Controversial “Beautiful Building” Executive Order Overturned

Last week, President Biden revoked former President Trump’s “Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture” executive order. The now-defunct order was enacted in December 2020, but it received a mixed reception since it was announced earlier last year.

What was in the order, and why did President Biden overturn it? Here’s a quick summary.

“Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again?”

Back in February 2020, then-President Trump proposed an executive order called “Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” after calling many modern federal buildings “uninspiring” and “just plain ugly.” The order was a response to the postmodern “Brutalist” trend that became popular in the 1950s. 

The Brutalist Department of Education Building in Washington DC was one of the first “modern federal buildings” constructed in the post-WWII era.

The “meat” of the order established the Council on Improving Federal Civic Architecture which would do everything in its power (short of outright mandating) that all new federal buildings in Washington DC and new federal courthouses elsewhere follow a “classical” architecture style. “Classical” is somewhat loosely defined in the order as “including Neoclassical, Georgian, Greek Revival, Gothic and other traditional styles.”

The new council still currently includes the Commissioner of the General Service Administration (GSA) Public Building Service, the Secretary of the Commission of Fine Arts, the Architect of the Capitol, and about twenty other people selected by former President Trump. But it’s likely that President Biden’s new executive order will disband this council at some point.


From the moment the order was announced, opinions within and outside of the architecture world seemed relatively split. The National Civic Art Society (NCAS), who acted as one of the main supporters of the order, said “Americans have long understood that classical architecture is not only beautiful, it embodies the key values of our representative government.” The NCAS backed their support of the order by citing a Harris Poll that surveyed a “diverse” group of 2,000 Americans. According to this particular poll, 72% said they preferred “traditional design” over “modern design.”

The relatively new Federal Building and Courthouse in Tuscaloosa, AL is the look the overturned order would've enforced.

Other organizations saw the order very differently. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) said they “unequivocally oppose the executive order,” and they “do not, and never will, prioritize any type of architectural design over another.” 

Back in February, the AIA’s EVP/Chief Executive Officer Robert Ivy told NPR that the order doesn't account for today's office buildings, which need to be efficient and equipped for emerging technology and security features. “In the 21st century, we're very different people from the people who popularized Greek Revival architecture in the 19th century, as beautiful as it was,” he says. “To try to force-fit new systems in old forms is difficult to do, inefficient, and is not who we are today.”

The nonprofit National Trust for Historic Preservation said “We strongly oppose any effort to impose a narrow set of styles for future federal projects based on the architectural tastes of a few individuals that will diminish, now and for the future, our rich legacy of federal architecture.”

Lasting Effects

But now that the executive order is overturned, this all doesn’t matter anymore. Right? “Not necessarily,” says Bloomberg

Although organizations like the AIA are applauding the Biden administration for removing the order, the previous administration took action to “determine who gets to decide what federal buildings look like” in the years ahead. 

The day after President Trump signed the order, he named four new appointees to the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts (CFA), the independent federal agency that oversees design and aesthetic decisions in the nation’s capital. All four of the new commissioners, who will serve four year terms, are “deeply steeped in yesteryear’s European art forms.” Along with the three current commissioners, who were also appointed by Trump, all seven members are now white men. This is a departure for a commission that in 2019 included three women and two African Americans.

“The buildings we create and the spaces we create will stand to represent who we are as a society today for future generations to have a better understanding of who we were,” says R. Steven Lewis, former president of the National Organization of Minority Architects. “If Black architects are not included in offering some of that work, then we could, as has been the case in the past, be written out of history, and there would be no account of our lens through which we see the society and the world.”

Moving Forward

Architecture critic Philip Kennicott says President Biden should remove the current CFA members, and replace them with a more diverse group that will bring a “wide and spirited range of aesthetic viewpoints to the commission's monthly meetings.”

The AIA is also advocating for Congress to pass the Democracy In Design Act, which proposes codifying the GSA’s Design Excellence Program principles into statute - ensuring the federal government maintains neutrality on architectural styles.

Do you think there should be a mandated style for all federal buildings? Let us know on social media!

California Architects:

You are required to complete 5 hours of continuing education in Disability Access by the last day of your birth month this year!

California Architects License Renewal FAQs

Renewal Requirement Overview

Total State Hours: 5-Hours of Disability access
Total AIA Membership Hours: 18 Annually, including 12 HSW

Renewal Deadline: December 31st
Renewal Years: Odd Years (2021, 2023, 2025...etc)

NEW FOR 2021: To be compliant with BPC 5558 Requirements, each person holding a license to practice architecture under this chapter shall file with the board his or her current mailing address and the proper and current name and address of the entity through which he or she provides architectural services.

Fill out your updated Business Entity Report Form here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I have to take specific types of continuing education courses to renew my California architect license?As a condition of license renewal, architects must comply with the following:

  • Complete five hours of coursework on disability access requirements (see below) within the previous two years. The coursework must be presented by trainers or educators with knowledge and experience in the disability access requirements.
  • Certify to the Board on the renewal application that he/she has completed the required coursework by signing the application.
  • Maintain records documenting completion of the required coursework for two years from the date of license renewal.
  • Provide, upon request, records to the Board for auditing. Records must include the following:
    • Course title;
    • Subjects covered;
    • Name of provider and trainer or educator;
    • Date of completion;
    • The number of hours completed; and
    • A statement about the trainer’s or educator’s knowledge and experience background.

Licensees are encouraged to complete these requirements timely in order to avoid a delay in the processing of their license renewal. Licensees who fail to complete the required coursework cannot renew their license nor practice architecture until they have fulfilled these requirements.

Do you have any courses that will specifically cover the 5-hours of Disability Access California requires?

The 5-hour California Building Code: Division 2: Accessibility is fully accepted by the California Architects Board.

If you have any questions, you can contact Jeff Olguin at 916-575-7274 at the California Architects Board for more information.

Do I also need to complete continuing education requirements for my AIA membership?

YES, as an Architect member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), 18 learning unit hours are required per calendar year for membership renewal.
12 of these 18 hours must be in subjects designated as Health, Safety, and Welfare (HSW).
Our 18 hour California Architect Continuing Education package fulfills both the California Building Code Accessibility requirement and the AIA membership renewal requirement.

Who notifies the State of my continued education?

Each licensee is required to notify the state of his/her own continued education.
Licensees must keep their coursework documentation for at least two years from the date of their license renewal.
The Board conducts audits of completed coursework. Licensees who are selected for an audit will be required to submit coursework documentation confirming that they have fulfilled the requirement.

Are AIA approved classes accepted?


How do I renew my California architect license?

  1. Complete the appropriate continuing education.
  2. Complete an Architect License Renewal Application.
  3. Pay the $300 renewal fee.
  4. Mail the signed renewal application and fee to the board with a postmark on or before the expiration date.
If you have any questions or need more information, you can contact the California Architects Board here

2420 Del Paso Road, Suite 105
Sacramento, CA 95834

Phone: 916-574-7220
Fax: 916-575-7283
Renewal Fee:  $300.00
Website address:


Why We Need to Reuse More Existing Buildings

Welcome to part four of our (unintentional) “carbon conscious” blog series! In case you’ve missed out any of the past excitement, check out our other blogs about mass timber, modular architecture, and the possibility of a carbon neutral building sector in the near future.

Our previous blogs, however, focused on ways of making new construction projects more efficient. What about the existing buildings across the country? This week, we’re looking at the increasing calls by architects worldwide to “renovate, retrofit, and reuse” existing buildings in order to meet carbon reduction goals.

Improving What We Already Have

The US Building Stock - Why It Needs to Get Better

In order to hit the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emission target that we talked about in the previous blog and avert a climate disaster, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) argues that existing buildings cannot be ignored. 

According to an AIA study, “America’s commercial building stock comprises some 6 million buildings, totaling around 90 billion square feet, almost half of which are more than 40 years old.” Unsurprisingly, the millions of 40+ year old buildings use a lot more energy to run than the newer ones, which is mainly why existing buildings are responsible for nearly 40% of our annual GHG emissions.

Architecture 2030, a major advocating force behind the US’s carbon reduction efforts, says in order to achieve the carbon targets set by the Paris Agreement (which the US recently rejoined), “a significant increase in the rate and depth of existing building energy efficiency required.”

The Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit research and renewable energy advocate group, takes things a step further than the AIA and says hitting required carbon targets means retrofitting nearly half of all (not just commercial) buildings in the US to zero emissions by 2030.

“Essentially, every building we touch over the next ten years, and we likely need to touch about 5 million buildings per year in the US, needs to be brought to zero emissions in a way that is both cost-effective and supports decarbonization of the grid.”

Action Steps Toward Efficient Retrofitting

Reusing existing buildings isn’t a new concept, but it’s been gaining popularity over the past few years as businesses, nonprofits, and local governments have stepped up their carbon reduction efforts. 

AIA’s California chapter says “Retrofitting, renovating, adapting, and remodeling existing buildings accounted for almost half of U.S. architects billing in 2018, but we are still tearing down perfectly good, functional buildings, with many years of life left in them. And when we do renovate, we aren’t reducing operating emissions as much as we need to.”

So here is a summary of the AIA’s six “guiding principles” for architects:

1. Establish Clear Goals 

Make the project team’s reasons for retrofitting explicit, and develop clear goals to express them. Architects who can frame a renovation in terms of economic and social objectives as well as resource conservation are more effective advocates for sustainability while adding value to their service. From a social justice perspective, retrofitting puts proportionately more money into the workforce instead of into the walls, keeping dollars in the community and sparking the local economy.

2. Unlock the Existing Building’s Potential

Many older buildings have good passive bones and were designed with vernacular strategies for comfort. Thick masonry walls mitigate diurnal temperature swings, for example, and tall double hung windows allow rooms to self-ventilate. Such technologies create opportunities for lower carbon design. To get the most from passive systems, you may first need to restore them. For example, reopen sealed clerestory and operable windows to activate a cooling chimney effect, repair a radiant perimeter heating system, remedy site and roof drainage to keep walls dry (and therefore more inherently insulative), and monitor for areas where

increased insulation will really make a difference. 

3. Prioritize the Most Effective Interventions

Start with a thorough analysis of what you’ve got: What is your building, and what are its opportunities, issues, and problems? Then you will want to target your upgrades. Rather

than fixing everything, look for places of major heat loss and fix those. Using fewer materials generates fewer emissions—and reduces costs, too. What could you manage without? Consider the building as a whole system, including the potential for on-site renewable energy. A building envelope and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) upgrade, combined with effective control systems and reduced plug loads, can bring an ordinary building surprisingly close to net zero energy.

4.Consider Total Carbon Impact: Operational and Embodied Energy

In addition to more efficient operations, which the majority of sustainability paradigms focus on, reducing embodied emissions is essential to success. (Embodied carbon is the sum of all the greenhouse gas emissions mostly carbon dioxide resulting from the mining, harvesting, processing, manufacturing, transportation and installation of building materials.) 

Savings in embodied emissions are immediate and can be achieved by reducing the use of materials overall—for example, by minimizing the material needed to retrofit a building, and by using low-carbon materials for remaining needs.

5. Consider Health Impacts of New and Existing Materials

Conduct a hazardous materials inspection at the outset of the project. Some materials, such as asbestos in flooring, may be safely encapsulated and left in place. Others, such as lead, will need to come out. And now that health is on the project’s agenda, look for ways to follow through as you select new materials.

6. Design to Accommodate Future Change

The value of an existing building lies in its ability to adapt to new uses. Think in terms of loose fit - How can your project achieve its goals so that the building remains adaptable? Can materials and assemblies be designed for reuse? Designing for flexibility extends the life of the building, and provides future generations with their own chance to retrofit.

Case Study: Mundo Verde Bilingual Public Charter School

Mundo Verde Bilingual Public Charter School

Source: AIA

The project designers for Washington D.C.’s Mundo Verde charter school needed to take the above six principles into account when the school was assigned a shuttered 90-year-old brick building to renovate for its new home.

The award-winning 47,000-square-foot revitalization project, which included a new 11,000-square-foot annex, “exemplifies environmental stewardship through site repair and reduced resource consumption,” according to the AIA.

Design decisions focused on three key priorities: materials, energy, and water. 


The finished project used 97% of existing structural materials, and finishes—including hardwood floors discovered beneath layers of carpet and tile—were reused whenever possible. For elements unsuitable for reuse on-site, the project diverted 75% of construction waste from landfill.


For heating and cooling, the designers chose a variable refrigerant flow (VRF) system, which uses less energy and material than a conventional system. Small refrigerant piping about an inch in diameter delivers the same heating and cooling energy as a foot-square air duct. 


Designers ensured maximum water efficiency with a 25,000-gallon cistern on the roof for capturing irrigation and toilet flushing water- saving an estimated 300,000 gallons of potable water per year. And because a lot of water can run down the drain while children play with sensor-activated faucets, timed faucets were selected for more effective conservation under the circumstances.

Source: AIA

Improving the millions of existing buildings across the United States is no small feat. But with the help of architects like you who can apply the principles listed above and advocate for sustainable improvements, it’s possible!

California Architects:

You are required to complete 5 hours of continuing education in Disability Access by the last day of your birth month this year!

Can the U.S. Building Sector Become Carbon Neutral by 2040?

Over the course of the last two blogs, we’ve looked at different building and design methods that are becoming more popular in an effort to reduce the building sector’s carbon emissions. Today, thanks in large part to architects advocating for “greener” building practices over the past decade, architect/climate experts are confident that the US building sector can become carbon neutral by 2040.

How did we get here? And what still needs to be done to make sure we achieve this goal? How can you as an architect help make sure we literally save the planet? Read on to find out.

The Threat

Edward Mazria, FAIA, is the founder and CEO of the nonprofit Architecture 2030 and the recipient of the 2021 AIA Gold Medal. In a recent Architect Magazine article, he explains the reasoning behind the 2040 goal and why, despite the looming threats to the planet, there are still reasons to be optimistic.

In 2018, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a collection of the world’s leading climate scientists, issued a report that described the avoidable consequences if we (as in everyone on earth) continued our efforts to prevent just a half degree in the rise of average global temperatures (1.5°C vs 2°C).

If nothing is done and the global average temperature increases by 2°C, instead of 1.5°C,

  • 2.6 times more people, or 37% of the world’s population, will be exposed to severe heat at least once in five years.
  • Plants and vertebrates will lose twice as much habitat as they would at only 1.5°C of warming; insects would lose 3 times as much.
  • The decline of fisheries’ global annual catch will double from 1.65 million tons to 3.3 million tons.
  • The rate of sea-level rise will increase 30% by 2100.

Preventing consequences such as the ones listed above is why in 2015 the United Nations established the Paris Agreement, whose goal is “to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.”

Today, the planet’s average global temperature has risen by slightly more than 1°C from pre-industrial levels. In Mazria’s view, “unless the world collectively reduces current levels of global carbon emissions 50% to 65% by 2030—and completely phases them out by 2040—it will likely pass the 1.5°C warming threshold.”

These are all serious threats to our planet, but there is good news. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the country is currently on a promising track. 

Making Progress

In the EIA’s 2020 carbon emission report, the building sector’s total operating carbon emissions were 27% below 2005 levels. This means the building sector met the US commitment to the United Nations Paris Agreement of a 26% to 28% reduction from 2005 emissions levels five years ahead of the 2025 target date! In fact, the EIA projects that the building sector’s carbon emissions will continue to decline post-pandemic if we just continue on our present course.

How We Got Here

According to Mazria, even though the U.S. has added “more than 50 billion square feet to its building stock, energy consumption in the building sector stabilized in 2005 and has not increased since.” This is in part due to architects across the nation designing more efficient buildings each year.

Source: Architecture 2030

The Work Ahead

Although the US is currently trending in the right direction when it comes to carbon emissions, there is still plenty of work to be done in order to meet the 2040 goal. In the US, Mazria sees opportunity for improvement with the upcoming administration. Mainly, by rejoining the Paris Agreement, and focusing on adding “federal, state, and local government incentives and policies for energy-efficient building upgrades, electrification, and the adoption of more efficient and zero-carbon building codes federal programs that reduce carbon emissions.” Below are a few policy examples:

Recently, the International Code Council approved the addition of the “Zero Code Renewable Energy Appendix” into the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). The American Institute of Architects (AIA) worked with Architecture 2030 to develop the appendix, which aims to empower “local communities to take action on climate change through building codes.”

The ultimate purpose of the Zero Code Appendix is to provide a national and international framework for creating zero carbon buildings. A zero carbon building is defined as one that “uses no on-site fossil fuels and produces or procures enough carbon free renewable energy to meet building operational energy consumption annually.”

The now-approved appendix gives jurisdictions the option to adopt a zero-net-carbon standard as their community’s minimum energy code. Doing so would require all new commercial, institutional, and mid- and high-rise residential buildings to produce or procure enough renewable energy to achieve zero-net-carbon annually. The appendix encourages onsite renewable energy systems when feasible but also supports off-site procurement of renewable energy through a variety of methods. However, this appendix does not allow renewable energy to be traded off against the energy efficiency required by the 2021 IECC. 

If you’re interested in taking more steps to reduce carbon use in your designs, check out the Zero Code’s Implementation Guide

Another way the US can improve carbon emissions in the building sector is by enacting more federal programs. Since the building sector consumes approximately 74% of the electricity generated in the US, Mazria says he is excited for the Biden administration’s Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice. Moving toward carbon-free electricity by 2035 would reduce the building sector’s carbon emissions further, by about 60% below 2005 levels by 2030.

The journey ahead to curbing climate disaster will not be easy. But thanks to efforts by you and your architect colleagues, there is still hope for a healthier planet for our descendants.  

What are some ways you've worked carbon efficiency into your designs? Let us know on social media!

Check out our on-demand continuing education courses by choosing your state below.

Modular Architecture’s Potential Comeback

In our last blog, we talked about the many benefits of incorporating mass timber into more building designs. One of those benefits was the on-site time and cost savings that resulted from mass timber’s prefabrication capabilities. Now, in this follow-up blog, we’ll look at “modular architecture” as a whole and how the pandemic is bringing it back to the mainstream.

Modular (or prefabricated, used here interchangeably) construction isn’t new, with evidence that it dates back to the 1600s. In the US, modular construction reached its peak thanks to a post-WWII housing shortage. But it never really “took off” within the larger, more traditional building projects that preferred “build on site” methods.

But now, architecture design researcher Daniel Davis says “fueled by a favorable economic environment, new technological developments, and the COVID-19 pandemic, modular architecture is showing up in new and unexpected ways.”

Modular Construction’s Benefits & Challenges

Similarly to mass timber, studies have shown that modular construction saves time, can save money, creates less waste, and is better for the environment. 

Case studies have shown that modular construction projects accelerate project timelines by 20 to 50 percent.

One UK construction publication has found that modular construction projects “are more energy-efficient, create less waste, and increase the use of sustainable materials. There is also a reduction in the carbon footprint of the build as fewer people are travelling to and from the site.”

But there are reasons massive modular projects haven’t taken over in the US. The cost of transportation alone can overcome any jobsite savings, and modular projects require more design and engineering decisions to be made much earlier in the planning process. One east coast consulting service says “it requires architects, engineers and contractors to be familiar with the intricacies of the modular fabrication and erection stages.”

Despite these challenges, recent technological improvements (and lots of funding from investors) are increasing the possibility of larger scale modular projects.

Modular Construction’s Potential

Investments Left & Right

In 2017 McKinsey released a 155-page report on the global construction industry that outlined a $1.6 trillion opportunity to move the construction industry toward “a manufacturing-inspired mass-production system.” Since then, that trillion “with a T” dollar projection created a long line of investors itching to get in on the potential profits. Here’s a rundown of just a few of them from Davis’s article:

Recently Juno, a startup founded by Apple and Tesla veterans, announced it had raised $11 million to “rethink how housing is developed.” Shortly afterwards, Factory OS reported that it had raised $55 million from Autodesk, Facebook, Google, and others to build houses “more like cars.” 

SHoP Architects recently revealed that it was launching Assembly OSM, a separate company aimed at reimagining building manufacturing (perhaps picking up from its earlier modular foray with the B2 apartments in Brooklyn, N.Y.). Katerra has raised more than a billion dollars to fund its factories, which can make everything from precast frames to countertops.

Technological Breakthroughs

Along with the recent flood of investment capital, the technology of modular construction has advanced significantly in the past decade.

“Just doing construction in a new way isn’t enough to innovate,” explains Danil Nagy, chief technology officer at iBuilt, an early prefabrication pioneer founded originally as Deluxe Modular in 1965. “You have to take on more of the process to disrupt the industry; you need both a new business model and the technology to make that business work.”

Luckily, that technology is largely here. Modular systems traditionally worked like Legos?, with rigid units that stack to form a building. Now, recent developments in computational design allow designers to create modules that offer a degree of flexibility. Rather than being uniform bricks, the modules can shrink, grow, or truncate to better fit a project.

Two workers assemble a module in iBUILT’s factory.

This is especially important for urban sites where space is at a premium and a rectangular box won’t necessarily provide the most efficient layout. This technique is familiar to many architects, with computational designers at practices like Zaha Hadid Architects using similar algorithms to adjust façade panels to fit an irregularly shaped building.

COVID-19 Changes Things…Again

Just like mostly everything else in 2020, COVID-19 has changed the way we live and work. With the increase in telecommuting, many people are moving or rethinking their living arrangements. Like the wartime effort to quickly build thousands of houses, modular construction may provide a way to quickly satisfy the demand for new housing. 

Beth Cameron, the co-founder and director of Makers of Architecture, a New Zealand firm that specializes in prefabricated housing, says that her firm has experienced a “huge wave” of business as people began seeing “their home environments through a new lens.”

With money, technology, and market conditions all in alignment, modular architecture may seem like an existential threat for firms whose projects could be replicated in a factory, Davis warns. But on the other hand, with so many companies vying to make their flavor of modular construction succeed, it’s not clear which—if any—will be successful.

Modular Construction Case Studies

Despite large scale modular construction still being in its infancy, architects “have plenty of opportunities before them,” Davis says. Here’s just one example of an upcoming modular project (that also happens to rely largely on mass timber).


After spending his formative years in China “building the unbuildable,” John Klein, AIA, took a position at MIT where he focused on the crises of housing affordability and climate change. Once he realized many of the design techniques he used in China could be applied to develop more replicable and sustainable buildings in the US, he founded Generate, an architecture studio that specializes in modular construction.

Generate prefabricates components of its building, such as the bathroom and façade. Source: Generate

In September, Generate partnered with Placetailor, a Boston-based design, development, and construction cooperative that focuses exclusively on zero-carbon housing, to design and deliver the Model-C housing project

A section through Generate’s Tall House project shows how the building systems come together.

The five-story, 19,000-square-foot building in Boston fills an irregular wedge of land so particularly that its factory origins seem improbable. The walls run at odd angles, tracing the site’s perimeter instead of a factory-made grid. Inside, each apartment contains a unique combination of bedrooms and living room layouts sized to fit the skewed exterior.

The flexible module is constructed from cross-laminated timber. Using software that Klein developed with his team, he can quickly lay out modules on a site and export drawing sets to a factory, which follow the principles of Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA).

“We at Generate and Placetailor believe the Model-C apartments will be one of the most sustainable buildings in the U.S.,” Klein says. The building is expected to operate at a net-zero carbon level when it is completed late next year. With nine other projects in the early to late design phases, Generate and its novel construction systems seem to be finding early success. 

Modular Construction’s Bright Future

There are plenty more modular construction projects emerging, like from House by Urban Splash in the UK. Their mission is to build “architect-designed factory-created, modular houses using low carbon and sustainable materials.” As investments and demand continue to grow, so will the opportunity for architects.

What do you think of shifting toward more modular designs? Have you ever worked on a modular project? Let us know on social media!

If you’re a licensed Architect in one of the following states, your license renewal deadline is December 31st! 

  • Alabama
  • Delaware
  • Kentucky
  • Missouri
  • North Carolina
  • New Mexico
  • Ohio
  • Texas
  • West Virginia
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Louisiana
  • Montana
  • Nebraska (L -Z)
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Utah
  • Wyoming

To view all state approved continuing education course packages, start by choosing your state!

Can Wood Building Materials Replace Steel & Concrete?

For the modern architect, designing with environmental sustainability in mind is no longer wishful thinking, but a necessity. With hundreds of cities and architecture organizations around the world committing to curbing climate change with more aggressive sustainability plans, the architect’s search for things like sustainable building materials is ongoing.

In this blog, we’re discussing one of the world’s oldest building materials: good ‘ol wood. But just how good is wood’s sustainability for larger projects? What about deforestation concerns? And should architects really consider more recent developments like cross-laminated timber the “concrete of the future?” Let’s take a look.

Wood's Comeback Story

Before we get into the research surrounding wood’s environmental impact, here’s a quick refresher on why it’s back in the building materials conversation in the first place.

Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, steel and reinforced concrete largely replaced the natural building materials that architects had relied on for centuries; becoming the (literal) backbone for big and bold new designs. 

But over the years, the constant production of modern building materials like steel and concrete has been environmentally costly. According to Architecture 2030, roughly 11% of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from building materials and construction.

So what alternative can architects look to when trying to design sustainable buildings? Enter structural timber (aka “mass timber”). Mass timber, according to this simple explanation, is the process of “sticking pieces of soft wood — generally conifers like pine, spruce, or fir, but also sometimes deciduous species such as birch, ash, and beech — together to form larger pieces.” 

Or, put another way, “wood, but like Legos.” 

One of the most popular forms of mass timber (especially in Europe) is cross-laminated timber (CLT). To create a CLT “slab,” lumber boards that have been trimmed and kiln-dried are glued together in layers, crosswise, with the grain of each layer facing against the grain of the previous layer.

cross-laminated timber graphic

Source: Arch Daily

Mass Timber's Benefits

Various studies have shown that mass timber products are strong, fire-resistant, save time on building sites, and most importantly, are far better for the environment than concrete or steel. Let’s break down those claims one-by-one.


In a study cited in Arch Daily, CLT delivers at minimum the “same structural strength as reinforced concrete, but it's a material with a high degree of flexibility that has to undergo great deformations to break and collapse – unlike concrete.”

Taller mass timber structures have also proven to perform very well in “earthquake tests.” In one study done in California, the test resulted in the CLT products “performed as well as steel or concrete.”

K House / Kitamura Naoya Architects & Planners. Image © Takumi Ota

But a beneficial difference is in the event of an earthquake, a CLT wall system allows any damaged connection devices on the building to be pulled out and replaced, often within just hours, rather than scrapping the whole structure – something not possible with steel or concrete.

Fire Resistance

According to Think Wood, a 5-ply CLT panel wall was subjected to temperatures exceeding 1,800 Fahrenheit and lasted 3 hours and 6 minutes, far more than the two-hour rating that building codes require.

During fires, exposed mass timber chars on the outside, which forms an insulating layer protecting interior wood from damage. Additionally, when the code requires mass timber to be protected with gypsum wall board, the mass timber can achieve nearly damage-free performance during a contents-fire burnout event.

You can learn more about mass timber’s fire safety in this (very) in-depth US Department of Agriculture study from 2018.

“During fires, exposed mass timber chars on the outside, which forms an insulating layer protecting interior wood from damage.” © Think Wood

Time Savings

One of the biggest time-saving benefits that most pro-mass timber sources point to is prefabrication. Instead of ordering massive amounts of steel or concrete, then cutting and shaping everything to fit the design (which causes a lot of waste), mass timber products are built in a factory with pre-cut openings and lifting straps.

Giant slabs of cross-laminated timber and concrete composite were positioned as part of the floor system. (Alex Schreyer/UMASS)

According to the softwood lumber industry, “Mass timber buildings are roughly 25% faster to construct than concrete buildings and require 90% less construction traffic.” The faster production and installation time also contributes to the reduced GHG emissions.

In a story for National Geographic, John Klein, an architect at MIT, said “his firm could offer the teeming cities of the 2020s a line of standardized, customizable, mid-rise apartments and office buildings, largely made of modular mass timber, that developers could order to spec like IKEA sofas.”

And finally, we arrive at the last benefit and the answer to our original question.

Environmental Impact & Sustainability

This entire blog was inspired by a recent Arch Daily article that poses this question: “Although we may see wood as a great building material of the future, is it possible to continue cutting down trees and using their wood while still calling it sustainable?”

Answers to this sustainability question range from a resounding “Yes!” to a begrudging “It’s better than what we’re using now.” Where everyone seems to agree, however, is on mass timber’s positive environmental impact when compared to other traditional building materials.

Last year, a team at the University of Washington attempted a full lifecycle analysis comparing a “hybrid, mid-rise, CLT commercial building” to “a reinforced concrete building with similar functional characteristics.” After tallying up all the many factors, they concluded that the CLT building represented a “26.5% reduction in global warming potential.”

Another study found that replacing other construction materials with wood could reduce 14% to 31% of global carbon dioxide emissions and 12% to 19% of global fossil fuel consumption.

But numbers like this are highly dependent on one thing: proper forest management. In the long term, large scale mass timber projects will only work in the US if suppliers make sure their products come from sources that adhere to standards set by responsible regulators like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Eduardo Souza from this Arch Daily article stresses that “as architects, it is essential that we conduct detailed research on the source of all the materials we work with. The designer must be the first to realize that not only are the quality and costs of materials important, but also where they came from and how they were extracted.”

The Sierra Club, a large environmental organization, does not oppose mass timber, but says that it cannot truly benefit the climate without first changing current forestry practices. “CLT cannot be climate-smart unless it comes from climate-smart forestry,” they said.

So right now, mass timber’s status as both environmentally positive and sustainable is a somewhat complicated “yes” with caveats.

Mass Timber's Future

One sign that mass timber structures may soon become more common in the US comes from changes to the 2021 International Building Code (IBC).

Construction Executive reports that “the International Code Council has approved 17 changes to the 2021 editions of the IBC and International Fire Code, allowing for mass timber buildings up to 18 stories. With the addition of three new mass timber construction types (Type IV-A, IV-B, and IV-C), this is the first time in the history of the modern building code that significantly new construction types have been added to the code.”

What do you think about designing with mass timber? You found it interesting enough to make it to the end of this blog, so let us know your thoughts on social media!

If you’re a licensed Architect in one of the following states, your license renewal deadline is December 31st! 

  • Alabama
  • Delaware
  • Kentucky
  • Missouri
  • North Carolina
  • New Mexico
  • Ohio
  • Texas
  • West Virginia
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Louisiana
  • Montana
  • Nebraska (L -Z)
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Utah
  • Wyoming

To view all state approved continuing education course packages, start by choosing your state!

How Email Marketing Can Help Build Your Client Base

As remote work and video-only conferencing ramps back up, your outbound marketing efforts need to ramp up too. In a recent Architect Magazine article, Evelyn Lee lays out a plan for using an effective but often-overlooked medium: email. 

Email? Isn’t that outdated? What about social media? Or a website redesign?

While using social media and keeping a strong web presence are important, here are some reasons why email marketing is still relevant.

Email newsletters offer more control than social media

One problem with any social media channel is that the platform —Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.—controls the medium. To ensure your posts are seen by potential clients, you need to keep up with the platforms' ever-changing algorithms and “pay to play” with advertisements. With an email newsletter, the only changes that impact the effectiveness of this tool to engage its audience are made by you.

Email marketing has higher engagement and conversion rates

Unlike social media, which is often oversaturated with too many different things, email marketing is more focused. When someone does open one of your emails, they are more likely to be interested in what you or your firm has to say. This is especially true of B2B (business-to-business) services. 

According to HubSpot, 86% of business professionals prefer to use email over social media when communicating for business purposes. And in a Campaign Monitor study, they found that Email Marketing has a 3% average conversion rate, while Social Media Marketing averages around 0.5%.

Email offers powerful personalization opportunities

Having your recipients’ respective first names appear in the intro of an email is not a new trick, but segmenting email lists is a lesser-known tool used by savvy marketers. 

For instance, if your firm is serving different industry verticals—K-12, universities, civic—you can send the latest case study for your firm’s newly completed, ground-up high school to only those interested in your K-12 vertical or even in only your high school projects.

This type of hyper-focus can be much better for your business than all your social media followers seeing everything you broadcast all the time.

Email marketing is cost-effective

According to the Direct Marketing Association, email marketing (across all industries) brings in an average of $40 for every $1 spent. Best of all, starting an email marketing newsletter is easy, and plenty of email service providers have "free-mium" offerings to help you start your newsletter at no cost.

Final thoughts

According to Lee, “Generally speaking, architects are not good at outbound marketing. For the most part, we are either reactive to requests for proposals or highly reliant on repeat work from clients and their referrals.” Email marketing is one of the easiest outbound marketing tools that firms can roll out—and it doesn’t require daily, or even weekly, updates.

You may already be spending money on social media advertisements - which is good if it’s bringing your website traffic - but social media needs to be the start of a conversation with potential clients. 

While increasing web traffic is important, understanding who your audience is so you can actually convert them into a potential client is better. How do you figure out who is visiting your website and convert them to clients? After they arrive on your website from a social media ad, ask them to join your newly created newsletter to continue the conversation.

Have you tried email marketing? Let us know your thoughts on social media! 


If you’re a licensed Architect in one of the following states, your license renewal deadline is December 31st! 

  • Alabama
  • Delaware
  • Kentucky
  • Missouri
  • North Carolina
  • New Mexico
  • Ohio
  • Texas
  • West Virginia
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Louisiana
  • Montana
  • Nebraska (L -Z)
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Utah
  • Wyoming

To view all state approved continuing education course packages, start by choosing your state!

ADA Standards: Real World Application Course Preview

At Architect’s Training Institute, we believe that beautifully designed buildings should be designed with everyone in mind. With this year marking the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, (ADA) we’d like to highlight one of the many ADA-related continuing education courses we offer.

As you’ll quickly notice, the 2010 ADA Standards: Real World Application Course is unique because you’re taken “outside the classroom.” Throughout the six hour video course, you’ll join instructor Rodger Peck as he covers scoping requirements with on-site, real world accessibility examples in various public and private buildings.

Some of the on-site explanations include: 

  • Accessible Routes in an office building, sports arena, and swimming pool
  • Handicap Accessible Parking Spaces outside of a large business complex
  • Keeping a level surface area in a firing range
  • And many more!

After completing this course, you will be able to: 

  • Recognize how the overall philosophy of the Americans with Disabilities Act can, and does create an environment of opportunity and non-discrimination.
  • Be able recognize what facilities can, and should comply with ADA standards.
  • Outline at least one design strategy based on ADA standards for the construction of either a public or private building.
  • Summarize the options available to the design or building professional when designing a facility per the requirements of the ADA Standards.


Illinois Architects, your license renewal deadline is November 30th!
View all available Illinois continuing education courses and course packages below!

An Architect’s Guide to Creating Safe Polling Places

Despite the popularity of mail-in voting in the US this year, millions of people will still be voting in-person at the polls in less than a week. According to the CDC, people who vote in-person on a single day are at higher risk for COVID-19 because of the larger crowds and longer wait times. With that in mind, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) is hoping that election administrators take advantage of their recently released “safe polling place” resource guide.

As we’ve already seen, thoughtful design can help reduce the chances of exposure to COVID-19.To help protect everyone at the polls, AIA’s resource guide “provides architectural, engineering, operational and administrative strategies that election administrators and polling place workers can employ—as well as modify—for polling places and voting centers.”

Example Polling Place Modified To Reduce Transmission Risk Of Covid-19 / From

AIA created the guidelines using a combination of the latest public health information and their own research found in the “Re-Occupancy Assessment Tool.” The 3D illustrations, which were produced by the design firm Corgan—give clear examples for how to use the strategies in places large and small.

Have you worked on any recent projects that are COVID-19 related? Let us know on social media! And remember, if you’re an Architect in one of the following states, your license renewal deadline is December 31st! 

  • Alabama
  • Delaware
  • Kentucky
  • Missouri
  • North Carolina
  • New Mexico
  • Ohio
  • Texas
  • West Virginia
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Louisiana
  • Montana
  • Nebraska (L -Z)
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Utah
  • Wyoming

To view all state approved continuing education course packages, start by choosing your state.

Check out our on-demand continuing education courses by choosing your state below.

LARA Issues Warning Against Scam Targeting Michigan Architects

This month, the Michigan Bureau of Professional Licensing (BPL) within the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) announced that there has been a scam going around targeting architect licensees. 

If you’ve received any emails or text messages that claim to be associated with the Michigan government and they request sensitive personal information - this is a scam.

Here are some ways to keep your personal information safe:

  1. Do not trust unsolicited requests for any personal information. LARA will not contact you directly asking for personal information, and their official correspondence always includes a contact number or email address.

  2. Do not respond to or open hyperlinks in emails or text messages requesting to “validate your personal data.” If there are any hyperlinks in the email, check the link or URL before clicking. LARA websites always have the “” domain name.

  3. Do not share your licensing, personal, or financial information over the telephone or via text message with a purported representative of the Department. Contact LARA at or 517-241-0199 to verify if the Department is requesting any information from you.

  4. If you suspect fraud, report it immediately online to 

After following these steps to protect your information, don’t forget to ensure you stay licensed by completing your continuing education before October 31st! View our state-approved online course packages below.

Check out our on-demand continuing education courses by choosing your state below.