The list of past winners of the AIA Gold Medal is a who’s who of some of the world’s greatest modern architects, from Le Corbusier and Alvar Aalto to Frank Gehry and Tadao Ando.
But can you name a single building designed by the 2021 Gold Medalist, Edward Mazria? Probably not. That’s because Mazria is being honored for contributions to the built environment that are more urgent and profound today than innovations in form or space-making: he is helping to save the planet.
In 2002, Mazria launched Architecture 2030, a pro bono arm of his New Mexico–based practice, which came to be a force for raising awareness and setting stringent targets for reducing carbon emissions from construction, the economic sector that accounts for nearly 40 percent of the greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere. The architect’s groundbreaking research and development is the foundation of the AIA’s own initiatives to push for carbon neutrality in the built environment. As AIA CEO Robert Ivy tells RECORD in a wide-ranging interview in this month’s issue, climate action is the top priority in the organization’s current strategic plan.
Mazria is optimistic that architects’ projects can reach the essential goal of zero carbon emissions by 2040. Overall building energy use in the U.S. has been reduced over recent years, despite the addition of billions of square feet of new construction, while the push to innovate, and new digital tools available for those efforts, are central to contemporary architectural culture.
Public support for addressing the climate crisis is unequivocal. Two-thirds of Americans, across political party lines, according to the Pew Research Center, believe the government needs to do more. Even wider majorities in the 2020 survey favored such measures as taxing corporations for carbon emissions and restricting pollution-spewing power plants.
This month, the federal government will begin to tackle those challenges head-on. The first order of the incoming administration will be to rejoin the international Paris accord, which the AIA explicitly supports. What’s striking about the new approach, according to The New York Times, is that measures to attack global warming will not only be a priority in such departments as the Environmental Protection Agency, but will be baked in to broader economic policies. Encouraging the ongoing development of fossil-fuel alternatives, for example, is likely to create a host of new jobs, while the cost of doing nothing is disastrously high. Economist Janet Yellen, the nominee for Secretary of the Treasury, has long warned about the consequences of inaction. In 2018, the government’s own assessment, under the current administration, sounded the alarm that “natural disasters and other extreme weather events driven by a warming planet could cost the United States 10.5 percent of its domestic gross product by 2100,” said the Times.
Architects have been in the advance guard in the fight against global warming for decades, thanks not only to leaders like Mazria but also the many practitioners who have educated themselves and their clients—and who keep bringing inventive ideas to design and construction, as the time frame to achieve zero carbon emissions narrows.
Now, a brief note from RECORD, as we start the new year: the last step in the refreshed redesign of the magazine and website, under art director Mike Powell, is the updated logo gracing our cover. We invited architects and designers to submit their ideas. Out of 275 entries, we chose the simple elegance of the one from Allison Bryan, an architect and graphic designer who is Creative Director of CLB, based in the firm’s Bozeman, Montana, office. Thank you, Allison.
And, lastly, RECORD is pleased to introduce a new podcast, DESIGN:ED, hosted by Aaron Prinz. Prinz, who holds an M.Arch. from the University of Texas and practices in Austin, has interviewed more than 40 architects—hear from such voices as Thom Mayne, Glenn Murcutt, and Jenny Wu—and will produce new podcasts every month. Join us in welcoming Aaron to RECORD—and get ready to listen up.