With some developing countries leapfrogging from the 19th century to the 21st in terms of air-travel, rail, telecommunications, and banking systems, a lot of people in the United States are talking about the need to upgrade our aging infrastructure. Some of those folks gathered at Pace University in New York on February 16 and 17 for a conference entitled "Intelligent Infrastructure: The Architecture of Progress." Organized by The Economist magazine, the event addressed topics such as "Capitalism and climate change," "Urban physics," cloud computing, and "The evolution of money."

Although suits outnumbered sports-jackets-and-jeans, the conference kicked off with a panel on "Eco-topia" that featured five architects. Remarkably, all of the architects stayed within their allotted seven minutes and kept mostly on-message. So the profession presented itself as a legitimate player in the world of infrastructure development and didn't let the money and tech people grab all of the attention.

Richard Cook of Cook + Fox Architects talked about his firm's design of One Bryant Park (aka the Bank of America Tower) in New York, explaining that sustainable design isn't really about the bells and whistles that reduce energy consumption. The real challenge is "making buildings that are beautiful so people will love green design."

Liz Diller of Diller Scofidio + Renfro presented the conversion of the old High Line freight viaduct into an elevated park, calling it "a post-post-industrial example of blending nature and culture."

The youngest panel member, Tristan d'Estree Sterk — who founded The Office for Robotic Architectural Media — showed some of the research he has done on buildings that respond to their environments. Picking up on Bucky Fuller's notions of "tensegrity," Sterk explained how structures can change shape, color, and permeability as the sun moves and winds change.

Thom Mayne talked about Morphosis's work on both the building and urban scales, moving from his Federal Building in San Francisco and Caltrans headquarters in Los Angeles to a call for a smaller footprint for New Orleans in a post-Katrina age.

Finally, Ken Yeang looked at four different kinds of infrastructure that need to be integrated in projects today: engineering (roads, utilities, etc.), hydraulic (water filtered and recycled), human (behaviors altered to reduce our environmental impact), and green (natural systems). Only by fusing these systems together can architects solve the problems facing us.