AIA Convenes in San Diego
Earlier in the week, the conventioneers had heard from partners Tod Williams, FAIA and Billie Tsien, AIA. Tsien was the only architect on the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation board that advised politicians on the World Trade Center design proposal selection. She described her experience as frustrating but ultimately rewarding when design finally won over real estate concerns. In their keynote, Tsien and Williams presented their own work — including the Folk Art Museum in New York — to demonstrate their commitment to architecture as a spiritual experience.
Toward a Saner Environment
A year ago, security was a top-priority topic in professional discussions. This year, there was evidence of shifting priorities. In a presentation about urban design perspectives on building security, David Dixon, FAIA of Goody, Clancy & Associates, pointed out what a small threat terrorism has proved to be in comparison to the real hazards of fire, sick-building syndrome, and natural disasters.
Dixon cautioned his audience to be skeptical about "expert" opinions that urge low-rise decentralization as an alternative to high-density, high-rise cities. Sprawl and limited-access public buildings are ill-conceived solutions to terrorism, he argued, just as window-less schools were once a misguided approach to energy conservation.
Giving in to fear-mongering could spell an end to urban life and to efforts to revitalize communities. Dixon suggested that architects instead search for better design models that balance risks and benefits without giving in to the psychology of fear.
Not all the keynote presenters were architects. Dr. Fred Gage, a professor of genetics at the Salk Institute, gave an interesting talk about the role of environment in the health of the human brain. Contradicting nearly a century of conventional wisdom, Gage discovered two years ago that new brain cells can develop throughout life — as long as they're given a stimulating environment.
This discovery has profound implications for the effect of good architecture on the developing minds of schoolchildren and on neurological decline in the elderly. Although architects may typically believe they strive to create interesting environments, exactly what this means and how it affects people's brains is not understood.
As if to immediately bridge this gap in understanding, two announcements followed Gage's presentation. One heralded a newly created Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture. The second announcement was that the new organization would receive the prestigious Latrobe Fellowship. The grant will sponsor research into questions about how the brain perceives architecture and how humans respond to their surroundings.
Although Gage did not credit his own scientific discoveries to a direct inspiration from the Kahn buildings in which he works, we can speculate on the implication that better architecture can contribute to the intellectual development of its inhabitants.
On the Trade Show Floor
Concurrent with the educational component of the convention was AIA Expo, a trade show of nearly 150,000 square feet (14,000 square meters), featuring 650 companies. The vendors represented every aspect of design and construction, from abrasives to Z-bars. There was an encouraging abundance of building products suitable for sustainable construction such as bamboo flooring and photovoltaic systems.
Now that the once-vibrant A/E/C SYSTEMS no longer has a summer show, the AIA convention has become a premier opportunity for software vendors to get their message out to the architectural community. In San Diego, CAD vendors competed for recognition in the realm of the comprehensive building model, or, in the jargon du jour, the "single-building model" (SBM). This approach, which aims to centralize 2D, 3D, qualitative, and quantitative information into a single database, is promised to transform the way architects design and communicate with team members.
The newest product on the SBM scene, Revit, has been attracting a lot of attention, especially since it was purchased by rival Autodesk last year. In the meantime, Graphisoft, maker of ArchiCAD, and Bentley Systems, maker of TriForma, are questioning the "newness" of Revit in light of their own long-term SBM offerings.
"Does the building industry really need to start over?" asks Bentley rhetorically in a white paper distributed at the convention. The document suggests that Autodesk's promotion of Revit creates yet one more incompatible platform in an industry that has long suffered from disparate file formats. Meanwhile, Graphisoft promotes its leadership towards universal standards through the International Alliance for Interoperability.
While commercial rivalries continue and the profession struggles to get its work done, enough design computing success stories emerge to make the efforts seem worthwhile. One example is how Vectorworks from Nemetschek quietly fulfilled a role as software of choice for Libeskind's work on the World Trade Center.
Business of the Institute
In other news, the convention saw the election of Douglas L. Steidl, FAIA, who will serve in 2005 as AIA president. He is a founding principal of Braun & Steidl, a general practice firm with offices in Akron and Columbus, Ohio.
Paul Davis Boney, FAIA, RK Stewart, FAIA, and David H. Watkins, FAIA were elected to serve as vice presidents, and James A. Gatsch, FAIA was elected to be AIA treasurer. Delegates adopted a bylaws amendment that will permit electronic voting in the future.
The convention also provided an opportunity for numerous other groups to make their own awards announcements. Koichi Yasuda, Ken Kannari, and Masao Nishioka of the architecture firm Nikken Sekkei, Tokyo, won the 2003 DuPont Benedictus Award for their design of the Pola Museum of Art in Hakone-Machi, Japan. The California Council of the AIA presented their 2003 design award winners.
The next AIA national convention will take place in Chicago, in May 2004.
Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...
B.J. Novitski is managing editor of ArchitectureWeek and author of Rendering Real and Imagined Buildings.
Participating in the AIA Expo, the 150-year-old Otis Elevator Company showed technological innovation in its Gen2 elevator that eliminates the need for a separate machine room.
Image: Otis elevator Company
With the "graphical differencing" function of Digital InterPlot from Bentley Systems, users can compare plotted documents to monitor changes over time.
Image: Bentley Systems
Solar technology seems to have reached the mainstream, exemplified by a display from Uni-Solar.
Photo: Uni-Solar/ JohnsManville
On display at the AIA Expo was the Metasys Building Automation Network from Johnson Controls. The case study for Northwestern Memorial Hospital demonstrated an unprecedented integration of complex environmental control systems.
Image: Johnson Controls
eZmeeting, from Sigma Design, combines document management and interactive redlining, supporting group meetings with real-time, Internet-based file sharing.
Image: Sigma Design
Perimeter Systems displayed its residential gutters that double as architectural cornices.
Photo: Perimeter Systems
Antunovich Associates used Revit, from Autodesk, to study the interaction of various building systems in their design of the University Center of Chicago.
Image: AutoDesk, Inc.
Architects interested in achieving the appearance of natural stone but at a lower weight and cost could find offerings from companies such as Eldorado Stone.
Photo: Eldorado Stone
Click on thumbnail images
to view full-size pictures.