Thomas Vonier, FAIA
PHOTOGRAPHY: CARL BOWER Thomas Vonier, FAIA, 2017 AIA President

Perhaps as much as any recent topic, “climate” has seemed to galvanize international action and public opinion—mostly to support measures that reduce toxic emissions, curb waste, and move the world away from outmoded, harmful energy technologies. Architecture can have great impact on meeting climate challenges, as we well know. But this is just one of the pressing issues on which architects can make a difference. We can—and must—do more.

Security. With public spaces—our streets, sidewalks, and squares—now targets of violent attack nearly everywhere in the world, architects and designers can help municipalities and police design access controls, apply needed scrutiny, and manage surveillance and security resources effectively. How? Look at the security projects completed in Washington, D.C., for the Federal Triangle by the National Capital Planning Commission, or the measures under way in New York City for the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. Examine the steps being implemented in many European cities to improve security in densely populated centers. Good design enhances security. It adds to urban amenity, livability, and the sense of safety.

Water. In addition to coping with rising sea levels and their devastating impacts on human settlements, our globe also faces major challenges in maintaining and delivering potable water. Architects can help advance the widespread use of conservation technologies, deploy many more recycling systems, and create low-water landscape designs. We can promote patterns of growth and development that protect (not harm) freshwater resources.

Housing. Communities today face questions not just of housing affordability and equity, but of basic suitability. With changed societies come changed requirements, and with new solutions to new demands come obstacles and barriers—in the form of building codes, zoning ordinances, and design criteria that no longer fit needs. Architects can help devise and promote new forms of decent and affordable shelter, with access to mobility, for all.

Productivity, health, healing, and learning. We know the health benefits of exercise, as well as the costs of inactivity. We know that rooms with sunlight and pleasant views promote better rates of recovery from illness. We know that student learning and worker productivity are improved by access to the basic amenities of sunlight, air, and the outdoors. Architects must speak out, with a conviction borne of experience and evidence, about the value of building well. And we must speak with outcomes in mind.

Design for a better world: This is both an imperative and a promise. As global challenges intensify, our profession is ever more critical to ensuring the future. We have an essential role in alleviating human suffering, reducing planetary burdens, and enhancing the quality of life. Let’s renew our commitments to the power of architecture to meet great challenges, enhance the quality of lives, and build communities that are strong, safe, equitable, productive, and healthy.