Why This Is the Year of the Architect

Last week, we noted how the American Institute of Architect's (AIA) participation with the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), as well as it's many other initiatives, signify the organization's commitment to putting resiliency on the agenda. The following article, written by Brooks Rainwater, the Director of Public Policy at the AIA, outlines these efforts and emphasizes how architects are tackling today's most pressing global challenges.

Architects are increasingly demonstrating their ability to help solve large-scale problems in the areas of resilience and health. At the same time the continued ascendancy of social impact design has helped elevate the conversation and prescribed a needed emphasis on equity considerations, uplifting global populations, and the idea that design should be for and impact all people. 

With more than 1,000 global leaders convened in New York last week for the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting it is an ideal time to ask the question, how does design fit into the global conversation?

Butaro Hospital, by MASS Design Group. MASS's co-founder, Michael Murphy, spoke at the CGI Meeting, saying "We need to expand the horizons of what we expect from our built environment" . Image © Iwan Baan

This year’s CGI theme “Mobilizing for Impact” follows the 2012 theme “Designing for Impact,” and offered an opportunity for architects to advance design thinking and the impact that design can have on people throughout the world. “We have to challenge every assumption of architecture including the business model if we are to rethink value,” commented Michael Murphy, CEO and Co-Founder of MASSDesign. Design thinking provides a collaborative framework that is an ideal platform to mobilize diverse groups that can come together to help solve pressing issues facing people around the globe. “We need to expand the horizons of what we expect from our built environment,” added Murphy.

This is happening more and more. In the opening plenary session this year, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and Architecture for Humanity joined the Rockefeller Foundation as partners on its 100 Resilient Cities Commitment. This Commitment will provide at least $100 million to cities worldwide to take proactive steps forward on imbuing resilience into the built environment. 100 Resilient Cities will allow selected cities, of which more than 500 have registered to participate, to hire a Chief Resilience Officer (CRO), create a resilience strategy, and will provide the access to tools, resources for implementation, and technical support. On December 3, 100 of the 500 applicants will be chosen at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Annual Innovation Forum.

How will the architects participate and what will they do? In continuing to demonstrate collaborative community development expertise that stretches back many decades, the AIA will join together with Architecture For Humanity to create five Regional Resilient Design Studios that build on the architecture professions’ experience and expertise in helping communities recover in the wake of major disasters.

During the Press Conference after the announcement, Robert Ivy, FAIA, CEO of the AIA said, “Our goal is to be ready before the cameras arrive and stay long after they are gone.” Cameron Sinclair, CEO and Co-Founder of Architecture For Humanity, also added, “the only way we can do that is to support Chief Resilience Officers in these cities, and give them the teams of architects, engineers, and construction professionals that don’t just come with ideas, but real tangible plans that can be implemented prior to a disaster and certainly if one strikes.”

Architects are also asserting themselves on how to design healthier cities. The AIA announced its Decade of Design: Global Urban Solutions Challenge Commitment to Action during the 2012 Annual Meeting. The Decade of Design seeks to find solutions for the built environment in the interest of public health, document the facts, analyze the data, and envision implementable healthful solutions. Two key announcements on this Commitment took place during the Annual Meeting, with an update video shown to attendees on the current partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Advanced Urbanism (MIT CAU) to research, and then activate design and policy solutions that impact urban health, working together with a city that will serve as the ultimate laboratory for design solutions that can be demonstrated and replicated globally.

A new partnership on this Commitment was also announced with the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank’s Center for Community Development Investment signing on as a partner. From the release, David Erickson, Director of the Center said, “Our bodies and our health are the sum record of our challenges and opportunities; In community development we do our best to revitalize low-income communities to maximize opportunity by providing funding for small businesses, by building affordable housing and the facilities that struggling communities need – schools, clinics, grocery stores, and other public spaces.”

This doesn’t even conclude the extent to which the design community’s contribution was included at this year’s CGI meeting. William McDonough, Chairman, McDonough Advisers and MASSDesign CEO and Co-Founder Michael Murphy spoke during a session, Promoting Health Through Smart Design of Buildings and Cities. These two architects keyed in on how design and construction worldwide has sweeping impacts on public health outcomes. Through an examination of toxins in building materials, the creation of healthy and green schools, and urban design strategies that promote healthful behavior, they examined how architects can impact health outcomes in cities worldwide.

The ultimate take-away from the conference is that design’s impact on a series of fundamental issues facing society is beginning to be realized more and more by decision-makers across the spectrum. Architects are a part of the solution in creating healthier, more resilient and equitable cities worldwide. Through partnerships, design-thinking, and action it is possible to design a better world. Zack Rosenberg, CEO and Co-Founder of the St. Bernard Project summed up this year’s CGI conference best by saying that it was, “the year of the architect.”

Brooks Rainwater is the American Institute of Architect’s Director of Public Policy. Brooks leads the AIA’s Public Policy program, focused on design centered policy at the key intersection of cities, sustainability, and health. As a strong advocate for vibrant and successful cities, Brooks frequently speaks and writes on the subject, and is the lead author of Local Leaders, a national research series that examines sustainable, livable, and healthy communities. Follow Brooks on Twitter @CitizenAIA

About this author
Cite: Brooks Rainwater. "Why This Is the Year of the Architect" 08 Oct 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/435095/why-this-is-the-year-of-the-architect> ISSN 0719-8884

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