As civilization advances, we are faced with choices that have
dramatic effects on our relationship with the environment around us and
humanity. When our ancestors decided to shift from being hunter
gatherers to farming it was not an easy decision to make. The time we
used to have to spend on the road hunting shifted, allowing more time
to reflect as the arts and languages evolved. New sets of problems were
created and we are now at the point in humanity of having massive
control of our environment to the point of threatening our very
existence on this planet. As the ice caps melt, the oceans rise and the
earth around us changes right before our eyes in real time, we must
reflect on what impact we have as architects and builders in this
There is much focus on sustainable design and building
materials and energy use and rightfully so. What I want to focus is on
an even larger picture of sustainability. The NIST and CURT reports
highlight the billions of dollars and 30% waste in building projects.
This waste has a direct impact on the wallets of owners and operators,
and therefore is a driver for the recent demand for change.
The 30% waste per building project is linked to activities
such as design and re-design to bring projects into budget, the errors
and omissions that occur in construction documentation, the
coordination errors even within an architectural office of
non-integrated processes, the same inefficiencies that occur in
communications among the consultant teams, the inherent inefficiencies
in communication during the design phase, the change order requests
during construction that are generated by these misses, the design
errors that make it all the way into construction and then have to be
maintained by owners. The list goes on, and this is just sampling of
things that we all know very well. Imagine all the wasted man hours and
the wasted car and airline trips that are generated to support the 30%
waste factor on each project and then multiply that out for the entire
construction industry. It is absolutely massive.
The construction industry is collectively one of the largest
in the world. The architect is in the pilot's seat driving the decision
making process that triggers construction. By keeping the status quo of
the current process with the 30% built in waste factor, we are
therefore in a way one of the worst offenders in the impact on global
warming. This is a crisis. Regardless of whether it makes economic
sense to change our process to be more integrated, we have a moral
obligation to change just for the sake of changing the impact on the
environment and the future of the planet. There is no need to do an
economic analysis or a risk reward study or a potential liability study
to see the need for that change. We are obligated to humanity to make
this change now.
Even ignoring the environmental impact we have, there are huge
economic gains to be made if we move beyond the "hunter gatherer"
mentality of just using the environment to our benefit and instead
decide to be masters of it and "farm" and be proper stewards of it. We
have that potential as architects. The choice is our "change is now"
and as an architect I ask, "who in the AIA is ready to put down our
spears and start working in an integrated way on the farm". This is
about a sustainable environmentally sound integrated way of creating
design that matters in a bigger way. Are you a sustainable architect?