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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 »

Opening Session and Keynote at AIA Convention 2015 in Atlanta

May 18th, 2015 by Susan Smith

CEO of Richter Architects, Elizabeth Chu Richter, president of AIA, paid tribute to the former presidents of the AIA in her introductory remarks at the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Convention 2015 held in Atlanta this past week.

RSVP_Atlanta_570x300In keeping with the theme of the convention, “Impact,” the 42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton gave the keynote address for the first day. Second executive vice president of the AIA, Robert Ivy, FAIA also spoke at the event. Richter spoke about “taking architecture to a new market,” suggesting people to go to #ilookup to carry forward the message of design.

The Edward C. Kemper award was bestowed on Edward Mazria FAIA, who founded Architecture 2030 and has tirelessly spearheaded that initiative to compound into a worldwide awareness, with 8 major cities aiming to achieve the outlined goals. Mazria said that the building sector’s energy consumption is declining even though “we’re adding more building stock every year.” The AIA adopted Architecture 2030 because they are about designing a better world and it is part of their moral compass.

“We took this message to Europe,” said Mazria, “and presented the roadmap of 0 emissions to EEC countries, and also presented at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Now, 120 countries have called for 0 emissions in the second half of this century. Places all over have pledged to 0 emission by 2050.”

Another part of this initiative is being ready to respond to disasters, part of the work of the Architects Regional Council of Asia (ARCASIA), said Mazria. “Our goal is a resilient country through architects.”

The AIA Gold Medal Award 2015 winner was renowned architect Moshe Safdie, who uses his own vision and the visions of others, embodying an understanding of human nature in his designs.

Safdie noted that Bill Clinton was the president at the inauguration of two of his buildings. Of one building in Tel Aviv, Safdie said, “If every time a student using a pencil completely identify with those who live or work in their buildings, this is halfway to victory.”

Safdie grew up in the time of the kibbutz in Israel and was embued with a sense of society and community. He credits this with his vision. “Ideals translate into an ethic which guides us as a profession,” he said. “Let the building be what it wants to be. What is a building’s deep and inherent purpose?”

Among Safdie’s important takeaways are these comments:

“Is a school conducive to learning? This fitness to purpose must be the purpose of architectural invention.”

“Our art is material, how we use materials energizes our art.”

“No one size fits all solutions. Glass towers in the desert are not meant to be any more than igloos in the tropics.”

Using the lessons of those who went before us, architecture can go forward, according to Safdie.

“Densities in cities are not meant for a species that evolved in savannas,” Safdie said. “In high rise buildings, life needs are threatened. Neither privacy of house or community of the village are possible in that structure, so we demand a new urban vision.”

All this leads to cities both ailing and thriving, Safdie said, which deprives humanity of mobility, and increases erosion and privatization. “I have a dream of high rised cities transformed, with new centers and an urban oasis.”

This view is in direct contradiction to the recent trend of people returning to cities. But Safdie recognizes a certain arrogance to high rises. In this vein, he added that “arrogance is incompatible to nature.”


Perhaps the single most valuable draw to the AIA event this year was the keynote presentation of the 42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton, who has since his presidency, established the Clinton Global Initiative with his Clinton Foundation, an organization and initiative that the AIA has partnered with.

After leaving the White House, President Clinton established the Clinton Foundation with the mission to improve global health, strengthen economies, promote health and wellness, and protect the environment.

In addition to his Foundation work, President Clinton has served as the top United Nations envoy for the Indian Ocean tsunami recovery effort and as the UN Special Envoy to Haiti. Today, the Clinton Foundation is supporting economic growth, capacity building, and education in Haiti.

The areas the AIA has partnered with the Clinton Foundation are resiliency and built environment, designing in the world. “The theme this year of impact is important as we’ve been focusing on this a lot,” said Clinton. “A couple of years ago our theme was ‘designing for impact.’ For us, we thought about the goals and then finding out how to achieve them. We have learned how to focus on designing for this from the beginning.”

One focus for the Clinton Foundation is health care: trying to design infrastructure that will run well and stop diseases like Ebola before they get out of hand. They are also working on the design of supply chains.

Clinton spoke of research that shows that groups make better decisions. “It’s important to emphasize in a highly complicated, rapidly changing environment where we have massive opportunities, we can increase the likelihood we can decrease forces of destruction,” said Clinton. “Those who are designing the built environment will have huge impact.”

The world is in need of such projects as designing earthquake resistant schools for Nepal. Their architecture is not up to the task obviously.

“The way I look at the current world, your role is more important than it ever has been,” Clinton pointed out. “We are living in the most interdependent age, because of technology, money, etc. we are the beneficiaries of the built world, but it has significant challenges. There is a profound inner quality, access to employment, education, health care that contribute to quality of life. The world is more unstable because of interdependency. In the aftermath of the earthquake, most Haitians didn’t have a bank account. We got a bank to partner with a cell phone company because the people all had cell phones. Incomes went up by 30% among fishermen in Sri Lanka when they got cell phones and could check on the price of fish, etc.”

“Some networks are increasingly vulnerable to penetration. Every day something is happening that undermines the security of countries and entities, “Borders look less like walls yet make it hard to ensure security.”

Clinton’s insights cut deeper than just what we view on the surface of current events, touching upon the phenomena of the growth of such terrorists as Osana Bin Laden and ISIS. “Most of the people who are trying to break down the modern world, are trying to break down our commonality. They think our differences are more important than what we have in common. They are unforgivably forfeiting the future of little children by their torturing and posting their atrocities on the Internet.”

The questions Clinton raises are valuable in terms of viewing the work each professional does in terms of providing sustainable infrastructure. “I recommend you think about when we are all thrown together – do we do it by negative or by positive reference to other people? It is the fundamental question before us all. It should be at the heart of the work you do to design the built environment.”

The growth model of the past 200 years has been unsustainable because of the increasing amount of greenhouse gases it has required dumping into the environment. Clinton spoke of the different experiences he has had working in developing countries on health care and providing a built environment. An example: creating a school system in Rwanda that will need no out of country funding to operate by 2020, depending upon how the infrastructure is built.

The first AIDs clinic was built in Haiti in the 1980s in Port-au-Prince, which is built on landfill. They designed a water purification system and waste treatment system all above ground, with landscaping all treated to 99% purity before chlorine is added.

“Doing this work in a developing environment is quite differnet than doing it in an advanced environment,” Clinton pointed out. “Wealthy countries have systems to support. Some places in the world you can’t take anything for granted. If you want vaccine to work you need to keep them at 95 degree centigrade. We were at a health clinic where they had to have a powered refrigerator to keep vaccines cool enough. Our first person was a mother who walked twelve miles to get her baby vaccines. But you have to design for that. In America we have these things, yet we have to reform them. I think still with regard to climate change in the U.S., we have avoided too much low hanging fruit. In New York City, a simple way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to have black roofs painted with white paint, then you can build urban gardens also. Kids can be taught to paint the roofs for summer projects.”

Clinton said that we are not spending enough time on job intensive, low hanging fruit projects like this.

He concluded by saying that it is an “Important and exciting time to be an architect.” The 21st century offers both the opportunity and challenges in the shape of its instability, climate change and the need for a sustainable built environment to meet the challenges. In this way, the work of architects is destined to have a profound impact on the world.

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Categories: 2D, 3D, AEC, AECCafe, AIA Convention 2015, BIM

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