The AIA 2030 Commitment: Embrace Your Inner Engineer

Architects are pretty easy to spot in a crowd. The all-black thing, the wacky glasses, the bow-ties. The messenger bags, slouchy designer shirts, funky shoes or all of the above. Or even better: we’re the ones walking around looking at buildings or staring into space while everyone else is scowling at the ground. 

Let’s admit it: Architects are a little geeky. But we’re OK with that. At least we’re not engineers.

I was sitting in an early morning meeting the other day at Bergmeyer trying to stay conscious. It was one of those “our firms should go after more work together” meetings with . . . an engineer. Don’t get me wrong. I love engineers, and she was obviously very talented and working for an excellent firm. But some conversations hold my attention better than others.

Then she said: Our firm just finished reporting on our first year in the AIA 2030 Commitment.

I sat right up. Damn near knocked my coffee off the table. Really? An engineering firm had signed the AIA 2030 Commitment? Not only had they signed on and completed their report, she was blogging about it!

At that point, she had me eating out of her hand. She amped up her pitch.

Yes, as an engineer, she loved the crunch of numbers. But for her, just collecting data on projects that had already been designed was a waste of energy.  Her approach: greater building energy efficiency as design criteria. When she worked with architects on a project, she liked to talk energy conservation standards while a project was still in schematics, not after. She then began to compare the baseline performance standards of ASHRAE 90.1 Appendix G with 2003 CBECS data and EnergyStar “Target Finder”, asserting that each had their value as a metric but would yield significantly different results when used for comparative purposes. In other words, your mileage may vary.

Appendix G? Really? My mind started to wander again. I was doodling in my sketchbook. I was both glad I wasn’t an engineer but happy for their existence!   

At the end of our meeting, I shared a story with my new engineer friend. I recently taught a class at the Tufts University Experimental College called “Architecture and Climate Change”. We had undergrads from a wide variety of majors including architectural studies, public policy, and engineering. A few of them approached me after class one day for career advice. They were all heartbreakingly sincere in their desire to make the greatest contribution to the world they possibly could.

I recommended they go into architectural engineering. The future of human life on this planet depends on a radical transformation of the way we design buildings, and engineers must lead that transformation.

Nobody said exponentially higher building energy performance would be easy. Sure, we can’t forget beauty and creativity and vision and meaning in architecture. But we also need R-values and AFUE, SEER and HSPF ratings and Solar Heat Gain Coefficients and Lighting Power Densities. That stuff may be geeky, but it’s critical.

So, engineers, start your logarithmic equations. Go forth and be the change.

(Thank you to Suzanne Robinson, PE, LEED BD+C, Vanderweil Engineers for being such a willing subject!) 


2 Comments on “The AIA 2030 Commitment: Embrace Your Inner Engineer”

  1. banuerdim says:

    I am new to the AIA 2030 Commitment. I have a question regarding the reporting process.
    I am wondering if the reporting process should include the past projects of firm or not.
    Can the firm just report the projects modeled after they became the committed firm? For example if there is a project modeled in 2003, is it possible for the firm to report this project within 2003 calender year?

    • Mike Davis FAIA says:

      The answer to this question can be found on the AIA 2030 Commitment web site, but in short: no. The idea is to have AIA firms report one years’ worth of project data per year. That way we can track how the profession’s energy reduction targets are being met year by year. So for 2012, we are only reporting on projects we designed during 2012.

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