William Stewart

In the face of disaster—natural or otherwise—architects come together. We do what needs to be done. But what if the disaster is incremental, creeping in quietly yet surely like fog? Such is global climate change, a peril with the potential to be on a par with one of this planet’s periodic mass extinctions, which, until now, have always been events of chance rather than choice.

Until now, perhaps. Some people, including those in leadership positions, remain maddeningly indifferent or actively hostile to a coordinated, comprehensive response to future calamities, as tides grow ever higher and vast stretches of our planet are scorched by record-breaking droughts or unprecedented floods. This need not be.

Our profession is showing what can be done, led by the AIA through knowledge resources such as the 2014 AIA Sustainability Leadership Opportunity Scan and a large coalition of firms and organizations through the targeted goals of the 2030 Challenge. As AIA Convention attendees heard from Edward Mazria (one of architecture’s heroes, and certainly one of mine), buildings in the U.S. have shown a remarkable decrease in the use of energy generated by fossil fuels. The data Mazria provided demonstrated a dramatic difference between the trajectory we were on and the way today’s new and retrofitted projects perform.

Yet, enlightened practices are not enough. We must also engage vigorously in the political process at all levels of government. Whether as an informed, impassioned, and vocal constituency or accepting the challenge to run for political office at any level, we cannot remain on the sidelines.

And, we can, as citizen architects, inform and exert influence. This is especially true at the local level, where the political will to act is shows increasing strength and many architects have chosen to invest in their businesses with the same alacrity as they invest in their communities to shape green, healthy, and resilient futures. Architects are joined by mayors in every state who are raising public awareness that sustainability is a lens through which everything, from infrastructure to multifamily housing developments, must be viewed by pursuing policies that will benefit their communities for years to come.

In the last decade, we have seen urbanization transform cities small and large at a rate not yet matched by the growth of a coordinated approach to climate change. But, we’re making progress, especially as architects position themselves to be as indispensable community resources, ready to shape policy, draw together their colleagues in the AEC industry, and be agents of change.  

Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA
2014 President