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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.


Announcement: 2020 COD Conferences

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the AIA Committee on Design leadership voted to postpone the domestic and international conferences to 2021. The new dates for the conferences are Denver, May 13 to 16, and Singapore, October 9 to 22.

Same As It Ever Was or Life During Wartime?

  • 1.  Same As It Ever Was or Life During Wartime?

    Posted 05-10-2020 20:08
    As catastrophic as the global pandemic is, with so many architects and students wondering whether there will even be architecture on the other side for quite some time, as a student of architectural history I cannot help but feel an ultimate optimism about the next ten years in our discipline. It will be nothing if not an uncertainly exhilarating time to be an architect. For the first time since the beginnings of postmodernism (before The Weird Years), since the self-absorbed chaos of deconstruction, since the whatever the heck came next will eventually be called, I feel a sense of urgency exploding in our midst, the re-emergence of a global conversation, an architecture that is about something again, is returning to the fore. We feel the rush to help our fellow humans see a way to a new, healthier, saner, more inclusive, and once again viable normal.
    Certainly our profession, ever a canary in a coal mine, has already taken a huge hit. The economic destruction will cost us some amazing talents, people who of necessity will leave the endeavor of architecture. Hopefully they will find their ways back before long because, I already suspect, this '20s will end up through the lens of history as legendary as the last '20s, the flowering of early inter-war European Modernism, white houses with glass and chrome tubing, the Jazz Age and the Villa Savoye. Then as now, the word "hygienic" will assert itself in the architectural lexicon, with future historians not quite understanding its inclusion in our discussions as we do now.
    So the fun question - and we could all use some fun right about now - is what direction will it take? I can posit several, but I would like to hear what you think. Potential directions and rationales include:

    1. With a strong desire on the part of our clients for the restoration of historical continuity, will we see a push for the safe harbor of traditional architecture?
    2. Will there be a supercharged green design movement? Will that which heretofore has always had an eat-your-vegetables undertone take on a new sharpness, where "clean and green" becomes a mantra as we wrestle with a new urgency for a more future-proofed flexibility and openness? Will we see those new huddle rooms arrayed to also become small offices again if they need to, for the next pandemic, with the realization that sunlight also sterilizes, the idea that filtration is not just an add-on, that white + gloss is also easy to clean and disinfect, that we may all need to go off the grid again, a ubiquity of zero net energy, because the next time we may truly need to be off?
    3. Will we see a sudden focus on the re-imagination of urbanity, as we consider the re-tooling of cities? What will be the architectural translation of the need for personal driverless transit, not cattle cars, more TOD and less centralization, rather the expansion of medium density, with the internet of everything ready if needed as an armature for contact tracing. Think the new near West Side of Chicago (Google and Hamburger U), or the vision of most of the Tri-State Area evolving to a version of classic SoHo plus the ubiquity of driverless Ubers.
    4. And what of the idea of a global conversation? Will the trump/Johnson xenophobia, nations scrambling for PPE, lead to a greater emphasis on national forms and regional identities, or will architects' exploding virtual connections mean a true International Style, despite all that (obviously with climatic/geographic variations as the first go-around also produced)?
    These are just a few more obvious options, but as Daveed Diggs asked, what have I missed? Because as we thrash through the economic catastrophe that is upon us I do think that, as with the years after Armistice Day, this version of the '20s will end up being just as exhilarating as the last one. As part of a client with a large portfolio, I can already say that the speed of our profession's pivot, with the pace of firms suddenly - in a matter of weeks - coming up with legible, tangible responses, to help owners figure out what the beep the first/next wave of the new normal will look like, I see a profession ready to help our society imagine our way out of this, toward a new and more resonant architecture. Clearly process and data will be even more critical, but at the same time, what will that look like?


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    Eric Davis AIA
    Deputy Director, Cook County Department of Capital Planning and Policy
    Chicago, IL
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