Architects Work to Build a Better Future
Architects take the long view about building for the future. Regardless of who wins the presidential election or which party controls Congress, we must still do our part to address urgent national priorities that transcend this sharply divided time in our nation.
As our profession’s leading voice in the United States, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) is focused on advancing architects as an indispensable resource in the climate crisis fight, and a trusted ally on issues of racial injustice – while pursuing solutions at the real-world intersection of these two critical priorities. Both issues demonstrate how architects can make a difference one structure at a time.
Buildings are responsible for nearly 40 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. This includes embodied carbon in construction materials and CO2 related to building energy use. For existing buildings, we have an opportunity to retrofit and improve energy efficiency utilizing sustainable materials. Some estimates suggest that we need to renovate more than 50 billion square feet of existing buildings within the next 30 years to become carbon neutral.
Architects also need to show leadership in new building construction. By 2060, forecasters say the world will double its building square footage. Most of that growth will be in our urban centers, the largest consumers of energy and producers of CO2. We support creating a universal “ZERO Building Code” that would require all new buildings to produce zero net emissions.
There is already significant momentum for this effort, with architectural firms large and small joining the effort. At my own small business in South Carolina we reduced the carbon profile for new projects by 76 percent last year. Together, we can find a path to net-zero buildings and leave a proud legacy for the next generation.
Sustainable construction not only benefits the environment, but the mental, physical, and economic health of those who enjoy it. It is particularly important for the most disenfranchised people in our country.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, African Americans are 1.54 times more likely to live in industrial neighborhoods near polluting sources. Cities around the country have also revealed data that shows serious life-expectancy gaps between white and Black neighborhoods. Everyone should live in healthy communities, and we believe architects can be a voice for the underserved.
We must continue to champion investments in sustainable, resilient infrastructure in neighborhoods of color and work to erase a past that forced too many Black and Hispanic families to live in unhealthy buildings and systemically neglected communities.
When I stepped into my current role as president of AIA last December, I could not have imagined the challenges we would face as an organization and country. But I am convinced that architects will continue to stand up for our fundamental values to protect the health, safety, and welfare of everyone, everywhere. Architects stand ready to work with everyone who shares our commitment to meaningfully address two of the biggest challenges of our time: shaping society’s response to the climate crisis, and helping to dismantle barriers to full racial and gender justice and equality by ending latent and legacy systems of injustice, discrimination and exclusion in the built environment.
Jane Frederick is President of the American Institute of Architects (AIA)