In many ways architecture is wired to meet the technical challenges posed by the climate crisis. Thanks to the architects, engineers, builders and scientists at the forefront of the sustainability movement, we’ve already seen inspiring leaps in building performance and low-carbon construction. For our practice, the hard work lies in bringing everyone to the table. While building codes and programs like LEED, Living Building Challenge, and the 2030 Challenge are important levers of change, the embrace needs to reach much further and the aims, much broader.
Seizing the Moment
With increasing climate disasters heightening our sense of urgency, architects aren’t alone in feeling that we've reached an inflection point. It's a moment that bears some reflection. How have these events affected our clients and the communities we work in? What have we learned, and with this knowledge, what actions will we take?
In 2019, JENSEN signed on to the AIA 2030 Commitment, joining just over 800 architectural firms across the country in the campaign to achieve carbon neutral buildings, renovations and developments by 2030. To be frank, the commitment was a big leap, but we’ve come to terms with our responsibility to address climate change and were confident we can make a difference. As we prepare for a future shaped by unprecedented challenges our outlook is one of hope and resolve.
California and the Bay Area have robust energy and environmental requirements, but code minimum is not enough, particularly with respect to embodied carbon, which our building codes have yet to address. San Francisco requires LEED certification for commercial projects over 25,000 SF, but many of our projects fall below this threshold. If, in the past, the nature and scale of our work — art spaces, private residences, shops and workplaces – hasn’t lent itself to a bold sustainability agenda, then our charge is to change that.
What gives us hope are the conversations we are having with our clients. We already have learned a great deal from them as they navigated the events of the past year. Programs and priorities have shifted, as well as their outlook for the way they want to live and work. These conversations began as responses to a crisis, and have evolved to confront the ways that we should design for the future. In doing so, they highlight the connections between healthy indoor air, wildfire resistance, evolving work-life practices, and climate resilience. For example, air-tight building envelopes mean indoor spaces where we can breath with smoke-filled skies, and indoor-outdoor spaces make flexible places for safe gatherings with loved ones.
For our part, we’re committing to placing sustainability and resiliency more squarely at the center of our design process. And to take it deeper, we’re committing to advancing tools and practices that make the values and benefits of sustainability more accessible to projects of every type and scale. We are imagining a toolkit of design strategies and specifications that streamlines the process and connects the dots between the environment, wellness and equity.
To be sure, this isn’t a problem we’ll solve on our own. As I look ahead to the future, I’m heartened by the spirit of cooperation, the open sharing of tools, data and knowledge, that is the foundation of the 2030 Challenge. As professionals and community leaders we have an opportunity to shape a “new normal” that’s more resilient and sustainable. Together we can do it.