IC editor Robert Gilman has been working with the American Institute of Architects since Spring 1992, helping its leadership to bring sustainability into the very core of the profession. Thus far, he has authored a design competition, which was judged at the 1993 World Congress of Architects in June; helped design the congress format and content; authored the "Declaration of Interdependence" signed at the convention; and participated in an AIA feasibility study conducted at the request of the Clinton administration on the "greening of the White House." Here’s his report on the state of the art in sustainable design.

This year’s World Congress of the International Union of Architects (UIA) and the AIA was the setting for a major shift in the way architects are defining their profession. The congress brought together 6,000 architects and design professionals from around the world under the theme, "Architecture at the Crossroads: Designing for a Sustainable Future."

The presidents of the UIA and AIA and more than 3,000 congress participants signed a "Declaration of Interdependence for a Sustainable Future," which committed the architectural profession to placing environmental and social sustainability at the core of its practices and professional responsibilities.

Signers also committed themselves to bringing "all existing and future elements of the built environment – in their design, production, use, and eventual reuse – up to sustainable design standards." Many architects are now working hard to turn these words into reality.

The congress was the culmination of a year-long process which included three nationwide teleconferences on sustainable design and "A Call for Sustainable Community Solutions," an international competition sponsored by the UIA, the AIA, and UNESCO.

One of the competition’s many unusual features was that the jury clearly was looking for whole-systems solutions that encompassed "the full cultural complexity of sustainability."

Among those meeting that challenge was a winning entry by Tom Bender (architect and former editor of RAIN magazine) entitled "Building Real Wealth." Tom’s entry showed how we can move "our industrialized societies and our built environment into patterns which are sustainable" through redefining what real wealth means for the planet, the community and the individual.

Tom’s was one of 406 entries from 50 countries; other winners came from Thailand, Cuba, Yugoslavia, China, England, Saudi Arabia, and the US. About a hundred of the entries are now being incorporated into a book on sustainable community design.

Shortly after the congress, the AIA pulled together a feasibility study in response to the Clinton Administration’s plan to do an environmental upgrade of the buildings in the White House complex. The study involved multidisciplinary teams of experts from all over the country addressing all aspects of sustainable design.

The White House Office of Environmental Policy notes that more than 2 million people visit the White House each year, giving it a "rare opportunity to showcase environmental and energy-efficient technologies." There’s good reason to hope that this could be a highly visible example of the kind of sensitive and effective retrofitting that is possible today.

And just freshly out: a set of four videos based on the teleconference series, covering "Energy and Resource Efficiency," "Healthy Buildings and Materials," "Sustainable Communities," and "Case Studies in Environmentally Responsible Design." For copies, contact the AIA at 800/365-ARCH (2724).

The momentum for sustainable design continues to grow. Every week I hear about yet another project or conference. Stay tuned; we’ll keep you posted.

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