Building Safety Redefined

Standardization News

Building Safety Redefined

Robert A. Ivy

An Interview with Robert A. Ivy

Buildings today can meet societal and personal needs like never before, and standards are part of the picture. Robert A. Ivy, CEO of the American Institute of Architects, explains.

How do you think building safety will be redefined in this century?

Along with the sorts of natural and man-made hazards that have always been at issue, such as fires and earthquakes, buildings must now be prepared for other 21st century stresses, such as the increased likelihood of extreme weather events, public health challenges and even acts of terror. All of these possibilities impact how we should define the minimum health, safety and welfare requirements of our buildings.

In short, we believe that building safety in the 21st century has to be more comprehensive. Buildings should be safe not just with respect to basic life safety measures, but also safe for the environment, and safe for the health of occupants and visitors.

They should also sit in a more resilient built fabric. Just as a building is a system, the built environment is a system, and understanding how codes and standards work within these interlocking systems to improve resilience, health and sustainability is the challenge before us right now.

Energy use is an important factor as well. In the recent past, AIA and its partners in the industry have focused heavily on reducing energy use in the built environment. But codes tend to treat new buildings - and, while making energy-efficient, even zero net energy buildings is absolutely our goal - we must also address the efficiency of existing buildings.

It's worth noting that both AIA and ASTM were early partners in the industry-wide endeavor by the International Code Council to create the International Green Construction Code. This model code was the first of its kind and made it possible for the design, construction and building code enforcement communities to get on the same page about green building code provisions.

We're seeing this evolve in the next generation code, where ASHRAE Standard 189.1 for the design of high performance green buildings and the IgCC will be combined into one regulatory document. The AIA is a proponent of having one set of codes that everyone can use; this is a good thing.

How will resilient design factor into the future of the built environment and how might standards play a role for architects?

Just as energy and materials are already mainstays in the development of codes and standards, we believe encouraging health and resilient design should also be central to this work.

Increasingly, public health evidence explores the relationship between the circumstances in which people are born, live, play and age - known as social determinants of health - and our biggest health concerns as a society. As an organization, we have been delving deeply of late into the intersection between the built environment and public health to connect design policies, practices and standards to improved physical, mental and social health.

AIA Design and Health Consortium member teams have already demonstrated significant correlation between physical activity and walkability in a community and associated a reduction in thermal spikes with a decrease in reported depression. Translating this research to standards will help architects to further be part of the cure for what ails us.

The same goes for resilience. The design and construction industries have collectively acknowledged the critical importance of this issue. We are educating our profession, advocating for smarter investments and policies, working with emergency managers when disasters occur and planning for the future.

Put simply, we all know that we must embrace change and build differently if we are to have a resilient future. Standards can help to make that happen. And, by promoting the development of advanced codes, standards and ratings systems, incentives and other measures that emphasize and encourage resilience, we believe we can lead by example.

What are AIA's current leadership priorities?

These very issues! We are very invested in encouraging resilient design, health promotion, energy efficiency and the use of quality materials. We identified these four issues as major priorities in 2013 as we began our across-the-board repositioning as an organization, and they are now the focus of our work and outreach.

We are now in Phase 2 of that repositioning, to make us nimbler, more flexible and more responsive to the needs of architects in the 21st century. Last year, we reduced the size of our board - something we have been trying to do for 40 years. We are engaged in a comprehensive digital transformation. And we recently launched the first phase of a three-year outreach plan to raise the profile and influence of architects - to make sure that architects' voices are heard and are central to the debate on the issues that affect our communities and our future.

How do architects incorporate standards in their work? Are they adequately trained in the use of standards, and the value of participating in standards development, during their studies?

Whether a design standard used in a specification, a testing protocol during construction or another form, standards are critical to our craft, and must be known and understood by architects to design and construct buildings successfully. And, because the built environment is more complex today than ever before, incorporating environmental and health issues, resilient design, energy and materials, standards have never been more important to our work.

We are educated as a profession in many different ways in the use of standards, both in formal schooling and through our day-to-day work. But we're never done educating ourselves about better ways to design and construct buildings and places. Our members must stay apprised of the latest developments in standards to keep moving forward, and we are dedicated to helping them get the information and resources they need.

Robert Ivy is executive vice president and chief executive officer of the American Institute of Architects. AIA works to create better buildings and communities through its nearly 300 state and local chapters. Ivy previously was vice president and editorial director of McGraw-Hill Construction and editor in chief of Architectural Record.

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