Resilience

To me “resilience” is to not accept failure, to work harder each time the challenge is bigger, and to keep trying until I succeed. I’m not sure where it all ends, but I’m far from my end. Each one of us has that energy within us to bounce up when we fall. We are designed with the mechanism needed to reach the top and win each failure. This applies to every aspect of our lives. The fact that you are reading this proves that you are a professional who is curious to read your organization’s newsletter, and are still surviving in the midst of the seemingly never-ending recession. You have what it takes.

This is the first recession I’ve faced. But as I understand from my superiors the cycle of recession repeats itself again and again, while some stress that this is the worst recorded recession. Simple conclusion is that even when things get better, another recession will come back after a few more years. The building industry is one of the worst hit industries each time. We need to figure out a way so we don’t suffer this next time around.

We started this year with the theme of “rejuvenating architecture” in which we pledged to fight back the results of 2009 recession with renewed energy. How are we doing? We are coming to an end of this year very quickly. Have we architects done better this year than the previous? What are our future prospects? Don’t give in yet; be resilient. We will prevail.

The “it” word these days is “resilient” in all sorts of business world discussions. Architects shouldn’t stay behind. On November 17 the AIA Las Vegas Emerging Professionals and Young Architects Forum (EPYAF) has organized a half day workshop on the theme of “Resilient Architecture”. While we try to stay afloat in these tough times, maybe we should take advantage of the down time and gain some skills to avoid facing similar problems in future. There are certain avenues that we can focus on, maybe some level of diversification, and key steps we could take to secure our futures as the leaders of the building industry. Based on the predicted future trends of the profession, the workshop will focus on four areas – wellness, education, technology, and economy. The results of the workshop will be presented at the end of the evening. This workshop might widen your perspective towards future, so please join us. The details of the workshop are included in the newsletter.

By the way, election period is here! More than ever our legislative committee is working very diligently during this election to plant some seeds in our leaders’ future plans. We were approached by Senator Horsford to help on the plans for “Envisioning Nevada’s Future” created by the Nevada Vision Stakeholder Group. Our task force is working together on the expansion of the vision.

We are continuing to increase the PAC funding, and support all the leaders’ policies that help the future of our profession. AIA is a non-partisan association and provides a support system to all candidates who need guidance from architectural or construction standpoint. If you are in support of a candidate and would like AIA’s assistance in any way, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Don’t forget to vote.

And now for smiles, I’d like to congratulate all the winners of 2010 AIA Nevada Design Awards and Honor Awards. Thanks to everybody who participated and I encourage you to do so again next time. Congratulations to all the winners of product show giveaways, and thanks to all the exhibitors and speakers for the CE classes. If you attended the WMR conference, share with us your stories!

Enjoy the winter and have a Happy Thanksgiving!!

What does AIA do for me?

We hear such questions often…  What has AIA done for the profession? What does AIA do for me? What are the board members of our chapter doing for us? Where is all the membership money going?

My question is… who is AIA? WE are the AIA! AIA is not a separate entity managing us and our finances. We manage our own assets at AIA and it is us that we serve. The mission of AIA is to be “the voice of the architectural profession and a resource for its members in service to society.” That’s what the board of directors is trying to do every day: serve.

How many of us really know what it means to be an AIA Las Vegas Director? Being an AIA Director should be seen as a privilege because it allows you to make things happen that we want to see AIA doing. One should not run for an election because they want it in their resume or they are marketing their firms. One needs to have passion to make a difference or to continue the progress on the aspects that already work well. If we do it for the right reasons, we can certainly help the profession.

The nominations for the elections are still ongoing. I encourage you to send the nominations for strong leaders with variety of assets and backgrounds. I believe that when a person starts on the AIA Las Vegas board, they already should have an idea on what it is that they want to do in their role. One shouldn’t have to give you your job responsibility; you create your own responsibilities. You volunteer your own time as much as you can and you make of it whatever you want to get out of it. Whether your passion is codes, residential work, environmental responsibility, golf, products, urban design, event planning, socializing, managing, finances, or even running raffles, you can add significantly to the board. We need a variety of skills and we certainly need passionate people. Ones with passion are usually responsible as well.

In terms of time, you can input 10 hours a month to 30 hours a month towards this volunteer role. It is entirely up to you. The more you give, the more you get. It has been an incredible learning experience for me. I started with USGBC Nevada board first and joined AIA Las Vegas board later. I can’t imagine having grown professionally as much if I had worked in an office all day. I wouldn’t enjoy moving forward without volunteering some of my time anymore! It is the most rewarding experience in my opinion. If I could do volunteer work for a living, that would be perfect! And yet again… the more you do for the AIA, the more it will do for you in terms of your own learning experiences.

Where the membership dues are spent is a public record. Please feel free to stop by the AIA office anytime and we can share where the money is going. The board of directors is not partying with the AIA money, the expenses for our travel to conferences are not being paid by the AIA, and the lunch we have during the board meetings is not paid by the AIA. The AIA staff has more workload than three people can handle and they do an incredible job at it. Our chapter would not be so successful if not for the three ladies that work for AIA.

I do want to bring attention to another avenue that is often neglected – committees. Do you know what our committees are? Membership, Programs, Emerging Professionals/Young Architects Forum, Committee on Design, Advisory, Legislative Affairs, Product Show, Golf Tournament, High School Design Awards, and Architecture Week. There are numerous avenues where we can use your help. Please ask us today how you can join one of our committees and help make 2011 a better year than 2010. (Rob, you owe me one for this!)

We look forward to all the great people who will be joining our board next year and we thank all the board members who are currently serving on the board with me. They are incredible individuals that I continue to learn from. At the next meeting, please come and talk to us. We want to listen to you and act. Please consider running for the elections and certainly don’t forget to vote!

Architects’ Responsibility in Disasters

Is it just me or has there been too much about natural calamities in the news lately? Earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, fires, and now a volcanic eruption! All superstitions aside, what’s going on? Scientists and religious people have various opinions and are projecting increasing number of incidents in future. Although we can’t do anything to prevent these disasters, there are steps we can take to help the people that are struck by them. What is the responsibility of our profession towards such disasters?

Google ‘refugee housing’ and you’ll find numerous results for architectural solutions proposed or implemented, ranging from sand bag walls to shipping container houses. There are also enormous complaints about such solutions. We can either sit back and laugh at the debates, or take action. The question is –‘timing’. WHEN we take action may be more important than WHAT action we take. Scientists have created a long list of all the possible places that these disasters may occur in future. Unfortunately they can’t predict exactly when the disasters will take place. We can narrow down the WHERE; we don’t know the WHEN. Why should we wait for the WHEN? Let’s figure out the WHAT first! What do we do as architects? We need to plan for disasters beforehand instead of being reactive each time.

Last year the number of people living in urban areas crossed the line of rural area world population for the first time. The highest degree of life loss will occur in major cities when nature strikes. Most of these cities will be along the coast. Our own region sits on a fault line and when the earthquake hits, loss of life may be enormous. The competitive business life may lead us towards the rush for clients. But we play a major role in the survival and deaths of those hit by disasters. The highest life loss is a result of bad architecture and construction. When we think of refugee camps, think of the separated families, of a person who lost a limb, a lady who is pregnant, a blind person, a crying child… They are people just like us lost in the hustle and bustle. Other than food and water, they need immediate SHELTER.

The architectural solution should be quick to install, easy to transport, durable, flexible, humane, and adaptable to the region. The layout should create a livable community with shared facilities as well as individual privacy. Needless to say, the structures should be environment friendly and regenerative with net zero energy and water use. Aesthetics should not be negated just because these are temporary structures. Think of the structures that are built for the Olympics. How much thought goes in those! If we can respect the recreation needs, we certainly need to respect the shelter needs. Many of us have more time at hand than before. Why not put our heads together and design for the next disaster now, before we scramble to find another shipping container!

I took the liberty of sharing my opinion. Now it’s your turn to share your creative solutions. If you didn’t participate in the COD Ideas competition, make sure to check the winning solutions in June!

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!

Rejuvenating Architecture

The calls started in 2008… “Is your firm hiring? I’m looking.” The calls increased with time. Halfway through 2009, the phone went silent. The lay-offs hadn’t stopped, but it was known by then that nobody was hiring. Firm owners had lost well-trained competent employees. The decisions were tough and heartbreaking, but had to be made. Managers lost key team members, while the team members lost their source of income. Some were forced to change their field to make ends meet, some moved away, while others are just waiting. Everybody lost top to bottom. The biggest loss… morale.

What do we do when we’ve suffered a major loss? We fight back! Forget the past, its history. We need to spend our energy looking ahead, not in the rearview mirror. The innovators and risk-takers will survive; those who wait for the better times are not the fittest. The focus needs to shift to future possibilities and making them happen through any associated costs. The key tool – adaptability. Future is uncertain; but if things were certain, there’ll be no reason to fight!

Let us reestablish architects as the leaders of the built environment. To rejuvenating architecture!