Today I’m blogging live from the 2014 AIA Convention in Chicago. A trip to Chicago is always fun, but truthfully, I enjoy the AIA Convention wherever it is. I come for seminars that expand my mind. I attend to see friends and colleagues from across the country – including people I never get to see in my hometown. And I show up for the parties. But not necessarily in that order.

I kind of like where architecture is going these days, too. There are far more conversations at this conference about design and health, architecture and climate change, public-interest design and human-centered design. Maybe it’s just where I am, but the profession seems to have put the rose-colored Corbu goggles down and is focusing on big social issues to which architecture can contribute. And in a meaningful way.

Not that beauty isn’t important. I just don’t think we need 4-hour workshops on beauty.

For example: my four-hour workshop this morning was on health impact assessments. We heard about the Health Impact Project, a national collaboration between the Pew Charitable Trust and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to identify the health impacts of public policy. We learned about how architects participate in health impact assessments (HIAs) on things like development proposals and infrastructure projects. We were introduced to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a survey tool from the CDC that tracks and maps health indicators . . . and may have persuaded me to skip a couple of those parties. Or not.

And then there’s this new materials transparency movement.

As follow-up to last year’s Sustainability Leadership Opportunity Scan, the AIA has launched a new web page called Materials Matter. It’s dense with information on what green building products are, where they come from, what goes into them, and the crowded field of new reference standards and claims. It makes a great case for why architects should be pushing for readily available, transparent, and accurate information about what’s in building materials. The Convention has a whole materials seminar track and a nifty “materials matter” button. Because a serious conventioneer must wear nifty buttons.

And how does all this relate to the AIA 2030 Commitment? Glad you asked.

Ed Mazria will be our Friday keynote speaker. Yes, the founder of the 2030 Challenge that set the bar for building energy efficiency. Ed is still the avenging angel of architecture and climate change, but lately Architecture 2030 is not only focusing its research and advocacy work on energy use. They’re also looking at . . . materials.

The 2030 Challenge for Products also makes the point that materials matter. Their research says that over the first 20 years of a building’s life, 45% of its total energy consumption comes from the energy used to produce its building products (embodied energy) and by the construction process itself. Of course, this is because when a building is first built, 100% of its energy expenditure has come from materials and construction. But we haven’t been able to account for that impact. We don’t have meters that collect real-time data on embodied energy like we do for operational energy. But those carbon emissions from material fabrication are just as real as the ones caused by lighting loads and air conditioning.

So if we’re really serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, we must consider the carbon consequences of the materials we use, too.

There you have it. My mind has been pretty well expanded today. And now, it’s time to enjoy this beautiful city. Cheers!

This post originally appeared on the blog of Principal Mike Davis, FAIA.

Published Jun 25, 2014