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Sustainable Architect

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 balance.

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?

2007-09-17 14:58:09