AIA Convention 2009
In his opening remarks, Malecha emphasized that the world is growing smaller, faster, and more competitive while national and political boundaries are growing less relevant. He also reiterated the AIA's position that the people doing the work should resemble the people the work is serving. Several "emerging voices" supported this viewpoint, addressing issues of nationality, location, and discipline, as well as race and gender.
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Minsuk Cho described Seoul, the home base of his firm Mass Studies, as a "Kim Chi City" — a matrix of heterogeneous elements without a clear, cohesive identity. In designing the Shanghai Expo Korean Pavilion, he experienced the difficulty of trying to condense decades of Korean identity history into one exhibition pavilion that was supposed to represent modern Korea and Koreans.
Cho went on to observe that tapping into the identity of such a place means that designers must be aware of "the more complex psychology of 75 percent of the countries in the world forced to rapidly become a modern state. The result is schizophrenia, a collective hangover from colonization."
Craig Dykers of the Oslo, Norway-based firm Snøhetta, designers of the Oslo Opera House, spoke of the importance of socializing international office members to each other and to the place their work resides. "This group of people becomes the fabric of the place, growing ideas instead of imposing them," he said. "All of us have diversity within ourselves, which means the superficial differences between us don't matter. People are not abstractions; buildings are."
Amala Andraos of New York City-based WORKac saw great potential with her global practice. The firm's international staff completes projects across the world, ranging in scale from an urban doghouse to a mixed-use tower to extensive urban master plans. Andraos described her business model as a worldwide network of collaborators, which encompass not just other architects but also urban planners, engineers, farmers, fabricators and more.
WORKac is not alone in taking experimentation to another level with fabrication, thus adding diversity in design and production techniques. Based in San Francisco, IwamotoScott's Lisa Iwamoto noted that working closely with fabricators to test the constructability of new material systems has been crucial to her firm's success. Sheila Kennedy of Boston's Kennedy & Violich spoke of combining power tools with digital fabrication in their office space itself in order to gain a balance between industrial machining and craft.
Meanwhile, Stephen Kieran and James Timberlake touched on the value of diversity in collective research and design efforts in their presentation "Deep Matters: A Path to Meaningful and Provocative Architectural Research." Citing recent innovative developments such as the iPhone and KierenTimberlake's own prefabricated Loblolly House experiment, Kieran convincingly made his point: "The future is all collaborative. I am not aware of any sustainable development in the last 100 years that was made alone."
Lean Integrated Processes
Collaboration through integration is becoming a factor in the more traditional aspects of design and documentation as well. In his seminar on "Lean Architecture," Michael Czap of RTKL recommended a longer consolidated design phase, shorter documenting phase, and overlaps between all phases. "The end goal is not to draw, but to convey information as quickly as possible to all parties and to avoid the accumulation of problems," he asserted.
As building information modeling (BIM) technologies quickly become standard practice, many teams are already exploiting their potential to create a more fluid and efficient design-and-construction process. Despite what seemed like a broad agreement among conference presenters that technology should serve the process and not drive it, much discussion revolved around the subsequent change in deliverables — namely, a digital model instead of paper documents.
The presenters also credited BIM with making integrated project delivery (IPD) possible.
Autodesk's Phil Bernstein spoke about the IPD model used for the sustainable new Autodesk AEC group headquarters in Waltham, Massachusetts, designed by KlingStubbins and built by general contractor Tocci Building Companies. "BIM provides a transparent method of transferring information, if you choose to do so," said Bernstein. "It becomes a digital collaboration platform, but the team has to have deep collaboration and deep trust."
In order to facilitate that deep trust and successfully complete true IPD projects, both Bernstein and Sandra Beck, associate director of capital programs at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), had to modify their owner agreements in order to truly utilize the BIM model, allowing each party — architect, contractor, subcontractor, fabricator — to own a portion of the model.
The AIA responded to the growing need to codify these changing relationships, and in 2008 fast-tracked a new series of standard contracts specifically for IPD, which were showcased on the convention floor.
The basic sales pitch for green design, as heard at conventions past, was surpassed this year by more advanced questions, such as the presentation of alternative energy case studies and a push for carbon neutrality. And all projects featured in the general sessions incorporated at least some element of green design. Perhaps sustainability is truly starting to become embedded in design culture.
The notion of the triple bottom line encompasses an even broader definition of sustainable, responsible design, addressing ecological, economic, and social design considerations.
Peter Head of Arup promoted regional multidisciplinary efforts that marry architecture with urban planning as having the biggest potential impacts on a sustainable future. Speaking about the large-scale potential of alternative systems, such as energy generation from photovoltaics and biomass, he also recognized that "efficiency of systems will ultimately play out when cost savings are evident."
And Head applauded a model that ensures money trickles down to the communities to enable them to make change themselves, with help from local, national, and international nonprofits.
In a seminar on "Design as Activism," Kathleen Dorgan of Dorgan Architecture & Planning talked about the satisfaction of designing for and with communities. But she also noted the limitations of the current way of doing things, at least in the United States. "We haven't figured out a way to let good designers just do good design," she said. "A lot of the success stories instead involve good bureaucracy."
In the rapid-fire closing session, Cameron Sinclair from Architecture for Humanity helped put socially responsible design into the context of today's world. "When economic and governmental systems break down, architecture becomes a political act. It's about time the pendulum swings back toward social relevance."
Compared to the 2007 AIA Convention in San Antonio, with its epic Al Gore keynote and even compared to last year in Boston the 2009 conference offerings around environmental sustainability seemed somewhat lackluster and sparse. Yet the urgency and opportunities for sustainable building design and construction are only increasing.
One sustainability highlight was a session called "A Town Hall Meeting on The Stewardship of Buildings: From Design to Performance in Reducing Carbon Emissions," supported by Karen Butler from the EPA Energy Star program, anchored by John Kennedy with Autodesk tools for green design, together with Lawrence P. Maxwell, AIA, a Florida architect building green, and Stu Reeve, a Colorado facilities manager in the trenches of green-oriented building operations. The fusion of enthusiasm with realism in the details they presented around securing demonstrable carbon savings in real buildings was contagious.
Architects will be looking to the 2010 AIA Convention in Miami — "Design for the New Decade" — and beyond for more widespread signs of progress.
The 2009 AIA Convention was held April 30 to May 2 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, California.
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Leigh Christy is an architect and writer living in Los Angeles. More by Leigh Christy