Architects’ Issues are America’s Issues
Last Updated: January 26, 2011
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Architects' Issues are America's Issues
Early next month, I will be heading to Washington D.C. - along with almost 800 other of my fellow architects - to take part in the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Grassroots Leadership and Legislative Conference. This annual event gives AIA volunteer leaders a chance to voice their concerns, discuss the issues and visit Capitol Hill to meet with their Congressional representatives on a host of issues of concern to the architecture profession.
Coming so soon after the President's State of the Union address and the Republicans response to it, we are expecting that Congress will be intently focused on tackling some of the most pressing issues of our time - creating jobs, cutting un-necessary regulation, getting the economy moving and making American more competitive again in world markets.
You might think architects have no clout, influence or interest in such bread and butter issues, preferring instead to worry about matters such as zoning laws, sustainable design and livable communities.
In fact, the interests of architects move in lockstep with the interests of the American people. The AIA estimates that the design and construction industry in which I compete accounts for a staggering $1 of $9 of GDP. That represents one of the largest sectors of the American economy. Every $1 million invested in construction creates 28 full time jobs. With employment in architecture decreasing by 20 percent since 2007 due to the "Great Recession," an important catalyst for economic growth has been decimated.
Indeed, the AIA's annual survey of voter attitudes released January 21 shows that Americans' top issues and concerns mirror almost exactly the concerns my fellow architects and myself will be taking to Capitol Hill during Grassroots on February 2-4. Almost two-thirds of Americans, according to the survey, want President Obama and the 112th Congress to require banks and financial institutions to make it easier for businesses to get loans to expand, invest in equipment and create jobs. Access to credit is a key priority of the AIA, as many job-creating design and construction projects are stalled because banks and other financial institutions are reluctant to commit the capital needed for financing. You need look no further than how difficult it's been to Related Co's Grand Avenue project kick-started.
The survey reveals that Americans' interests intersect with architects' interests on a host of other issues. Despite the pressures on incomes from a weak economy, for example, Americans still support "green" building and design - even if it costs more. Three-quarters of Americans surveyed by the AIA say they would pay an additional five to 10 percent more to build, buy or renovate a house that would use less energy and protect the environment through "green" building methods. Almost two thirds - 64 percent - say they would pay as much as $10,000 more for such a dwelling. The AIA supports increasing incentives for efficient design and renovations of buildings as an engine of economic growth and is pressing Congress to increase the Energy Efficient Commercial Building Tax Deduction from the current $1.80sf to $3.00sf.
On other issues of concern, architects clearly have their work cut out for them. The survey shows Americans have a continuing misconception about the top causes of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the AIA voter survey, more than a third of voters - 36 percent - identify cars and trucks as being primarily responsible. Only four percent think buildings are the primary cause. In reality, the Department of Energy estimates that commercial buildings account for roughly 40 percent of total energy use and almost 70 percent of all electricity consumed in the United States.
Making this annual trek up to Capitol Hill is a chance for us to tell our story and educate Congress on the issues facing one of the most relevant professions affecting the American economy. Be assured that we will make the most of it. And if you want to see first-hand how the interests of architects intersect with the interests of the country as a whole, take a look at the survey, which can be accessed at the AIA website at www.aia.org/publicissues.
Very truly yours,
Hsin-Ming Fung, AIA
AIA Los Angeles