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AIA Colorado Materials Matter Series Kicks off in Denver

By Liz Gibbons

Hosted across the country from Portland to Philadelphia, the AIA Materials Matter series kicked off in Denver last Friday. The series empowers architects to become advocates for materials transparency and design healthier, greener buildings.

The first session challenged architects to do more with less and have a smaller impact on the environment. One of the session’s speakers, Amanda Hong with EPA Region 8, cited China’s restriction on importing recyclable materials as an opportunity for the United States manufacturing economy. However, she explained that designers also need to think about end-of-life disposal and reuse. She urged architects to reduce, reuse and then recycle.

In reducing, architects should design for durability and adaptability by using environmentally preferred materials. By designing for deconstruction, safe building materials can be repurposed. Finally, if reducing or reusing is not an option, safe building materials should be recycled. Hong cited several project examples from the Lifecycle Building Challenge. One project utilized nail-free wood that could be disassembled and reused later. Another project was constructed so that parts of the building can be taken apart and reassembled separately at another location.

The session’s second presentation focused on how materials can tell stories about what they used to be, but should also tell us what chemicals or elements we do not want to build with. Stating that design teams should utilize data to guide decisions that lead to healthier environments for occupants, Steve Brauneis and Lauren McNeil with Group 14 Engineering encouraged designers to look at the red list of materials and chemicals that projects should not contain. McNeil cited the precautionary principle stating, “Now that we know better, are we doing better?” While Brauneis asserted that if architects start asking material sales representatives for safer materials, then the bar for products will rise and the industry will respond.

McNeil also reminded attendees of the AIA Code of Ethics, including:

  • “Make reasonable efforts to advise clients and employers of their obligations to the environment.” (2.4, 2.401)
  • “Members should recognize and acknowledge the professional responsibilities they have to promote sustainable design and development in the natural and built environments and to implement energy and resource conscious design.” (6, 6.1, 6.2, 6.3, 6.4, 6.5)
  • “Members shall consider with their clients the environmental effects of their project decisions.” (6.501)

The session’s final presenter, Associate Professor and Director of graduate studies at the University of Minnesota School of Architecture, Blaine Brownell, further elaborated on sustainable design connecting health and environment. He cited that “the average American spends 93 percent of his or her time indoors” (Qing Li). Brownell’s presentation utilized four ideas of integrating health into design: green, connected, naked and fit.

Stating that health inequalities are substantially fewer with greater exposure to green, he showed several examples of integrating living walls and florals into workplaces and housing. Brownell then showed several examples of implementing design that allows for more fresh air to be delivered to people. One simple way this is implemented is by creating adjustable walls such as garage doors at brews pubs, restaurants or offices. Brownell challenged architects to think of the façade as being more adjustable than the original intent. He also challenged architects to be creative in reducing unnecessary finishes and treatments.

Lastly, Brownell encouraged architects to design space that considers the movement and fitness of inhabitants since so much of the average American’s day is spent inside. One example was to embrace ADA as a design opportunity and utilize ramps as a way to shape space. Another example encouraged the design of stairs to be more visually appealing, and to create a higher traffic flow by hiding the elevator away from high occupancy areas.

There are four remaining sessions in the AIA Colorado Materials Matters series, listed below. All sessions will be held at the AIA Colorado offices, located at 303 East 17th Avenue, Suite 110 in Denver. Register here.

  • Session 2: Friday, March 15, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
  • Session 3: Thursday, April 18, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
  • Session 4: Friday, May 17, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
  • Session 5: June 21, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
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