Edgy in LA
The issue that all three designers agreed upon, however, was that a major American design contribution was the single family residence. They also agreed that the next American contribution should be, in Webb's words, "how to fix this failed housing model" of suburban sprawl.
Hoping to continue the urbanism conversation, Christopher Hawthorne of the Los Angeles Times moderated a much awaited debate in the seminar titled "Urban Next: LA and the Gulf Coast." Stefanos Polyzoides, of Moule & Polyzoides, and Eric Owen Moss, FAIA, of the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), occupied opposite ends of a panel discussion intended to discuss the role of private entities in the planning of public spaces.
Unfortunately, the discussion was overshadowed by recent media exchanges between the two architects on the role of New Urbanists in the Gulf Coast, resulting in a more polarized and less enlightening conversation than anticipated. The high point, surprisingly, was a strong presentation by Tom Gilmore, downtown developer and fellow panel member, in support of dropping any prefixes and instead practicing good old-fashioned "urbanism."
On the Edges of Architecture
Most of the convention's sessions, by contrast, left the big names behind and focused on the practice of architecture. In the spirit of regaining control relinquished to other fields in the last century, numerous seminars focused on architect as developer, political advocate, ethics advisor, community leader, environmental steward, historian, artist, and, of course, as businessperson.
In his seminar "Leadership and Advocacy through Design," former congressman Richard Swett, FAIA, referred to the idea of the master builder while noting that we architects have "pared ourselves down to an impotent group" by giving up the power to make decisions. He advocated reestablishing the architect's presence in the community by taking the lead on issues such as the environment, security, and infrastructure — inadvertently echoing Mayne's previous remarks.
Indeed, presenters on all topics reminded architects of their over-arching responsibilities to the profession and to society. Lisa Findley, a professor at the California College of the Arts, discouraged architects from practicing what she called "schmo ethics," which she defined as giving clients anything they want, regardless of consequences or the architect's professional opinion.
In his seminar "Running a Design-Focused Practice Like You Mean It," Michael Hricak, FAIA, of Hricak Architects, jokingly recognized the difficulties in avoiding schmo ethics. He then offered serious advice on overcoming these difficulties in order to deal with clients on a business level, thus increasing project control in manageable ways — a theme repeated throughout the convention.
Technology and Beyond
Another common theme related to building information modeling (BIM) technologies. Speculation on how they would change the practice of architecture seemed to weigh on everyone's mind. Several seminars focused on BIM as collaboration tool, and the Autodesk Revit demonstrations gathered the largest crowds on the expo floor.
The Google Sketch-Up and Google Earth booths also drew crowds, but the rest of the "High-Tech Pavilion" seemed to do a steady but unremarkable business. The same held true for the building product booths, where old standards ruled the floor. The vendors seemed to find the numbers satisfactory, however, and most spaces for next year's expo are reportedly already reserved.
A dedicated Green Products Pavilion, as well as over a dozen seminars and tours, focused on some aspect of sustainable building. One of the most popular seminars, "America's New Regionalism" broadened the common definition of regionalism-as-style by also discussing the positive environmental impacts of designing regionally. Eminent "green" architect, William McDonough, FAIA, closed the convention by highlighting what has made him famous: his attention to good design and his ability to put things in perspective.
The 2007 AIA National Convention is scheduled for May 3-5 in San Antonio, Texas, with the theme "Growing Beyond Green." The AIA seems to be heeding the advice of its members and taking back some control, beginning in the realm of sustainability.
Highlighting the convention's theme of sustainability was an inspiring speech by Robert F. Kennedy, renowned environmental activist and senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. He reminded architects in the audience that "green design" is not only a moral imperative, it is an effective method for limiting the climate-changing emissions that are spiraling out of control.
Impervious surfaces, Kennedy claims, are the single greatest cause of water pollution in the United States, while the heating and cooling of buildings generate the most greenhouse-gas emissions. Architects and other professionals, he argues, should take personal responsibility for changing conventional practices because federal regulatory agencies have been largely disempowered as the Bush administration installs polluting-industry lobbyists as agency heads.
In 2004, Kennedy published Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy. To defend against claims that he is politically biased, he notes that his factual statements sound radical because the mainstream media have utterly failed at informing the public about the corporate takeover of government and of most news sources. It is left to independent voices — such as ArchitectureWeek — to keep readers informed.
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Leigh Christy is an architect and writer living in Los Angeles.
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, by Rafael Moneo.
Photo: Leigh Christy
View of Google Earth showing the Los Angeles Convention Center, the burgeoning downtown, and the ocean beyond.
Image: Courtesy Google
Convention-goers peruse the work of gold medalist Antoine Predock, FAIA.
Photo: Leigh Christy
Austin (Texas) City Hall, by Antoine Predock PC in association With Cotera + Reed Architects.
Photo: Timothy Hursley
The Caltrans District 7 Headquarters in Los Angeles by Morphosis.
Photo: http://www.rolandhalbe.com/">Roland Halbe
Mixed-use Bison Courtyard at Bear Street, Banff, Alberta by William McDonough + Partners.
Photo: William McDonough + Partners
Desert Nomad House, completed 2005, by Rick Joy Architects. The house was featured in the convention's "America's New Regionalism" seminar.
Photo: Bill Timmerman
DeltaShelter by Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects. The house was featured in the convention's "America's New Regionalism" seminar.
Photo: Tim Bies/ Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects
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