Architecting Change

Design Strategies for a Healthy, Resilient, Climate-Smart Future
Sponsored by Think Wood
1 AIA LU/HSW; 0.1 IACET CEU*; 1 GBCI CE Hour; 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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Drs. Julian and Raye Richardson Apartments: Bringing the Healing Power of Nature to Transitional Housing

Biophilic design and greenspace are also connecting marginalized communities with the healing power of nature. One notable example is the Richardson Apartments complex in San Francisco. The 120 residential studio units, combined with common areas and program space, provide accommodation to formerly homeless individuals.

The architect used wood as the primary structural material because of its relative cost savings compared to concrete and steel. Wood was also left exposed throughout the interiors to add warmth, variety, and texture to the common spaces.

The social housing is complemented by a courtyard and topped with a vegetable roof garden. Giant chain ferns, Japanese painted ferns, western sword ferns, and wood sorrel form an urban oasis. These plants were selected for their low maintenance and adaptability to the extreme solar conditions of full sun and deep shade. Five stories above the courtyard, a roof deck offers a space for residents with seating areas, succulent gardens, raised beds for vegetable gardening, and a green roof.

Garden City 2.0: Building Long-Term Resilience and Health

In times of hardship and crisis, city dwellers throughout history have turned to nature for hope and healing. Today, equipped with a growing body of research and compelling data, city builders are beginning to confirm what folk wisdom has taught us—that nature and greenspace woven into the fabric of our urban environments is good for our health.

As Will Allen, senior vice president of strategic giving and conservation services at The Conservation Fund in Chapel Hill, NC, writes, “...if a post-COVID world can move towards more people-centered social infrastructure investment, with ambitious goals for nature in cities and biophilic design, then our financial investments in nature will be rewarded with less crowded and more resilient cities, which will hopefully also lead to a more equitable and healthy country.” This investment may very well begin with a walk in the park, just ten minutes from home. The concept of a garden city is one practical response to building stronger, more resilient cities.

The Architecture of Community: Participatory Design and Placemaking Build Connection

Along with well-designed, equitably-planned greenspace, participatory design has the potential to strengthen the health and resilience of communities. A growing number of architects and planners are turning to community engagement—an approach that puts occupants at the heart of the design process. In doing so, they’re creating architecture that connects people and strengthens community, something that is perhaps more important than ever.

Participatory design offers a number of benefits, as pointed out by Participate in Design (P!D). It mitigates the risk of failure and helps a community buy into and own a design solution. It can help reduce resistance to change and encourage realistic expectations of a design, while fostering stronger bonds and greater community involvement. And finally, it can boost the overall confidence and resilience of a community.

Co-creating Where You Live | La Borda Cooperative Housing, Barcelona, Spain

La Borda is a building designed by the community, for the community. A cooperative housing project in Barcelona, La Borda featured a lengthy community engagement process as part of the project’s development. Each resident served as a working group member, contributing to elements of the building’s design, function, and management. Active participation from building residents was crucial to La Borda’s codesign process, aimed at maximizing human connection.

Photo courtesy of Lluc Miralles, courtesy Lacol Arquitectura Cooperativa

La Borda Cooperative

The process aligns with La Borda’s values: “active participation, collective ownership, affordability, and sustainability.” Just as each member of La Borda’s collective serves a purpose and a role, so, too, do the architectural elements.

The Spanish cross-laminated timber infuses the building with a natural and organic ambience. Cristina Gamboa, a cooperative member, explains that they “tried to have a more global understanding of the implications of this material decision,” with mass timber offering a climate-friendly alternative to more energy-intensive materials. And, at its heart, a central courtyard unifies the building, creating a flexible meeting area that invites residents to gather, connect, and socialize.

Finding Common Ground | Lubber Run Community Center, Arlington, Virginia

The Lubber Run Community Center is an expanse of lush green space that draws you toward the net-zero center at its core. The building emerges organically out of the park and features a living roof adorned with trees and park benches. Initially, local residents were set on plans for a three-to-four-story building, tucked into the background of the surrounding park. To find common ground, the design team undertook a lengthy participatory design process that lasted an entire year. Jay Fisette, former Arlington County Board chairperson, says that “there was lots of community involvement and excitement surrounding the new design and plan.”

Photo courtesy of Tom Holsworth, courtesy VMDO Architects

Lubber Run Community Center

Designing a replacement to the original 1950s-era community center presented a challenge for VMDO Architects. Community members felt strongly that park space be maximized and building space minimized. Yet, through community engagement, the VMDO team was able to demonstrate how architecture can integrate and blend building and landscape, “ultimately creating public space that is greater and greener for residents.”

Nina Comiskey, architect at VMDO, says, “This was about understanding what the community wants, rather than specific design guidelines. We were able to guide [the people of Arlington] to a better way of getting what they wanted.”

Lubber Run’s design focused on promoting equitable access to the center and the park and engaging cross-generational communities and hard-to-reach groups. A series of workshops, meetings, online feedback sessions, and on-site engagement activities contributed to the project vision.

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Originally published in October 2021