Collaboration to close the gap: Changing the materials industry and advancing our practice

Image: International Living Future Institute

By Lona Rerick, AIA

There is often a disconnect between our individual actions as designers and the downstream impacts of those decisions. We say what we want healthy, responsibly sourced products in every building. But it’s time to close the gap between the world we want and the actions we take.

Collaboration. It’s the buzzword we’re all using. And it’s also the only way forward if we want to fundamentally change the building products industry, a goal I’m passionate about as the chair of the AIA Materials Knowledge Working Group. Changing the industry means changing how products are made, what we know about them, and how that’s shared. And we can’t do it by ourselves.

The most important room to be in to facilitate the collaboration needed to advance the sustainable building materials economy is the one at the annual Living Product Expo. Hosted by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI)—the same team that administers the Living Building Challenge—the Expo brings together designers, manufacturers, clients, nonprofits, research groups, and more, in a space that sparks discussion and collaboration.

The Expo goes beyond a traditional trade show. ILFI ensures the Expo is about the cornerstones of collaboration—education and connection—where architects and manufacturers find themselves in the same breakout sessions solving each other’s challenges. You will find yourself having real conversations about the pitfalls, roadblocks, and complexities in one another’s jobs. You’ll learn about the many layers of the supply chain that you never knew existed when you “simply” asked for disclosure and wondered why you never heard back. You realize we’re all driving toward the same mission. And at that point, sitting on the same side of the table with newly gained empathy and understanding, you’re talking about solutions that work, and find that you’re informing the processes by which we actively create, design and specify healthier and smarter products.

The Living Product Expo already attracts people who are passionate about this transformation and interested in keeping the momentum going through ongoing dialog. In the spirit of advancing our own practice, we have a duty to be in the room, telling our industry partners face-to-face, that yes, disclosure, regenerative design, and Living Products all factor into our decision-making process when specifying. Our manufacturing partners can use this as feedback to build the business case for making real investments in materials for safe, regenerative products because they know they have a like-minded partner.

Join me at the Living Product Expo this September in Pittsburgh. It’s time to close the gap between the world we have and the one we want.

Lona Rerick, an architect and specifier at ZGF in Portland, Oregon, is the 2018 chair of the AIA Materials Knowledge Working Group.

1 comment




Yes! And don't forget to engage all those architects working in our schools conducting research on these very issues - collaboration is key!