Rising to the Challenge

The AIA+2030 Professional Series, Session X Review

By Melanie Como Harris, AIA, LEED AP BD+C Posted on May 4, 2014

aia2030_logo_tm_webAIA Pittsburgh’s first ever AIA+2030 Series concluded on Thursday, April 24th. The series finale – Putting It All Together: Achieving 2030 Goals on the Project and at the Office – answered a question that has been gestating throughout the series: how do we apply what we’ve learned? As COTE committee chair Marc Mondor, AIA appropriately pointed out in his introduction, we have to figure out how to take the multitude of tools and strategies we have absorbed during the 36 hours thus far in the series and incorporate them into each of our practices. Session X offered a few ways to do just that. Presentations featured: a local case study that demonstrated many of the 2030 strategies, an expert that told us how to get our clients on board with the 2030 principles, and a program that provides a framework for your firm to “walk the 2030 talk.” 

Members of the Frick Environmental Center’s design team started off the evening. Rob Aumer, AIA of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson; Marijke Hecht, Director of Education for Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy (PPC), and Mark Loeffler, IALD, LEED AP BD+C of Atelier Ten walked us through the design process and acquainted us with the sustainable features of the project. The proposed building and site features incorporate many of the strategies discussed during the 2030 series. Site-specific climate analysis, natural ventilation, load reduction, daylighting, geothermal, and photovoltaic panels were all utilized.

With consideration for the project’s location in the woodlands of Frick Park and its connection to several waterways beyond the site, water conservation and management was a critical focus. Energy efficient strategies were even incorporated into the water management systems. PPC’s mission to balance visitors’ needs, historic preservation, and ecological integrity – the “three legged stool” as Hecht called it – is the driving force behind all of the design decisions made on the project. The opportunity to strengthen the connection between Pittsburgh’s youth and the natural world is a convincing motive for sustainable design. The project demonstrated how having a client with sustainability as a core value is a tremendous asset. By integrating many of the same strategies that were emphasized in the 2030 series, the team anticipates both LEED Platinum and Living Building Challenge certifications.

Building upon the importance of stakeholder participation demonstrated by the FEC team, Dr. Robert Sroufe, Director of Duquesne University’s Sustainability MBA program, provided further insight. He discussed the reasons that clients might be motivated to strive for higher performance building design. Through the Sustainability MBA program, Sroufe has worked with numerous CEOs and CFOs of both local and global corporations. He and his students have gathered statistics and data that can be helpful in understanding how to convince your clients that sustainability is beneficial from a social, environmental, and – often most importantly – financial perspective. Dr. Sroufe shared the findings of several studies. One of the most relevant reports cited was Sustainability Pays which summarizes more than 40 other studies that confirm the title’s thesis. Another worthwhile reference is the 2012 MIT Sloan Management Review Research Report, The Innovation Bottom Line.

In addition to the useful resources revealed, Sroufe also discussed a process from the business world that could be overlaid in the early stages of the design process to gain buy-in from decision-makers. That method is the Universal Breakthrough Sequence. The sequence is a seven step problem-solving method regularly applied in the business world. By overlaying this technique on a building project, the design team may be better able to convince a wider audience of clients that high performance building design is feasible and extremely valuable.

Returning to the question of how we apply what we’ve learned, the evening’s next presentation focused on the AIA 2030 Commitment. This presentation was led by Bill Vernon, AIA, CSI-CCS, LEED AP BD+C of Renaissance 3 Architects and myself. R3a and IKM both signed on to the AIA 2030 Commitment, and are, currently, the only Pittsburgh-based firms out of the 300 plus firms that have signed the Commitment. In introducing the AIA 2030 Commitment, it was important to first review the 2030 Challenge. While the 2030 Challenge presents a strong mission and targets, it does not define a path to success. AIA developed the 2030 Commitment to assist its membership in achieving the 2030 Challenge. I then illustrated the five steps of the Commitment through the lens of IKM’s experience. In addition to signing the Commitment, firms are encouraged to establish leadership, implement immediate operational actions, and develop a comprehensive sustainable action plan. Once those steps are completed, AIA encourages firms to complete the annual report. The report is an excellent self-evaluation tool for the firm. While the project information is kept confidential, the data is collated into an annual report published by the AIA.

Vernon talked about R3a’s experience with the 2030 Commitment, sharing a series of graphics that R3a uses in-house and with clients on projects. The illustrations outline R3a’s approach to sustainability in their operations and their design process. Taking the Commitment a step further, they have been tracking the actual energy usage on several of their projects. This kind of accountability is helping them understand how their buildings are actually performing.

The evening ended with a short round table discussion that involved all class participants. It was an opportunity for the class attendees to share their thoughts and experiences in sustainable design and the 2030 Challenge. We talked about the importance of choosing the right team and the value of a well-written specification. Talking about sustainability early and often with the client is also critical. Finally, we talked about opportunities to enhance the series in its next iteration. It was a great way to cap off the evening.

For anyone interested in knowing more about AIA Pittsburgh’s AIA+2030, there will be a session at Build Pittsburgh devoted to the topic. In addition, the Committee on the Environment will be continuing the educational quest starting with a new series of sustainable design-focused topics in the Fall of 2014. Stay tuned for more details.

Ms. Como Harris, AIA, LEED AP BD+C is a Project Manager and sustainable design champion at IKM with more than 15 years of experience. She is a Registered Architect in Pennsylvania and California. Ms. Como Harris is qualified as a Historic Architect per The Secretary of Interiors Qualifications. She is also a member of the AIA Committee on the Environment.

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