Looking Forward: Architecture in a Post COVID-19 World

In an effort to give you a break from the negative news cycle, we want to look forward toward the future and the many possibilities it brings for architects.

In recent weeks, the Moving Forward Act has made its way through Congress. Late last month, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) announced their support of the bill. AIA President Jane Frederick said “Passing the Moving Forward Act is a necessary next step that we must take as a nation in order to deliver the opportunities that American workers—including architects—desperately need.”

The proposal allocates billions of dollars for infrastructure improvements such as:

  • The Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act, which would provide funding for improvements to school infrastructure, especially those in high-poverty areas, and upgrading child-care facilities.
  • Encourage the rehabilitation of historic buildings through the temporary increase of the Historic Tax Credit
  • Improve affordable housing infrastructure by creating and preserving 1.8 million affordable homes
  • Establish a new Neighborhood Investment tax credit that would subsidize certain development costs to encourage the rehabilitation of vacant homes or construction of new homes in distressed areas

As architects, you’re responsible for much more than just designing safe and beautiful structures; your work can make a positive difference in communities around the country. The schools you help build or renovate (especially in lower income areas) bring opportunities for success that weren’t possible before. Working to increase affordable housing works toward lowering homeless rates and gives families a sense of security.

When it comes time to rebuild the nation (financially and literally), we are proud to help architects like you make positive changes in your local community.

Is it almost time to renew your license?

The following states have continuing education deadlines approaching:

7/31/20 - WI

8/31/20 - MA

10/31/20 - MI

11/31/20 - IL

12/31/20 - AL, AR, DE, FL, KY, LA, MO, MT, NC, NE (L-Z), NM, NV, OH, OR, TX, UT, WV, WY



Pepperdine’s Architecture And Fire Safety

Pepperdine has developed a shelter-in-place policy with close collaboration with the Los Angeles County Fire Department that allows students to remain on campus for a range of disasters, including the Woolsey Fire that hit California last fall.

The policy was developed after a close encounter with a wild fire in 1985 and has been implemented for every fire since 1993. Another key reason that Pepperdine took more preventative measures was how close they are to the Pacific Coast Highway. If Malibu residents are ordered an evacuation, gridlock becomes a big issue especially since a lot of students may not have vehicles.

Pepperdine’s best defense against wild fires is the campus design itself. Its architect was William Pereira, who was based in Los Angeles. Pereira was commissioned to create a master plan for Malibu in 1965, but the plan was never made public. Instead he was able revisit his ideas with Pepperdine years later when they gave him the opportunity.

Curbed describes the campus as “Mediterranean modern: angular cast-concrete volumes situated around wide concrete plazas with spectacular ocean vistas.” The campus structures make good use of fire-resistant decorative materials like glass and ceramic. Even the shape of the buildings with steep Spanish-tile rooflines helps ensure that fire won’t get trapped beneath the eaves. Of Pepperdine’s 830 acres—500 acres have no structure. Pereira’s vision for the campus included dense clustering of buildings to maintain open spaces. He also preserved a meadow and designed a water infrastructure to recycle waste water and store it on site.

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Weatherization and Renewable Energy Course

This is a snippet from our Weatherization and Renewable Energy Course - Purchase the course for AIA & State Credit

Thermal and Moisture Protection

Most construction claims result from a failure of the building envelope or shell caused by poor design or construction. Often, damage is caused  by contractors and laborers while maintaining or erecting residential and commercial structures. Unfortunately, the original building plans or original design may lack sufficient detail to prevent exterior shell failure.

Workers often fail to assemble structures in accordance with properly written plans. Too often, workers are uneducated about proper construction of building systems and the use of materials per the manufacturer’s recommendations and reasonable “best practices” for construction of homes and buildings in coastal, mountainous or areas with relatively high humidity. Thermal and moisture protection is the entire country’s problem!

Occasionally, construction workers inadvertently damage the building envelope while maintaining or working on items not directly related to the building exterior, causing it to be compromised and fail over the course of time. The time it takes for an “EXTERIOR SHELL” mistake to cause noticeable damage can take from only a few days to several years. At times, repairs may cost more than the building is worth!

Unfortunately, most workers and contractors of new homes rarely get to see, first hand, the mistakes they’ve made. It usually takes a period of time before the building shell failure becomes evident. Often, the failure happens after the original warranty has expired and the repairs are then the responsibility of the disgruntled home-owner who feels compelled to hire a different contractor!

Improper design, construction application and inadvertent damage can all compromise the exterior shell of a structure and result in immediate or delayed building envelope failure. Building shell failures often result in water being allowed to enter the structure in a manner that is contrary to the intended design. Water must be forced to the exterior of the envelope by weep holes or ventilation.  Delayed failure is almost always more expensive to remedy!

Primary claims.  Water, whether liquid or vapor, when allowed to enter the building shell can cause a host of problems. Warranty and insurance claims result from:

•  Damage to exterior systems and structure
•  Failure due to rot
•  Damaged, unrelated components that are not part of the building envelope
•  Mold

In areas prone to damage by water and water vapor, programs are often available to provide weatherization and energy conservation services at no cost to households with relatively low median income. Primary funding for these programs is from the U.S. Department of Energy with other funds from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, utility companies and local entities like Community Action or Habitat for Humanity... Yes...there is program assistance for those who need it, but remember assistance still costs taxpayers. In the long run, everybody pays!

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5 Things Architects Can Do To Help With Climate Change

1. Retrofit Existing Buildings

An easy way to reduce the carbon footprint is to not build new buildings. Minimize the demolition and maximize the reuse of existing structures. Transforming a building also helps preserve history and installs future promise.

2. Reduce the Use Of Concrete

The main reason concrete has a huge carbon footprint is because of the large quantities being used. A study recently showed cement and concrete is responsible for 8% of the world’s CO2 emissions. “If concrete is replaced by almost any other material, it would have a bigger carbon footprint,” said Piers Taylor, founder of Invisible Studio If the construction industry is to make a reduction in CO2 emissions, it needs a new strategic design approach when it comes to concrete.

3. Understand How Buildings Are Performing In Use

Whole life carbon is viewed through embodied carbon and operational carbon. Carbon emissions associated with a building’s day-to-day energy can be measured through information from energy bills and meter readings. This information can give architects a better understanding of how well a building is performing and help encourage them to engage with design solutions.

Understanding embodied carbon is equally important as operational carbon, and there are BIM-based tools to get an easy and fast assessment on projects.

4. Treat embodied carbon with higher importance

According to The Architect’s Journal, “The embodied carbon costs of the materials and systems we choose for our buildings, perhaps surprisingly, make up the majority of a building’s lifetime carbon emissions.” Architects oversee the design’s carbon performance.

Reducing carbon and being resource efficient goes hand-in-hand like using recycled content, the reuse of structures and buildings, and using renewal materials. To understand this the architect must understand the supply chain of:

  • What things are made of
  • Where they come from
  • Where they will be going at the end of a building’s life

5. Make sure every design has optimized massing and orientation

Work hard early in the design process to help optimize the building performance. They are basic principles but getting the massing and orientation right early on will help pave the way for net-zero buildings. Answering questions such as:

  • Is the building using more energy just because of its form?
  • Does it have too much surface area or too much glazing?
  • Is its thermal envelope easy to map?

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Northern Florida Revisits Building Code

Florida has some of the toughest building codes in the nation, but Hurricane Michael showed that the northern part of the state and the panhandle did not. The category 4 hurricane made landfall on October 10th at Mexico Beach. Entire blocks were flattened and 75% of the town gone. According to Mypanhandle.com, the estimated insured losses topped around 6 Billion dollars from Hurricane Michael.
One factor for the extreme destruction of Mexico Beach and nearby cities were the substandard construction practices that predated the building code. Craig Fugate, the former head of FEMA and a longtime emergency management official in Florida, told NPR “it’s not a bunch of high-rises. It’s not a lot of new construction. This is multigenerational Florida families. Many of them were descendants of folks who fished the areas.”

South Florida took serious actions on improving their building code in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew hit. Miami-Dade and Broward counties implemented strict standards to making structures withstand winds up to 175 mph.

Don Brown, a former legislator from the Panhandle and sits on the Building Commission, says “We are vulnerable as any other part of the state. There was this whole notion that the trees were going to help us, take the wind out of the storm. Those trees become projectiles and flying objects.”

The Florida Building Commission is in the process of revising the state code but realtors, homebuilders, and the insurance industry will have a voice as the state considers how to prepare for another storm like Hurricane Michael.

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Seattle Takes A Closer Look At Infrastructure For Earthquake

The Cascadia Subduction Zone is a convergent plate boundary in the Pacific Ocean, that stretches from Vancouver Island in Canada to Northern California. The Cascadia Subduction Zone can produce large earthquakes when ruptured and could exceed a magnitude 9.0.

Research from the M9 project, a study estimating the impact from a magnitude 9 Cascadia quake, shows that high rises are at greater risk than previously thought. The Seattle Times reported the estimated effects of a magnitude 9.0 earthquake in the region stating, “the vast, sediment-filled basin under Seattle can magnify the type of ground shaking that puts high-rises at risk of collapse by a factor of two to five, which can trigger stronger surface effects than earthquakes in nearby California.”

As a result of the M9 findings, Seattle and Bellevue plan on revising their seismic construction standards for new buildings over 240 feet (20 stories tall). The new standard would require high-rises to be stronger than and sturdier than their predecessors without sacrificing cost.

There are also concerns regarding Seattle’s older high-rises. Many of which were constructed between the 1960s-90s, before the dangers of earthquakes were fully understood. They have a greater risk of damage and collapse because of their fracture-prone welded joints, which are suppose to secure the steel frame, and poorly-reinforced concrete supports.

Ron Klemencic, CEO of an engineering firm that helped design many of Seattle’s and San Francisco’s tallest buildings, expressed more concern with the water systems and older brick buildings than the high rises. High-rises are generally designed to withstand winds that exert more force than an earthquake shaking.  Klemencic’s company is headquartered in the Rainier Tower, despite its fractured-prone welds.
“That should tell you that we’re not particularly worried” he added.

Although the M9 results mean that high-rises aren’t as safe as previously assumed, people should not be concerned with the “Big One” happening tomorrow. They should take steps and be prepared for the future. Having a plan in place and working towards a solution later down the road helps increase the chance of solving the problem before its too late.

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