Architecture 2030, Margaret Mead, and Ugly Betty

“Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, 
committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”Margaret Mead

On February 20th I attended the Architecture 2030 Global Imperative, web-cast teach-in with 250,000 other design professionals, government officials, and students from around the world. Architecture 2030 is perfect example of the “power of one”. Founded by New Mexico architect Edward Mazria, it lays down a challenge to building design professionals to incrementally reduce energy consumption in buildings and by the year 2030 to be designing only carbon-neutral buildings (i.e. using no fossil-fuel GHG-emitting energy to operate).

This is no arbitrary goal plucked from the air. Based on EPA data, Mazria has identified buildings in the U.S. as the largest source (~48%) of green house gas emissions, and the goals he has identified tie directly to averting a looming global warming disaster.

By any measure these are lofty goals, especially in the U.S., where the architectural profession is responsible for the design of only a small percentage of the buildings constructed or remodeled each year. Mazria’s challenge is made even more difficult by a culture of celebrity within his profession that often seems to have more in common with the fashion industry than the building industry. To an outsider, (although his work is beautiful) Mazria’s challenge to the AIA must look a bit like America Ferrara’s character challenging the petty and superficial world of fashion in Ugly Betty.

Personally, I applaud the audacity, vision, and courage of Mazria’s challenge and stand beside him in doing whatever I can to raise awareness of our housing stock’s impact on global warming. However, it will take much more to solve this problem than just energizing the design community. With over 120 million housing units in this country it will take a kind of Manhattan Project commitment, “Victory Garden” mentality, strong national leadership, and grass roots sense of urgency that mobilized the country during WWII. We need to act as if the ocean’s had already risen 20 feet, and large parts of our coastal cities had already been lost.

Clarification: About 60% of the green house gas emissions attributed to buildings come indirectly from purchased electricity from coal fired (and other fossil fuel) power plants. (So, in the interest of full disclosure, only about 19% of green house gas emissions come directly from buildings.) Looking at the big picture, this is both a supply and demand side problem and both coal plant emissions and building energy demands need to be addressed in the overall solution.

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