Architecting Change

Design Strategies for a Healthy, Resilient, Climate-Smart Future
Sponsored by Think Wood
1 AIA LU/HSW; 1 GBCI CE Hour; 0.1 ICC CEU; 0.1 IACET CEU*; 1 AIBD P-CE; AAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; This course can be self-reported to the AANB, as per their CE Guidelines; AAPEI 1 Structured Learning Hour; This course can be self-reported to the AIBC, as per their CE Guidelines.; MAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; This course can be self-reported to the NLAA.; This course can be self-reported to the NSAA; NWTAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; OAA 1 Learning Hour; SAA 1 Hour of Core Learning

Learning Objectives:

  1. Assess and describe current and emerging social, economic and technological trends impacting the built environment, urbanism and the business of architecture.
  2. Explain how community-centered participatory design and the strategic use of greenspaces in urban environments can benefit the health of individuals, communities and cities.
  3. Define the built environment’s significant contribution to carbon emissions, and learn how designers are using lifecycle analysis to measure a building material’s impact on the carbon footprint of a project.
  4. Identify key factors contributing to the cost of mixed-use and multi-family developments, along with planning and design strategies that can help make these projects more affordable.

This course is part of the Wood Structures Academy

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Over the past decade, the architectural, construction, and engineering (AEC) sector has grappled with unprecedented technological and socioeconomic changes, along with an unprecedented confluence of challenges to the health of our communities, our cities, and our planet. Climate change is accelerating—the decade leading up to 2020 was the warmest decade on record.1 Buildings and their construction account for 39 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.2 At the same time, the built environment is growing at a record pace in the United States. It is estimated that 2.5 million new housing units are needed to make up for the nation’s housing shortage3, a trend that has not abated in the face of a global pandemic4. Economically, the price of housing has eclipsed the income of many Americans—precipitating a critical housing crisis in some regions—and adding to inequality and a rising homeless population across the nation.5 Amidst this, we spend as much as 90 percent of our time indoors, often cut off from nature6.

Photo courtesy of Lluc Miralles, courtesy Lacol Arquitectura Cooperativa

While these challenges are daunting, thought leaders in the AEC industry increasingly see it as an opportunity to be at the forefront of change, with examples of design leadership across the country and around the world. Technological gains within the built environment are making zero-carbon construction attainable7, dramatic energy savings achievable8, and taller mass timber construction possible9. Industry research, along with bold demonstration projects, is expanding the sector’s understanding of carbon sequestration, life cycle assessment (LCA), Passive House principles, and biophilic and health-centered design.

Four design approaches are leading the industry’s response to these challenges and opportunities:

Incorporating Greenspace
  • Boosting health, resilience, and well- being by including greenspaces in project designs
A Focus on Community Building and Placemaking
  • Lessons and learnings of community- centered, participatory design
Lowering Building Carbon Footprints
  • Redesigning the built environment to mitigate climate change
Designing for Density and Affordability
  • Boosting urban density and affordability through creative means

In this course you’ll learn from design teams who are embracing these strategies and delivering solutions that begin to address some of the most pressing global challenges of our times.

Greenspace: A Natural Prescription For Healthier Cities

Take a Walk in the Woods and Call Me in the Morning

A healthy city is a green city; a healthy urban dweller, a park-goer. There is ever growing evidence10 that local access to greenspace and green views positively impacts physical health, mental well-being, and the overall resilience of a city (defined as its capacity to survive, adapt, and grow in the face of adversity).11

Easy access to greenspace, urban parks, and nature has been linked to improved human health—everything from better immune function, mental health, and cognitive capacity to a reduction in type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular morbidity. Proximity to greenspace has been correlated with lower rates of psychiatric disorders.12 Beyond this, a city of well-connected, attractive greenspaces may be better equipped to bounce back from crises, natural disasters, and extreme weather events. These benefits extend to all population groups, particularly marginalized and low-income segments.

The science is still emerging13 and more research is needed, but initial findings and anecdotal reports show promising results. A walk in the woods may be just what the doctor ordered.

Density Isn’t the Problem; Equitable Access to Greenspace Is

Increasing equitable access to greenspace may be the biggest hurdle to countering crowding and creating more resilient cities. In the U.S. alone, 100 million people (28 million children included) do not have a neighborhood park within a 10-minute walk from home. The good news is that progress is being made. It’s part of a concerted effort called the 10-Minute Walk, a nationwide movement championed by The Trust for Public Land, the National Recreation and Park Association, and the Urban Land Institute. The program is enlisting mayors across the nation to improve access to parks and greenspaces.

It Takes a Green Village: Weaving Greenspace and Nature into the Built Environment

Along with increasing equitable access to public parks and recreational amenities, urban designers and architects in cities across the country are increasingly looking for innovative ways to weave greenspace into the built environment. Gardenhouse: Recreating a Hillside Village in an Urban Context Gardenhouse, a mixed-use, multifamily project in Los Angeles is a recent example of this trend, making the integration of greenspace central to its design. Conceived by MAD Architects to feel like a naturally vegetated hillside village, the 18 residential units, completed in late summer, feature the country’s largest green wall of its kind.

With seamless transitions between indoors and out, members of the Gardenhouse community enjoy expansive, open-concept floor plans with towering window walls and outdoor living spaces. Gruen Associates, who served as both the executive architect and landscape architect for the project, worked closely with the designers to bring a vision of nature-infused urban living to life.

The multifamily residence includes a purposeful mix of housing types to encourage a diverse community feel: two studios, eight condominiums, three townhouses, and five villas. The development’s concrete podium is crowned with a shimmer of white pitched-roofed units constructed of light-frame wood construction, while the interior finishes pay tribute to California’s woodworking heritage. A second-floor courtyard forms a central landscaped gathering space for the complex.

In many respects, the development acts as a demonstration project of what is possible. “Gardenhouse represents a unique opportunity to impact not only the architecture of Los Angeles but to introduce a new paradigm of living where humans are more emotionally connected to nature, particularly in high-density cities like Los Angeles,” said Ma Yansong, founder of MAD Architects.

Photo courtesy of ©2013 Darren Bradley, courtesy MAD


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Originally published in October 2021