The National Architectural Accrediting Board is currently undergoing review and revision of its Conditions for Accreditation and Procedures for Accreditation, two documents that establish the criteria for architecture education and the rules for school accreditation, respectively. Review happens regularly, and I wouldn’t blame you for thinking it’s just another bureaucratic exercise. But this time around, thanks to enlightened leadership at NAAB, the process is remarkably open and inclusive. Real change is possible.

Drafts of the Conditions and Procedures are open for comment until Nov. 22, at [email protected]. I encourage you to review them for yourself and provide constructive criticism.

Three areas of concentration leap to my mind, namely preparation for practice, commitment to equity, and action on climate change. These issues are obviously all vital, and interrelated—the Venn diagram of prosperity, justice, and sustainability totally overlaps. That said, civilization as we know it depends greatly upon the profession’s response to climate change, so I think it’s safe to say that the principal effort belongs there. (If you don’t understand the urgency, grab a copy of David Wallace-Wells’s The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming (Tim Duggan Books, 2019), which I’m currently reading, for a gut-tightening explanation of the consequences of inaction.)

The AIA Committee on the Environment has submitted an admirable five-page letter of recommended revisions, including the following proposed criterion:

Climate Action – The Program must demonstrate how the curriculum prepares all students to apply climate action goals of decarbonization and adaptation with an understanding of the performance outcomes of integrated design solutions.

Another group, comprising some 100 practitioners and academics, met at the University of Oregon in October and have signed and submitted to NAAB the so-called Portland Declaration. The document reads in part:

Sustainability should be a major component of the NAAB program accreditation criteria. We strongly recommend that the principles underlying the AIA Framework for Design Excellence provide the basis for defining sustainability in this context. …

Sustainability, climate action, and environmental stewardship must move to the top of the mission statement of NAAB.

Why is this a matter for NAAB? Shouldn’t schools and students have the agency to determine their own priorities? I’m a firm believer in bottom-up change, but in dire circumstances such as these, collective need can outweigh other considerations. Some top-down pressure may be unavoidable. While we should all do our personal best to mitigate climate change, changes in policy achieve scale. That's a goal of the recent, overwhelmingly approved AIA Resolution for Urgent and Sustained Climate Action. For the foreseeable future, every architect should possess (and exercise) the skills to minimize carbon emissions. The shift in values depends on the lessons we impart to students of architecture.

The NAAB criteria for accreditation can and should play a central role in architecture’s efforts to mitigate climate change. Architects have the power to keep this planet, our only planet, habitable. I can’t think of a more valuable and necessary focus for architectural education. Whatever you think, please don’t pass up the opportunity to let NAAB know.