Here’s How Architects Are Pushing for Safer Design Policies

Architects and Designers Urge Action on Healthier Policy Priorities

In the wake of the pandemic, designers and architects are inventing new solutions for nearly every sector of design. According to the World Health Organization, 19% of factors that affect our health and well-being are directly related to the built environment, making architects and designers key to protecting public health.

Metropolis Magazine recently wrote about three recent initiatives that introduce new building standards to help mitigate COVID-19 exposure and create healthier (and more sustainable) spaces during and after the current pandemic.

Built Environment Experts Petition the WHO, Urging Enhanced Guidance on the Role of Buildings in Addressing COVID-19

In a recent petition, more than 790 architects, engineers, and interior designers from over 50 countries have joined forces in a statement to Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, urging the WHO to advance best practices in indoor environments to protect from the spread of COVID-19.

“If the WHO recommends best practice air standards now before vaccines and therapeutic solutions are available, it will have a strong effect towards raising the public’s awareness of places where they spend time,” the statement reads, noting that air pollution affects our most vulnerable populations.

Approximately 70 percent of The Ng Teng Fong General Hospital by HOK is naturally ventilated, representing 82 percent of inpatient beds. The building uses 38 percent less energy than a typical Singaporean hospital and 69 percent less than a typical US hospital. Courtesy Rory Daniel

So far, the petition has gained the signatures of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), and the World Green Building Council, to name a few. “We hope that this global call to action will demonstrate that our buildings, our businesses, and our communities can be at the frontlines of this fight if we deploy them wisely,” says Rachel Gutter, president, IWBI.

USGBC Creates New LEED Safety First Pilot Credits + Healthy Economy Commitment

Back in June, the U.S. Green Building Council released guidance to address the pandemic and support buildings with reopening strategies. Four new Safety First Pilot Credits outline best practices that are both sustainable and align with public health guidelines related to cleaning, re-occupancy, HVAC, and plumbing operations. The credits are a part of a USGBC strategy released in May titled, Healthy People in Healthy Places Equals a Healthy Economy.

“These new credits are a first step in helping the building and construction industry demonstrate its commitment to sustainable strategies as part of building a healthier, more resilient future,” said Mahesh Ramanujam, president & CEO of USGBC in a recent press release.

In addition to the credits, the USGBC also released a Healthy Economy Commitment, urging public health officials and elected leaders to take action on green building policy priorities.

AIA Launches Policy Platform 2020

Earlier this month, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) launched the inaugural Policy Platform 2020 that serves as a statement on the organization’s policy priorities for U.S. presidential candidates and Congress.

Embodying the idea of “Building a Healthy America,” the platform focuses on three key areas: Economy, Climate Action, and Healthy and Equitable Communities. Committing to zero carbon practices, rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, promoting toxin-free living in affordable housing, and strengthening water and air quality policy are a few highlights.

“AIA supports strong and unequivocal policies that ensure that urgent climate change issues, including those that disproportionately impact communities of color, are immediately addressed,” stated AIA EVP and chief executive officer Robert Ivy, in an August 6th official press release.

*The full version of this article was originally published on

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Design Ideas for Safer, Post-Pandemic Schools

While many people are currently considering whether or not schools should open this fall, let's take a step back and look toward the future of education spaces. These design proposals, shown in ArchDaily, give a glimpse of what post-pandemic schools might look like.

Many new designs revolve around a common goal: increasing sustainability, emotional wellness, and physical health by creating more space for learning - especially outdoors. For New York-based design firm Cooper Robertson, blurring the lines between the indoors and outdoors essential for post-covid learning.

For their work on the Lyford Cay International Baccalaureate School in Nassau, Bahamas, Cooper Robertson prioritized creating learning environments with better access to light, fresh air, and outdoor space. The main building is only one room wide, creating cross ventilation for all interior spaces, with 12-foot-wide verandas that flank each classroom to expand floor space into the outdoors. The campus also features a dedicated outdoor classroom space.

Layford Cay Concept: Image from Cooper Robertson

Recently, the Brooklyn Laboratory Charter Schools (LAB) and the Urban Projects Collaborative (UPC) partnered with six New York-based architecture firms to create the "Back to School Facilities Tool Kit.” In this toolkit, the six firms proposed design ideas that “allow for proper physical distancing and a safe journey from home to school.” The most effective ideas will move forward through design, construction, and installation in preparation for occupancy.

Integrating new requirements for health and safety, the guidelines will become a resource for schools to create fair, equitable plans to reopen their doors, while protecting the well-being of all students, teachers, staff, and their families.

Ideas from the tool kit include ways to improve the school entry process, and new classroom layouts that support social distancing.

Classroom Concepts from the Tool Kit. Image from ArchDaily

How would you improve the layout of schools or any public building to make it safer for today and the future? Let us know on social media!

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Advice for Recent Graduates & Young Professional Architects

Last week, Chicago-based architect John Ronan wrote a wonderful article full of advice for young designers starting their careers. Below is a “short-attention-span friendly” version that you can skim during lunch (or in the bathroom - no judgement).


Architecture school teaches you how to be a good student, but it doesn’t teach you how to be a good architect. Your first job in architecture is critical because it shapes your understanding of the field when you are most impressionable. The habits you pick up there will serve you (or dog you) for a lifetime.

Here are suggestions to help you avoid some common missteps and hopefully make seeing your path a little easier.

Passion is overrated. 

About 90 percent of cover letters we get from entry-level job applicants include something like “I am passionate about architecture.” Frankly, I don’t care about your passions; I care about what you are good at. It’s better to say that you are passionate about a hobby, but that your talents lie in architecture.

Avoid goals.

Conventional wisdom says you need goals to be successful. But if you always strive for specific outcomes, you will live your life in partial failure every day until you reach that goal (or don’t). It is better to develop good habits that move you in a positive direction, while staying open-minded about what success might look like.

Failing is good.

Just as a good design is the result of many discarded inferior versions, your life should be a trial-and-error process. Each failure brings you closer to what you were supposed to be doing anyway. So fail early, fail often.

Be an onion.

Someone good at a variety of things is more valuable than one who is only good at one thing. Your chances of success increase with each new skill you develop (as long as those skills are complementary), so become good at other things (speaking, writing, technical knowledge) and layer your skills like an onion.

The path you travel is not an easy one, but life is less about what happens to you and more about how you respond to what happens to you; persevere. Our world is changing rapidly, and soon we will need you to lead the way. We’re counting on you.

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ICC vs UpCodes

The International Code Council has filed suit against San Francisco based company UpCodes.

UpCodes is a software firm that is utilizing the ICC’s building codes in an AI program which helps architects review their plans in comparison to the building codes. Architects can upload the plan models and the program will flag areas in the design that are not up to code, saving valuable time and money when it comes to design errors. While the program is not fool-proof, many say that the low cost makes it worth the investment if it catches even one costly error.

According to the Architect’s Newspaper, UpCodes believes their use of the codes are fair, as there is precedent that once copyrighted material becomes law it passes into the public domain. Court cases dating as far back as 1980 have been cited by UpCodes founder in defense of their use of the codes as public domain material.

The ICC argues differently, however, citing that “loss of copyright could impair code development” (ArchPaper). The ICC is a non-profit organization, and the codes are developed essentially by volunteers from multiple industries. The Code Council recoups the cost of the production of the codes through sales of code books, as well as training and consulting programs. Their claim is that they make the codes transparently available, whether online or in print form, and that UpCodes should not be utilizing the codes in order to turn a profit.

Essentially, these two companies are on opposite sides of the same coin. They both want to ensure that buildings are being built up to code and are therefore safe for the public. UpCodes feels the ICC has a monopoly on the printing of building codes, while the ICC feels their control over the codes is important to the integrity of the code itself. Time will tell which side prevails, as the decision now lies with the courts.

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Thermoset Technology – Stronger & Lighter Than Steel

Stronger and lighter than steel, Thermoset technology may be the future of architecture. According to an article by Arch Daily, this revolutionary material solves many common structural and construction problems while simultaneously allowing architects a new freedom with their designs.

Originally created as aerospace technology, advanced fiber-reinforced materials are now being used in the manufacturing of new buildings, opening new and exciting design possibilities for architects.

Makers of these materials can manufacture building components off-site, and the light-weight material is then shipped to the construction site where it can be put together quickly and easily by smaller crews of contractors, thus cutting down on construction costs.

Additionally, the strength of Thermoset materials far out-weighs steel, by nearly 6 times. This strength has immense applications for building considerations, allowing for more structural freedom while still providing protection from environmental hazards like earthquakes.

Another benefit is that these materials can be molded into literally any shape, giving architects open concept freedom when it comes to building design--fantastic shapes can be brought to life on a huge scale while still maintaining structural integrity. The possibilities are quite literally endless.

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Renowned Architect Philip G. Freelon Passed Away July 9th

Architect Philip G. Freelon passed away at his home on July 9th, 2019 from Lou Gehrig’s disease, otherwise known as amytrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He was 66.

Freelon was an architect noted for his work on several high profile buildings including “the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson” (NYTimes).

Freelon was passionate about increasing diversity in the architectural field, according to an article with The Undefeated—he spent time speaking in schools with high minority populations, and he established the Freelon Fellowship in 2016 to provide a marginalized student financial aid to Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Additionally, many of the buildings he and his firm have designed have been notable buildings in traditionally black neighborhoods, from museums to bus shelters.

Early in his career, Freelon knew what inspired him. He didn’t want to “design prisons, strip malls or casinos,” he told The Undefeated: “The work that excited me were schools, libraries and similar projects that positively impacted the community.” Undoubtedly, his work and ideals will live on in the communities he served, providing future inspiration for generations to come.

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Detroit Revitalization

In 2013, Detroit became the largest municipality in the country to ever have filed for bankruptcy. Nearly 7 years later, city leaders are bringing the city back from destruction: one revitalization project at a time.

While the city still has many problems, ranging from abandoned buildings to infrastructure issues, city leaders have begun implementing initiatives to revitalize the city. Big on the docket: city planning. According to an article in The Architect’s Newspaper, Maurice Cox, architect and former Charlottesville mayor, has developed a team of “36 planners, architects, urban designers, and landscape designers” billed as a think tank to reignite the city of Detroit—preserving existing culture while rebuilding infrastructure in a fresh and vibrant way that will encourage investment and draw new populations to the city.

Cox and his team are determined to harness Detroit’s high levels of community engagement, taking advice gleaned from town halls and other resident inputs to achieve their goals. Many of the team’s initiatives have focused on areas with low population density that are surrounded by higher population-dense areas. Their plans have included a new bike/pedestrian loop through median-income neighborhoods, neighborhood re-designs, and building incentives throughout the city.

In the spirit of preserving Detroit traditions, developers have been given double density allowances if they are able to preserve the architectural facades of buildings while re-designing the interiors. This plan is one of many ways that city planners are trying to encourage developers to keep the unique landscape of Detroit in tact while providing new and improved spaces for residential and commercial use.

Another initiative being put into place by developers Fitz Forward, is a complete overhaul of the Fitzgerald neighborhood, where over 300 properties will be revitalized. By remodeling some homes and beautifying vacant lots with parks and meadows, the developers seek to draw targeted populations to the neighborhood, thus revitalizing the area for current residents as well. Fixing up run down properties and drawing in new tenants helps home owners currently in the area by bringing up property prices and making the area more secure.

These types of projects show forward thinking on the city planner’s part: by determining the needs of current and future citizens alike, they are aiming to use design as well as innovation to heal the city. Both strengths and weaknesses abound in Detroit, but Cox and his team are working hard to “provoke a new kind of urban revitalization: one in harmony with nature and existing cultures, [and] informed by the urban progress made over the last few decades.” (ArchPaper)

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World-Famous Architect, known for Pyramid at Lourve, I.M. Pei dies at 102

The world has lost one of its most prominent architects. I.M. Pei died May 16 at a Manhattan hospital at 102 years of age. While the man is gone, his buildings will live on and carry on the spirit of the iconic modernist.

Pei was best known for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, glass pyramid entrance at the Lourve art museum in Paris, the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston as well as the National Gallery of Art’s East building in Washington D.C.

His buildings are simplistic, inviting, elegant and iconic. He’s also known for his use of geometry and light. He was a leader in designing cultural institutions and cultural center points. He’s won every notable architectural award, including the Pritzker Prize. Judges at the time said Pei created “some of [the century’s] most beautiful interior spaces and exterior forms.”

Pei was born in 1917 in China. He moved to the United States and studied architecture at MIT and Harvard. He owned a firm called Pei Cobb nFreed & Partners and his two sons own Pei Partnership Architects in New York City.

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Make It Right Foundation, Did Not Make It Right

The actor Brad Pitt and his foundation have come under fire after homes built for residents that were hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina developed leaks and flaws attributed to defective design work.

Between the years 2008-2015, Make It Right set out to build 150 homes in New Orleans to replace ruined homes. These houses were sold at affordable prices to former residents but many of them houses started deteriorating much sooner than expected.

On September 7, 2018, New Orleans attorney Ron Austin filed a class-action lawsuit against the Make It Right Foundation on behalf of two residents whose homes were damaged by leakage. Austin issued a statement expressing his belief that “Make It Right, its board members, including Pitt, and chief officers knew about the structural and construction problems associated with the Make It Right homes for years, yet said nothing to the residents,” according to NOLA.

In turn, Make It Right filed a lawsuit against the project architect John C. Williams for the defective design work. The foundation accuses Williams of being responsible for several failures to adequately waterproof the homes. The lawsuit does not hold Williams liable for damages caused by TiberSIL, an experimental weatherproof wood product. Make It Right sued the manufacturer of Timber SIL for $500,000 back in 2014. In a prepared statement, the Make It Right Foundation pledged to work proactively with the homeowners.