on as the new United States Congress takes shape. Affordable Housing It’s no secret that many cities across the country are experiencing an affordable housing crisis. From Naples to New York, Los Angeles to Salt Lake City, it’s harder than ever to find reasonable rent and mortgages for the nation's low-income families. The AIA wants to expand the current Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) and push for a similar program catered to middle-income households. Proposed by Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the Middle-Income Housing Tax Credit would allow participating states the chance to receive federal tax credits based on population with 60 percent of units saved within a rental property for residents earning up to the median area income. Some see this motion as an unnecessary waste of federal resources, as it takes away from the poorest of the poor, and argue that changing exclusionary zoning laws would have essentially the same impact. Sustainability Numerous American cities have committed to reducing energy consumption by 2030 in an effort to comply with the 2016 Paris Agreement to combat climate change. New York’s own grand goal is to cut 80 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. To do so, the city must focus on retrofitting its existing buildings with energy efficient materials. The AIA says it will continue to back legislation that helps developers do this, though right now, it’s a very costly task. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1), which passed last December, does a lot to incentivize property improvements for individual-income business owners. However, it raises the after-tax cost of retrofitting a building for energy improvements. To combat this, the AIA believes such investment should be credited as a “qualified improvement property,” so more property owners will be interested in greening their standing structures. Resilience Natural disasters are wreaking havoc on coastal American cities and beyond. Each hurricane, wildfire, and tornado season brings more devastation than the year before. While architects can’t control Mother Nature, they can support in-need communities in numerous ways once disaster strikes. The AIA seeks to expand its Safety Assessment Program (SAP) in order to train more architects with the skills necessary to analyze buildings post-hurricane, windstorm, or flood. Additionally, Congress passed the Disaster Recovery Reform Act (DRRA) last month which gives states more room to manage post-disaster rebuilding efforts, as well as greater investment in preventing serious damage from occurring in the first place. Through a new National Public Infrastructure Pre-Disaster Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, communities can plan and build resiliency projects with fair federal funding. School Safety Mass shootings are a nationwide epidemic. Architects may not have much jurisdiction over the design and security of nightclubs, open concert venues, or religious institutions, but they can impart their expertise into the future of educational architecture. This August, the AIA launched its school safety initiative, calling for schools to receive more federal funding and grants for architectural and design services. The AIA also wants the government to help create a new public resource full of best practices and design guidelines for architects to use in order to mitigate violence in schools through well-thought design. AIA representatives have spoken out on this matter already at the White House and in front of the U.S. Department of Education as well as Homeland Security. The new Sandy Hook Elementary School designed by Svigals + Partners opened this fall and has been lauded as a prime example of the kind of “open architecture” now needed for 21st-century schools. The AIA plans to introduce legislation on safe school design to the new Congress in the coming year. Architecture Firms A section of the federal tax code forces a high tax on any foreign entity investing in a U.S. commercial real estate property if they supply up to a certain percentage of funds. This law, called the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA), was enacted in 1980 and partially repealed by Congress in 2015. The AIA believes it still stops new projects and jobs from reaching architecture firms by discouraging investment in local communities. The AIA is urging Congressional leaders to sign as cosponsor of the Invest in America Act, which would fully repeal FIRPTA and potentially bring 147,000 to 284,000 new jobs to the U.S. economy while providing hundreds of billions of dollars of investment in infrastructure, affordable housing, and more. Student Loan Debt In 2013, the AIA and the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) introduced the bipartisan National Design Services Act to help emerging architectural professionals with student loan assistance in exchange for community service. According to the bill, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) would either reimburse students on their tuition who worked in underprivileged areas on public projects or provide grants for internships at community design centers. The bill was reintroduced to Congress in 2015 but has sat stagnant since. The AIA is asking architects to write into their local Congressperson to educate them on the initiative and call attention to how the student debt problem affects rising architects. To learn more about these issues and contact your local Congressperson, visit the AIA’s Architect Action Center.
Posts tagged with "disaster resilience":
A wide-ranging $61 billion proposal by Governor Greg Abbot and other Texas leaders for rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey was released last Wednesday, and is already being met with uncertainty by Washington, D.C. officials. Two-and-a-half months after Harvey made landfall in Texas as a Category 4 storm, the official damages estimate has risen to $180 billion while residents and institutions are still struggling to adjust. Calling for enhanced infrastructure measures to prevent future coastal flooding, coupled with buyouts for homes in vulnerable areas, the governor’s request goes far beyond just rebuilding what had been destroyed. Future-proofing the Gulf Coast will mean building detention lakes, dredging canals, and maybe most ambitiously, the construction of the “Ike Dike,” a $12 billion series of “coastal spines.” Meant to mainly protect the Houston-Galveston area, the three large coastal barriers have been proposed to both prevent incoming storm surges as well as allow water to be pumped out more easily. As Houston is the fourth largest city in the U.S., home to one of the largest ports in the country and situated near a high concentration of petroleum refining plants, the area is uniquely exposed to flood risks. With a major hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast every fifteen years on average, the governor’s office has placed precedence on hardening critical coastal infrastructure. But over $1 billion is also set aside for buying out properties in the most vulnerable areas, similar to New York State’s post-Sandy acquisition program meant to turn destroyed residential areas into waterfront buffers. Despite only being one-third of the predicted total reconstruction cost, government officials have demurred when asked about the price tag, the Houston Chronicle reported. “We're working on a number. We don't have a number,” said Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas). He remarked that coming up with such a large funding request is difficult at a time when so many other states are also asking for disaster relief coming off of a particularly active hurricane and wildfire season. Texas is currently facing years of recovery as designers have called attention to the historic residences, businesses and cultural institutions damaged during Harvey. With state and local governments outlining their plans for disaster mitigation, it will be worth watching to see how Texas moves forward. Read the full Rebuild Texas plan below:
In the wake of the profound damage wrought by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, New York-based architects Jonathan Marvel and Walter Meyer are coordinating relief efforts through a Brooklyn nonprofit, the Coastal Marine Resource Center (CMRC), which has initiated a project called Resilient Puerto Rico to supply solar microgrids to municipalities across the island. Walter Meyer, principal at Brooklyn-based Local Office Landscape Architecture, is organizing a large shipment of solar panels, generators, and power inverters to the storm-ravaged island. Meyer himself has family in Puerto Rico, and is looking for longer-term solutions to replace the island's historically faulty energy grid. Immediate recovery efforts, however, are focused on those in particularly dire straits, like seniors and those in need of medical attention, many of whom lack the proper care or medication due to the near-total outage. Supplies are being held at informal community centers in public spaces all over the island. Some of these improvised centers will receive funding from Jonathan Marvel, founding principal of New York firm Marvel Architects. Marvel, who is in San Juan to coordinate recovery efforts, donated $50,000 towards relief centers that provide cell phone chargers, food, and water. When The Architect's Newspaper (AN) spoke with Marvel over the phone, he was in middle of wiring these funds to a Florida-based supplier of solar panels and generators called Sun Electronics. These solar supplies will be sent to 16 community centers across Puerto Rico with existing leadership structures, each serving tens of thousands of nearby residents. Marvel got information about these centers from his mother, Lucilla Fuller Marvel, a career AICP urban planner in San Juan who has worked on resilience planning her entire life. The panels and generators supplied by Sun Electronics will be then shipped down to San Juan, where Marvel and a team of architects from the firms's Puerto Rico office will put together assembly kits before sending them out to the 16 community centers. The island has 78 municipalities in total, and CMRC's eventual goal is to provide every one of them with a solar microgrid. "We're in many ways a perfect candidate for having a grassroots-based, municipality-scale, solar-powered energy grid," Marvel said. His team's longer term goal is to focus on scaling these renewable energy sources to provide more permanent sources of electricity to communities that aren't generated by petroleum plants hundreds of miles away. Marvel and Meyer are also working with Cristina Roig Morris, assistant vice president and senior legal council at AT&T, to fundraise for the project's larger mission, which may receive help from the Rockefeller Foundation. While the coordinated relief effort is ambitious, Marvel has another idea for architecture students currently on the island. Modeled after post-Katrina efforts to relocate students from the Tulane School of Architecture to other design schools where they could continue studies while their school was closed, Marvel would like to create opportunities for architecture students in Puerto Rico to do the same. The idea is in an early stage, and he is brainstorming ways for the three architecture schools in San Juan (serving about 75 to 125 students total) to partner with host schools in the mainland United States to continue their education. Never one to be excluded, Elon Musk has also extended an offer to aid in the propagation of solar energy solutions to the island, tweeting his interest at Puerto Rico's governor Ricardo Rossello this week.
---For those who'd like to pitch in for Puerto Rico's recovery, below are some recommendations of groups, both in Puerto Rico and on the mainland, to check out. This list is based on recommendations from Ruth Santiago and Luis G. Martinez in our original article on the post-Maria energy crisis. On the island, there are a number of groups doing on-the-ground recovery work, including: Unidos por Puerto Rico (United for Puerto Rico), led by the First Lady of Puerto Rico, one of the largest initiatives garnering funds for recovery. ConPRmetidos (Committed), a nonprofit completing impact and needs assessments and seeking to provide power and structural repairs to the communities most in need. Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico (Community Foundation of Puerto Rico), based in San Juan, a philanthropic foundation awarding grants for, among other things, housing and economic development in local communities. Comité Diálogo Ambiental (Environmental Dialogue Committee), the Salinas-based group that Santiago works for, housed under an umbrella organization bringing together community groups, fishers associations, and others, called IDEBAJO–Iniciativa de Ecodesarrollo de Bahia de Jobos (Jobos Bay Ecodevelopment Initiative). Stateside, here are a few diaspora groups participating in recovery work: El Puente | Enlace Latino de Acción Climática (Latino Climate Action Network), based out of Brooklyn, has been holding fundraisers to raise awareness and support for Maria recovery efforts. Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños (Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, CUNY) have been pooling community voices, news, and fundraising opportunities since the storm. AN knows this list is not comprehensive, and we encourage readers to leave additional resources in the comments section.
The creator of New York's post-Sandy rebuilding initiative says the program is an unmitigated disaster. At a Congressional field hearing yesterday on Staten Island, Brad Gair, former head of Mayor de Blasio's Housing Recovery Operations, called Build it Back a "categorical" failure at its primary goal of getting homeowners back into their homes in a timely manner. "From the 'Road Home' program in post-Hurricane Katrina Louisiana to Build it Back in post-Hurricane Sandy New York City, [Housing and Urban Development Community Development and Block Grant Disaster Recovery] programs have generally been categorical failures in supporting timely and effective housing recovery," Gair testified. "But the root of the problem is that no local or state government, regardless of its capability, can successfully create and setup in a few months what amounts to a multibillion dollar corporation with hundreds of employees and contractors, numerous storefront locations, a broad based marketing campaign and integrated customer service operations while tens of thousands of desperate customers must wait anxiously for help as hope dwindles." The purpose of the hearing was to ascertain the efficacy of disaster-relief investments at all levels of government in the New York City metropolitan area, DNAinfo reported. Witnesses discussed how agencies coordinated disaster response, and what lessons Sandy offered for disaster planning going forward. In addition to Gair, six other non-profit leaders and government officials testified, including Daniel A. Zarrilli, the Mayor's chief resiliency officer. Those looking for some C-SPAN-level infotainment can view the entire session here: Gair suggested that government should be creating a-la-carte programs for disaster recovery to save time and money, rather than formulating "patchwork" programs post-disaster. Build it Back gives federal money to single and multi-family homeowners for repairs or reimbursements, funds resiliency projects in public housing, and provides support for other compatible resiliency projects. In response to Gair's critique, a spokesperson for the mayor's office stated that 80 percent of 5,319 approved applicants have either had work done on their homes or received checks from Build it Back. So far, $120 million in reimbursement checks have been sent out, although the program, critics contend, is hampered by mismanagement: Aid was not distributed to homeowners in a timely fashion, and it gave $6.8 million to contractors who performed substandard work, according to Comptroller Scott Stringer's 2015 audit. To close his testimony, Gair issued a scathing critique of disaster management bureaucracy and a lofty call to action:
"We are all here today for the exact same reason that many similar Congressional committees and subcommittees have been convened in the aftermath of virtually every major disaster over the past several decades—the system is broken, everyone is mad, and billions of dollars continue to be wasted. The Post-Katrina Reform Act reformed next to nothing; the Hurricane Sandy Recovery Improvement Act improved far too little. Now let’s try something different. Let’s start over, decide who and how much we want to help, establish a comprehensive policy for disaster resilience and recovery, devise an implementation strategy, build an integrated set of programs that get the job done, and empower our public servants to lead genuine, sustainable, cost effective efforts that restore communities and support families in times of need."
Last September, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat invited me to serve as the special media correspondent for its Shanghai symposium, entitled Future Cities: Towards Sustainable Vertical Urbanism. I conducted video interviews with dozens of architects, developers, building managers, and others on topics relevant to tall building design and sustainable urbanism. Among the many designers, engineers and other tall building types I interviewed was Luke Leung, director of sustainable engineering for SOM. In Shanghai's Jin Mao Tower (an SOM building), we talked air quality, sustainable design metrics, and whether humanity might be able to build ourselves out of the environmental mess we find ourselves in. "The tall building can help to create better health and potentially less carbon emissions in the city per capita," Leung said, but he added it's important to address the issue holistically. We need to reduce emissions associated with embodied carbon, transportation carbon and operating carbon, Leung said: “We need to strike to make those three components to be all approaching net-zero.” Asked if LEED is still the best way to rank green buildings, Leung acknowledged shortcomings in how we talk about sustainable design. “It's amazing that the focus is on energy and water, while the building is designed for human beings,” he said. And he called for more attention to human-centric systems that address human health: “From that standpoint all the green building systems, they have room for improvement, but LEED is one that starts addressing some of those issues.” Finally, in light of technological progress, Leung stressed humility before nature. “[To] go back and listen to the basic laws of nature is our best bet,” Leung said. “But that time is limited.” Watch more videos on CTBUH’s website, and on YouTube. You can subscribe to their monthly video series here.
Last September, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat invited me to serve as the special media correspondent for its Shanghai symposium, entitled Future Cities: Towards Sustainable Vertical Urbanism. I conducted video interviews with dozens of architects, developers, building managers, and others on topics relevant to tall building design and sustainable urbanism. Among the many designers, engineers and other tall building types I interviewed was Christopher Drew, director of sustainability for Chicago's Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture. In Shanghai's Jin Mao Tower, we talked about responsive design and environmental technology—everything from greenery and air quality to geothermal energy and the possibilities of net-zero skyscrapers. “It's not going to suddenly happen, it's going to happen incrementally,” he said of net-zero tall buildings. “I absolutely believe it's possible.” His comments on disaster and climate resilience were also revealing. In addition to buildings being resilient, Drew said communities need to be able to react to changing weather patterns—perhaps by relocating or changing local land-use and zoning patterns. Ultimately the sustainability director for the firm behind Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Tower and 215 West 57th Street in New York City was hopeful. “We do have a whole opportunity to build our way out of this, but we can't do it just on our own,” he said. “It has to be through collaboration with the supply chain … we also have to work with the legislators.” Watch more videos on CTBUH's website, and on YouTube. You can subscribe to the monthly video series here.