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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

AIA 2014 Convention Keynotes, “Design with a Purpose”

June 30th, 2014 by Susan Smith

In keeping with the theme of this year’s event, “Design with Purpose,” Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel opened the festivities at the AIA 2014 Convention in Chicago this past week with great enthusiasm for architectural innovation in Chicago. Emanuel also once served as White House Chief of Staff to President Obama, as well as served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives for Chicago’s 5th District. He previously served as a key member of the Clinton administration from 1993 to 1998, rising to serve as Senior Advisor to the President for Policy and Strategy.


Emanuel attracted numerous companies to Chicago and helped to build the next generation of start-ups, while investing in the infrastructure, public transportation, open space and cultural attractions that make Chicago a great place to live, work, and play.

Chicago will host the Chicago Architecture Biennial next year. In crowing about Chicago and its architectural wonders, Mayor Emanuel said the city was the home of first skyscraper, three major architecture schools and some amazing art museums.

He also spoke about how people are migrating back to cities and “rethinking their space.”


AIA President, Robert Ivey, spoke about value of design, also noting that there were about 20,000 people in attendance at the conference. Much reference was made to art and architecture as complimentary ways of viewing the built space.

The organization is “repositioning” itself, doing its homework and learning to communicate better, he said. Priorities include elevating public awareness, advocating for the profession and expanding and sharing knowledge.

In that light, Reed Construction Data entered into a strategic partnership with the AIA to create an online site, Insite for Architects.

Efforts to reach communities were discussed by AIA Foundation president, George Miller. $1 million has been set aside to preserve the Octagon, $1 million for students who want to pursue a degree in architecture and later this year, efforts will be put in place for designing health. For communities devastated by disaster, five resilience design studies will be done at the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Center of Architectural Resiliency.

A number of awards were presented, but one in particular stood out in my mind: the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award, presented to Ivenue Love-Stanley, FAIA who grew up in a housing project in Meridian, Mississippi. Both her parents were very involved in mathematics, giving her enormous encouragement to go to college and study. At a turning point in her life she chose architecture over medicine and tearfully, gratefully accepted her award.

Theaster Gates, Founder, Rebuild Foundation, spoke on his efforts to rebuild Chicago, by finding run-down buildings in Chicago and acquiring them affordably. He acquired the Black Cinema House at 6901 South Dorchester Ave., which had been a drug house, and a problem in the neighborhood.

“I didn’t have money to rehab it but I would use it as a way of demonstrating what actionable architecture could look like,” said Gates. He was given resources to gut the building and now shows movies and provides other entertainment in it.

Huguenot House in Kassel, Germany was an old building that had been bombed badly during World War II. Documenta 13 was given the use of the building. With their support, Gates restored the house, made art, invited friends to come perform in the house. He invited people to think about architecture as space, and where people have significant impact on space, then new activity might happen.

“I was imagining architectural practice shaped by artistic practice,” said Gates. “I would imagine policy as form, but how can we tweak it, or make its will subject to what we believe in?”

As a result of the restoration of Black Cinema House, other small buildings have been renovated on that same block, and it is the beginning of a real cultural district which now has support from the Mayor. Part of what Gates does is take the guts from one building and make art with it for another. They took the marble from the bathroom in one building and made bonds to sell for art from that marble. They raised $1 million toward restoring the building.

Jeanne Gang, Founder Studio Gang Architects, talked on the topic “Purpose is the Process.”

She asked the question, “does architecture create social change or is it social change that determines architectural space?”

Her example was the “Construction of Northerly Island Airport, for City of Chicago.” This was going to be a green park on the lakefront but then the city wanted a public airport for private planes on Meigs Field.

In 2003, Mayor Daley wanted to get rid of the airport, so Studio Gang put together a plan for Northerly Island Park, a place for people and habitat right along the Museum Campus. It could be a place to attract animals and wildlife and provide underwater diving, camping, and concerts. It is currently under construction: the largest aquatic restoration project going on in the country.

“The radical reinvention of the island shows that architecture is impacted by mass urbanization and climate disruption, with a strong feeling of environmental justice,” said Gang.

Studio Gang won a competition from the Ford Calumet Environmental Center for trying to weave together migratory birds and material flows of the industrial landscape. The structure was designed as a nest with abundant materials and glass to protect birds from collisions, and pollution in the Chicago River. The firm wrote a book entitled “Reverse Effect,” which makes a case for separating watersheds – the Great Lakes and Mississippi River. Concerns of the watersheds include massive flooding, pollution, invasive species coming up the Mississippi – such as species of carp.

The book was a way to propose creating a series of freshwater lagoons, with ten steps to a renewed waterway in the next city. This was designed to give people access to the river so they can care about it.

“The new mayor decided to make the river as a centerpriece for his term in office, to connect neighborhoods by river,” said Gang. “We must design a boathouse as the gateway into the river, to be used for teach rowing and with room for events. It represents a change in the way we use the river. The design mimics the motion of rowers.”

On Friday, Ed Mazria of Architecture 2030 fame gave an update on the progress of that organization in its quest to have buildings become carbon neutral by the year 2030.

Of the top AEC firms, he said 20% of them have adopted the targets for 2030 carbon neutrality. President Obama announced an Executive Order to have all new buildings get to net zero carbon by 2020. California, the eighth largest economy in the world, has a mandate to reach net zero carbon by the year 2020.

Districts across the country are moving in that direction. Firms are beginning to specify the need for products that meet the 2030 criteria.

Two weeks ago, Mazria said they issued Roadmap 2050 in Europe:

a)    country targets

b)    action items

  1. new buildings
  2. existing buildings

How do we get to carbon neutral?

1)    Design and planning

  1. Sustainable
  2. Adaptable

Will get you 70-80% there.

2)    Renewables

a) 20-30% sun, hydropower, biomass, geothermal and wind energy

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Categories: 3D printing, AEC, AIA Convention 2014, architecture, BIM, building information modeling, construction, engineering, infrastructure, integrated project delivery, project management, reality capture, site planning

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