William Stewart

Our media-saturated society generates and consumes news in ways that are often more reflexive than thoughtful. Whatever the topic, there is something of a herd mentality that overnight generates a heated, all-consuming buzz. Not surprisingly, this promotes a certain cynicism that questions the true importance of a story beyond the need to grab headlines. Lately, I’ve been sensing a similar questioning when it comes to the matter of resiliency.

Yes, the word is much in evidence throughout the AIA. But is resiliency, as some have claimed, the profession’s equivalent of the newest fad? I would argue the contrary, based on two facts: the accelerating incidence of major natural disasters, not just in this country but globally; and the AIA’s long track record in responding to such events and increasingly making a long-term commitment to showing a way forward.

And the way forward is, in part, the task of the AIA Foundation (AIAF). July’s issue of ARCHITECT featured an interview with AIAF’s new executive director, Sherry-Lea Bloodworth Botop. Readers learned that, as the former director of strategic development at Architecture for Humanity, Bloodworth Botop brings the AAF invaluable firsthand experience in the critical area of disaster response and recovery. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, she saw an opportunity for those displaced not simply to rebuild what was wiped away but rather to build better-in other words, to enlist architects to build communities that would be more resistant to natural disasters.

Although there are those who still question the causes of these disasters, who can dispute that more of us are in harm’s way? Accepting the role of architects in meeting the challenge this poses—often to those who are least able to recover—has been an AIA priority ever since Katrina and, indeed, long before, as evidenced by the exemplary track record of the AIA’s Disaster Assistance Teams. What’s different today, and what goes beyond the architectural equivalent of triage, is a growing awareness within and outside the profession that the task of preventing these disasters—or at least lessening their harm—is a role for design. This recognition has prompted the partnering with like-minded organizations such as Architecture for Humanity, the St. Bernard Project, the Clinton Global Initiative, and the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities.

Collaboration is not, however, a synonym for lip service or splashy photo ops. This, I believe, is a possible concern of those who question the profession’s commitment to action that truly makes a difference. The relationship with the Rockefeller Foundation is a case in point. The AIA’s contribution to the Rockefeller initiative is to leverage the extraordinary advantage AIA components provide to focus efforts of local, state, and federal officials as well as NGOs, universities, community groups, and architects at five Regional Design Studios around the country: New England, Middle Atlantic, Gulf Coast, Midwest, and West. Thanks to anchor sponsor Benjamin Moore, they will be real bricks-and-mortar operations with a three-part mission: education and professional development, engagement and outreach, and design and construction services. All are needed to implement real-world resilience solutions.

Together with our partners, we’re in this for the long haul. The AIAF is providing a place where local, regional, and national programs can plug in quickly both before and after disaster while performing demonstration projects and disseminating information and best practices. The day-to-day work may not always grab headlines. But it will make a positive difference—through design!—in people’s lives.

Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA
2014 President