Russell A. Davidson, FAIA, 2016 AIA President
Photography: Carl Bower Russell A. Davidson, FAIA, 2016 AIA President

As an architect, I understand the fashion value of wearing black. I also understand the profession’s commitment to being green. But the recent history of green has had a more uneven trajectory than the consistent (if unofficial) uniform that architects don.

I became interested in sustainable design in the late 1970s and absorbed everything I could on passive solar design. I clearly remember reading about the architectural frontier that included a new wave of architectural awareness that was sweeping the country in the preface to Passive Solar Architecture: Logic & Beauty (Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1983), written by Dennis A. Andrejko, FAIA, and David Wright, FAIA. Another text that drew me in was The Passive Solar Energy Book (Rodale Press, 1979), by Edward Mazria, FAIA, which remains the bible on the topic. I studied the formulas and solar gain calculations (and later jumped to a TI SR-50 calculator for the task). My first architectural designs were passive solar houses constructed in the early 1980s. While many of us were so enthusiastic about the possibilities of passive solar back then, it seemed to fade once the energy tax credits evaporated after President Jimmy Carter left office.

Cycles of enthusiasm have affected the inclusion of sustainable elements in architecture before today, and it seems that it may be happening again. Yet passive solar design has evolved since that time, as has the AIA’s commitment to sustainability. The AIA Energy Modeling Practice Guide (which does not require a TI SR-50) is a powerful new tool for architects to understand the future impact of design decisions. Indeed, the AIA continues to take a big-picture approach to Sustainability (with a capital “S”), which includes a nascent materials transparency program and an Institute-wide focus on resilient design solutions. It’s an approach that goes beyond mere energy consumption and rating systems.

While interest from the client side may fade with lower energy costs, the AIA is here to help all practitioners broaden the definition of sustainability so that we can better demonstrate its relevance to all clients and building types. In that sense, architects follow in the tradition of pioneers like Andrejko, Wright, and Mazria, who were leaders early on, by differentiating themselves and pushing the envelope of what sustainability really can and should mean.