COD vs COTE

I was in a shuttle going from the airport towards my hotel at the last AIA Convention in San Francisco when I overheard an amazed UK girl speaking to her mother. “Look mom, all the drivers are alone in their cars! There are no passengers!” she said. The mother tried to explain with futility, when the girl asked, “But why are there no passengers? Why are they driving the car for just one person?” The mother simply asked her to shush.

It brought back memories when I was that age and lived with parents in India. Quite simply, we used cars when at least two people were travelling. At other times we used scooters, bikes, mopeds, rickshaws, horse carts, three-wheelers, buses, and trains. This was not because of lack of means, but lifestyle and culture. I could count the number of times I had been inside an air-conditioned building on my two hands until I moved to US. We faced severe cold and heat with the same comfort as the pleasant spring and summer seasons. We lived among the rain and the fog. We adjusted. Our buildings worked, and we adapted to the seasons. Times have changed. Countries like India have “progressed” and become westernized in their luxuries. But are they getting away from nature in their pursuit of luxury? What’s the point of having an air-conditioner installed in a house if we face power-cuts? That’s common there, but may not be far from us at US. Are we prepared? Can our buildings function without electricity?

Environmental design, sustainability, green building, responsive design… whatever we call it… These words were new to me when I moved here. I didn’t initially understand why we were talking about these things. To me, it was part of design. I soon realized the dependence on fossil fuels that this country suffers from. Over the years, I have started to suffer from the same dependence. But I do understand what an experienced architect is talking about when they speak of green building versus someone fresh out of school. There is a big educational gap there. My architectural education in India was similar to US education 20 years ago, while my Masters at Michigan is of the current age. I’d say I’ve seen both sides of the coin. So what do we do about this?

In today’s date, LEED is considered the highest rating system for a building’s sustainability. There are strong opinions for and against LEED. Instead of getting into debates about how good LEED is, why don’t we stop and wonder; if we didn’t have LEED or similar rating systems, will all the buildings being constructed be sustainable? Is architecture all about form and function or are there certain basic principles that some architects overlook? Why are we separating the “LEED” items from a regular building design? I don’t think we should fight LEED because we think we know better! I believe it is an essential tool because without it, many professionals will be lost about how to properly design and construct a building. We need to have both discussions going on simultaneously – how to design well and how to design responsibly. I believe California is headed in the right direction through the adoption of Green Building Standards Code (CALGREEN). We need to lead the effort so Nevada isn’t much far behind. Time will tell how the International Green Construction Code (IGCC) will impact our work. In the meanwhile, let’s do what we can at home to design and construct well.

That brings me to the discussion of the Committee on the Environment (COTE) and the Committee on Design (COD). Why is COTE separate from COD? COD focuses on good design practices while COTE focuses on good environmental design practices. What?! Isn’t it the same thing?

One of my goals for this year was to start a local COD. Another goal was to restart COTE. After much deliberation and some discussions with peers who will spearhead the effort, we have come to the conclusion that these two missions need to be combined. We are starting an AIA Las Vegas Committee on Design that will be based on the missions of COD and COTE at the national level. We will not engage in debates on LEED and how to design green buildings. The mission would be to acknowledge good design. We do not plan on separating the two issues of good design and green design, because they aren’t separate! If you believe in DESIGN, please keep an eye on the upcoming announcements when we head start this new committee. To committee on “designed environments”… to Committee on Design!

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