Altered Carbon: A’18 Focuses on Carbon Reduction Through Building Design

At its 2018 conference, the AIA put the ball in individual architects’ courts to design buildings that reduce carbon use.

A’18, which took place at New York’s Javits Center, focussed heavily on global climate change and carbon reduction. (Image courtesy of author.)

A’18, which took place at New York’s Javits Center, focussed heavily on global climate change and carbon reduction. (Image courtesy of author.)

On June 20, the day before the American Institute for Architecture (AIA) kicked off its 2018 conference, the organization announced that its 2030 Commitment was open to engineers. The announcement set the scene for a conference that focused on carbon neutral building practices.

The AIA’s 2030 challenge gives architects (and now engineers) a framework against which to measure their carbon reduction, with the goal of designing completely carbon neutral buildings by the year 2030. At the time of the AIA’s announcement, there were 522 architectural firms publicly signed onto the commitment. In allowing engineers to join the commitment, the organization hopes to increase its impact.

“Architects want to work with engineers that are working towards these shared goals through the 2030 Commitment’s tools and framework,” said Nate Kipnis, the 2030 Working Group co-chair, in a statement the organization released.” We look forward to working with engineers to meet these challenging and important goals.”

While the AIA announced five workshops directly addressing carbon reduction during the conference, the question of carbon neutrality permeated far beyond those workshops. The conference embraced the idea that architects have the ability and responsibility to slow down global carbon use.

“We have more power than we ever imagined. We just choose not to exercise it because we don’t know how,” said Douglas Farr, in his talk on the role of architects in preventing climate change. During his talk, Farr painted a rather gloomy picture of carbon today, saying that we would need to reverse current carbon trends faster than we reversed smoking trends (the most effective federal intervention program in American history) to prevent an irreversible rise in global temperature. But he emphasized the importance of grassroots groups and organizations in making this change.

The A’18’s expo floor also addressed carbon reduction. While there was a dedicated sustainability corner, there was also a growing contingent of vendors who have determined that carbon reduction isn’t just good for the world—it’s good business.

“Trees are collecting carbon, storing carbon, sequestering carbon, because they need it to grow. And what we do is, we fire-protect it so that carbon will never be released in a fire,” said Steve Conboy, chairman and general manager of M-Fire Suppression. M-Fire makes environmentally friendly fire-suppressant wood, which the company is positioning as an alternative to structural steel. The trade-off looks particularly attractive these days, with a steep tariff on imported steel, along with the steep carbon cost of steel.