University of Maryland
School of Architecture Planning and Preservation
Carl Elefante FAIA
TV journalist Tom Brokaw popularized the term "The Greatest Generation" in his 1998 book to characterize those Americans who grew up during the Great Depression of the 1930's, defeated Fascism, Nazism and Imperial Japan in World War II, and afterwards shaped the modern world. They created a world of unprecedented economic vitality and personal freedom. It is populated with cities punctuated by towers of steel and glass, bustling with trains, planes and automobiles. They created the core conditions of the world you and I grew up in. Your generation of architects, planners and preservationists will devote much of your careers to redefining and adapting the world shaped by The Greatest Generation.
Viewed in 2010, the promise of the modern era is conditioned by concerns of environmental decline, diminishing resources, and the unintended consequence of climate change. While it is easy to become numb to the seemingly daily reports of impending doom, it is professionally irresponsible for architects, planners and preservationists to ignore this call to action. Your career will be shaped by these challenges of the Greatest Generation's world.
The building industry economic sector is at the very center of efforts to curb the negative consequences of modern-era development. The construction and operation of buildings contributes more to climate change than any other economic sector, responsible for nearly forty percent (40%) of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, a fact that has not escaped the notice of policy-makers at every level of government. Climate scientists have identified a rapidly approaching "tipping point" at which climate change will proceed under its own momentum. James Hansen, the chief climate scientist for NASA and NOAA, predicts this tipping point will be reached no later than 2060 if current patterns continue.
Reducing emissions from buildings is considered by many to be the most reliable path to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the U.S., creating net-zero energy buildings is the preferred approach to achieving these reductions, placing what we do as architects, planners and preservationists at the center of the solution to global-scale problems.
Instead of dwelling further on the challenges facing our professions, I prefer to turn to the reasons why I believe we are capable of meeting them and how you will compete with the World War II generation for recognition as the Greatest Generation. There are three trends that are transforming how architects, planners and preservationists work today and will make your careers dramatically different from mine: first, increasingly rapid developments in design technology; second, the trend toward interdisciplinary integration; and third, the redirection of global economy to a "restorative" development mode. read more