By David P. Hutcheson, AIA, LEED AP, Senior Designer
Where are we headed, and how is our architecture going to adapt in this 21st century model? And how can architects maintain a platform of relevance as we move toward the thrilling but uncertain beyond? Our skillset will be our best asset in confronting what I think will be the most critical challenge to our profession: our changing climate. Presently, it seems most of our lawmakers are not prioritizing this issue with enough vigor, and I fear if we wait for them to pave the way we will find ourselves hastily reacting to those changes rather than thoughtfully preparing for them. No, we can’t predict when and where these assaults will occur, nor can we expect them to be equitable. What we can and must be certain of is our determination to pick up arms.[*]
What Is Happening?
In responding to wider ranges of temperature swings, rising sea levels, and harsher conditions in our weather systems, we’ll retreat indoors to a larger degree. This conditioning isn’t a new trend. If you look around, you can already see how we rely less and less on the weather to comply with most of our activities. We not only live, work, shop, and travel in climate-controlled environments, it’s possible to satisfy our recreational needs there as well. By and large, economic influences have fed these tendencies more than an uncertain climate, but this may flip as those realities present themselves to larger segments of the global population.
Mother Nature has always asserted her authority when deciding which structures deserve amnesty and which are unceremoniously pushed aside, just as you might discard an old washing machine. However, as her mood swings intensify, no longer will she be patient with buildings that don’t perform to the heightened scrutiny that she will demand of them nor with any half-hearted attempts at mitigation. As a result, it is she who will provide the urgency to improve our built environment’s integrity and notoriously poor scorecard on energy consumption.
What Can We Do?
We have survived climatic assaults countless times throughout our human history so we are genetically engineered to adapt. As the stakes get more consequential, though, moving forward means that we innovate, embracing the kinds of design initiatives that challenge historical notions … jumping off the path of least resistance and digging deep for sustainable solutions to the challenges that will face a sheltering apparatus under siege. We will learn how to best utilize artificial intelligence to inform our methodologies; but this call to arms will ultimately be a human endeavor and soulful applications will always win the day. Our solutions must inspire, still reaching to satisfy our innate yearning for that which is well-proportioned and artfully presented. Once achieved, they will nurture our optimism — providing a safe and secure framework upon which to thrive.
We have learned much about building methods and practices since we lodged in animal skins, so we can figure this out. But we will need to summon more than a thoughtful approach; it will require urgency of purpose and that we not be tempted by distraction. We are playing on a planet-sized stage now…so we need to be brave and rally the charge.
[*] It’s encouraging to read that the “AIA is making climate change a major priority for the foreseeable future…” Jane Frederick, FAIA, 2020 AIA President, Architect, January 2020, pg. 39.