Ordinarily, May evokes thoughts of spring, and if we are lucky enough, the summer days ahead with family and friends. This isn’t an ordinary year. COVID-19 has dramatically altered the rhythm of our days and will continue to reshape our lives in ways we can’t foresee. That can seem overwhelming, disheartening, and frightening unless we remember that we are not defined by the challenges we face, but how we meet them personally, professionally, and as citizens of the global community.
The fact is that despite the ongoing COVID-19 global health emergency and the grim news that it brings, it is still spring. It is still a time of rejuvenation and growth, and a physical reminder of the indomitable power of the human spirit to renew itself and to grow from adversity.
Make no mistake, COVID-19 has acquainted us all with varying degrees of loss: From the transitory loss of workplace camaraderie and the routine closeness of friends and family members, to the permanent loss of COVID-19 victims, including more than a few leaders and pioneers in our profession.
The numerous firms that have repurposed their 3D printers to create face shields and other critically needed but scarce medical supplies are just one example of architects taking action during the early days of the pandemic. To help support efforts like this, we’ve formed member-led task forces, with a common mission to position the profession to help lead during this crisis and play an integral part in the recovery.
The task forces include: The Rapid Response Safety Space Assessment Task Force, chaired by Molly Scanlon, FAIA, which is refining best practices for identifying and converting existing buildings into temporary health facilities; the Implementation and Community Outreach Task Force, chaired by Rose Grant, AIA, which will support components’ efforts to mobilize local architects, to implement recommendations of the temporary facilities task force, and identify community response and recovery efforts; and the the COVID-19 Business Task Force, co-chaired by Dan Hart, FAIA, and Mark Levine, FAIA, which is focused on identifying primary challenges and finding solutions to the economic disruption.
Based on the spirit of collaboration, ingenuity, shared sacrifice, and self-reliance I’ve seen and heard so far—from our professional organization, component leaders, members, and AIA staff—I am convinced that we will do more than meet the many challenges ahead; we will grow.
Some of the lessons learned could even have positive impacts over the long term—particularly when it comes to climate progress. Scientists have cataloged the sudden plunge in greenhouse gas emissions caused by the large-scale substitution of telework and staying home for commuting and travel. Of course no one would have chosen to reduce pollution under such tragic circumstances—and, thankfully, stay-home orders won’t be permanent—but the change does help demonstrate that dramatic environmental progress is possible.
Scientists also point out an instructive parallel between the pandemic crisis and the climate crisis: If you wait until you can see the impact, it is too late to stop it. Climate experts like Elizabeth Sawin, co-director of the think tank Climate Interactive, explain that “the public is coming to understand that in that kind of situation you have to act in a way that looks disproportionate to what the current reality is, because you have to react to where that exponential growth will take you.” I know that architects will be instrumental in translating these lessons into positive change, just as our profession is stepping up during the health crisis.
I have never been prouder to be an architect or part of AIA. The last several weeks have shown me the full measure of our members, our profession, and our professional organization. The weeks and months ahead will determine how we move forward amid the uncertainty, grief, and confusion caused by the COVID-19 public health emergency. The response so far fills me with optimism. It is clearer than ever to me that when we look back at spring 2020, we will be proud of our efforts to make our world better, safer, and healthier for all. I look forward to working with you to build that brighter future.