University of Maryland
School of Architecture Planning and Preservation
Carl Elefante FAIA
Class of 1980
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.
In the span of my career, slide rules have disappeared from architectural offices, replaced with cloud computing and the Internet. Building Information Modeling (BIM) is revolutionizing architectural and preservation practice, allowing designers to construct in virtual space models of the buildings we design and renovate. Similarly, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is revolutionizing planning. BIM and GIS put the building and environmental sciences directly into the hands of designers. The practical ability to integrate these left-brain, hard sciences with intuitive, right brain, design sensibilities has limitless potential.
As designers, we can now know much more about the performance of buildings and the environmental impacts of construction and operation. Today architects use modeling to predict energy usage, assess thermal envelope performance, simulate daylighting and natural ventilation, and compare life-cycle impacts of materials. Today planners use modeling to study impacts of transit and urban design on water and air quality. Today preservationists use energy audits, blower-door testing and moisture probes to analyze conditions before making interventions in existing buildings. During your career, these tools will allow you to truly and fully appreciate the impacts of your design choices.
Over my forty year career, I have found that the ?problem-seeking / problem-solving? discipline taught in architecture school has prepared me well for the increasingly interdisciplinary world of the design professions. As a teenager working in an architectural firm after school, the founding partner informed me of the fundamental difference between architects and engineers: architects, he told me, know nothing about everything; engineers, to the contrary, know everything about nothing. Over the years I have come to appreciate the truth in old Mr. Tuthill?s humor.
Much of your life in architecture, planning and preservation will be spent surrounded by people who know a great deal more than you. It is as true for carpenters and bricklayers as it is for engineers and technical consultants. Our skill is to bring often-conflicting ideas and opinions together into a cohesive whole.
The need for interdisciplinary collaboration starts with the complexity of the buildings and communities we make and our ever-increasing dependence on technological solutions. It is also driven by the need to understand buildings in the three-dimensional world of ecology, economy, and equity, sustainability?s triple bottom line.
The economic and legal framework of the building industry is changing. Design-bid-build is becoming an anachronism. Not only is design-build overtaking every market sector from home remodeling to airports and hospitals, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has staked its future on Integrated Project Delivery (IPD). In the commercial sector, business consulting is subsuming architecture. Facility design and construction is only one service of many provided to expanding business enterprises. You are just as likely to have a career working with Ernst & Young or Deloitte as SOM or HOK.
The net effect is that architecture, planning and preservation are being reintegrated into decision-making at levels where we had been shut out for decades. With an entrepreneurial eye, the vistas of our professions are becoming panoramic.
In his book The Restoration Economy, Storm Cunningham makes the case that the global economy has shifted from a new development to a restorative development mode. Construction is one of twelve economic sectors he analyzes, concluding that the need to restore conditions to economic, environmental and social wellbeing exceeds the need for growth. Construction sector economic projections confirm this. In the U.S. over the next twenty years more than twice as many buildings will be ?substantially modernized? than newly constructed, involving an estimated eighty-four percent (84%) of the existing building stock.
As our European colleagues have experienced for more than a generation, your careers are much more likely to involve retooling existing buildings and communities than creating entirely new ones. This point cycles back to the impacts of buildings. We cannot build our way to a sustainable way of life, we must conserve our way to it. Even if every new building is net-zero energy, the path to eliminating climate change and environmental decline runs through our existing buildings and cities. We must transform them since we have neither the time nor the resources to replace them.
Your generation of architects, planners and preservationists must transform the world created by The Greatest Generation. Your generation will be measured by your ability to redefine their utopian vision so that its shortcoming and unintended problems, issues that are all too clear to us today, are not their ultimate legacy. Your generation has been offered the opportunity to be greater than The Greatest Generation. I know that you will succeed. Your have powerful tools, the ability to work together, and the best ideas.