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The Committee on Design (COD) was founded to promote design excellence among members of the AIA, the broader design community, and the public at large, both nationally and internationally.

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The next domestic conference is scheduled for Wednesday, October 19 thru Sunday, October 23 in Los Angeles.  An international conference is not planned for 2022 or 2023.

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An Open Letter to Ed Mazria and the AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE)

  • 1.  An Open Letter to Ed Mazria and the AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE)

    Posted 02-05-2022 01:09 AM
    Edited by Mike A. Mense FAIA Member Emeritus 02-05-2022 01:12 AM

    Dear Mr. Mazria

    In New York City, we are facing the immediate possibility of some 4 million square feet of structure (some of historical significance) being demolished to make way for a number of new glass towers around Penn Station.  You are a respected leader and so I am asking you to use your bully pulpit at this time to specifically advocate for the extended use of existing structure.

    Your various suggestions, recommendations, policies and so on have recognized the value in saving existing buildings when possible.  But that is lost in the complex enormity of the problem and its possible solutions.

    This is the elephant hiding in the details of our struggle to diminish climate change.  Many in the profession appear to see this as an existential threat. Contractors and architects alike prefer blank slates.  It isn't going to be easy.  I know full well how much harder it is to predict the cost of adaptive reuse projects.  We will still need to retrofit mechanical and electrical systems and sometimes upgrade the strength of existing structures.  That said.

    Isn't it time to prioritize the value of saving existing structures?  Especially in large cities?

    Isn't it time to demand that we measure the real costs of demolition and new construction against the real costs of adaptive reuse?

    To wit:

    • The wasting of the resources, materials and labor, used to create the existing structures
    • The expenditure of energy, equipment and labor in demolishing existing structures
    • The temporary disruption of the existing, and still alive, experience of the adjacent streets
    • The inevitable air pollution generated by the demolition
    • The expenditure of energy, equipment and labor in carting away demolished materials
    • In the case of large cities, the unjust foisting of these waste materials on less wealthy communities
    • On top of all of that, then, the myriad environmental costs of new construction.

    The impending demolition around Penn Station makes this a fine time for you, Mr. Mazria, and COTE, to rise up and say,

    "It's time for architectural education and the policies of AIA to adjust our understanding of who we are as architects.  The real cost (to the earth and our communities) of adaptive reuse is actually less than the cost of demolition and new construction.  As architects, we must adjust our skill sets.  We must adopt as our first and foremost recommendation the preservation and productive use of existing structure."

    I sincerely appreciate all of your efforts, and those of COTE, on behalf of the planet, our cities and our profession.  Nothing I say in this letter should be seen as a criticism of those efforts.

    Thank you for your consideration.  Be well and keep on doing good.

    Mike Mense FAIA

    former Chair, AIA Committee on Design

    active member of AIANYP&UD Committee                   

    Snohomish WA + New York NY    

    ps I was unable to figure out how to post this to COTE.  Maybe one of my friends could do so for me?  Hope so.  Thanks                                                       

    Mike Mense FAIA
    Architect, Writer, Planner, Urban Designer, Designer, Painter, Maker
    mensenyc on Instagram
    Hamilton Heights, NYC + Snohomish, WA
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  • 2.  RE: An Open Letter to Ed Mazria and the AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE)

    Posted 02-09-2022 02:16 PM
    Your Open Letter to Ed Mazria and COTE I view as one that must be given strong attention. You have pointed out that what we must do to keep from doing harm to the environment is very complex. Every one of your seven points is very important and should be included in decisions being made about every such project, large or small. 

    Thank you Mike Mense!    

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