2018 AIA President Carl Elefante, FAIA
Photography: Carl Bower 2018 AIA President Carl Elefante

In his 2016 book Thank You for Being Late (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Thomas L. Friedman posits that we have crossed a threshold into the Age of Accelerations characterized by change so rapid it exceeds human capacity to readily adapt to it. An understandable response is to find it overwhelming and disorienting. Yet every day presents new reasons for amazement and optimism. In field after field, revolutionary innovation unimaginable even a decade ago has become the new normal. The blistering pace of change frustrates attempts to assess its impacts. Does change mean progress (a better tomorrow) or disruption (tossing time-honored ways into the dustbin of history)?

There is plenty of evidence for the Age of Accelerations in the architectural profession, from how we build to the tools we use and even the services we provide. Less the handiwork of carpenters and masons, increasingly buildings are fabricated assemblies installed by technicians. Virtual reality and 3D printing are supplanting pencil sketches and chipboard models. Established business models are becoming too confining in an increasingly entrepreneurial world.

Two MIT faculty, Neri Oxman and Antón Garcia-Abril, are challenging conventions of how buildings are made. Garcia-Abril pushes the limits of off-site construction. Part of his explorations are technological, experimenting with materials and fabrication processes. But Garcia-Abril also experiments with form and space, seeking architecture that emerges from new ways of building. Oxman’s work is strikingly futuristic, from employing robotics that 3D print building-scale structures to emulating nature’s construction techniques.

In his 2015 TED Talk, Marc Kushner, AIA, made the case that super-realistic computer-generated imaging has the power to transform our relationship with clients and the public. Using powerful visualization tools, even people who “can’t read plans” can experience buildings as they are designed. Fear of the unknown can be eliminated. Engagement in and understanding of architectural thinking can be taken to new levels.

What does it mean to be an architect? Is architectural practice defined only by the terms of the Standard Form of Agreement Between Owner and Architect? In 2017, members of the AIA National Strategic Council created the Communication, Advocacy, and Policy of the New Urban Agenda (CAPNUA) work group to explore ways to demonstrate the relevance of the U.N.-adopted New Urban Agenda that seeks to define 21st-century urbanism. AIA Columbus got involved as social entrepreneurs by organizing a community visioning workshop in Franklinton, an underserved neighborhood in their city. The workshop produced a set of principles to guide development that welcomes new investment while enhancing opportunities for current residents and businesses. AIA Columbus went outside its comfort zone to bring the power of design to a community in need.

For me, every nostalgic tear turns into a tear of joy when I catch a glimpse of the limitless possibilities of innovation in the architectural profession. Our future is bright.