SP2021 Session #4:

Date: May 7, 2021
Location: Zoom
Leaders: Eric Burnside, Mahe Hameed, Joanne Ma
Documentation:  Ami Patel, Sarah Rolfvondenbaumen

Expanding the Definition of Practice + Trending Now

The final session of Houston’s 2021 Christopher Kelley Leadership Development Program was divided into five distinct parts about the impact architects can have on sustainability efforts and social justice. The sponsor presentation by Lisa Conway and Dana Antake from Interface aligned with the session’s topic – the design process that guided their team to the creation of  ‘carbon negative’ carpet tile.

Part One of the session focused on the City & Developer Level with a presentation by Brandon Hendricks of Radon Capital. Brandon is an architect by training.  After working in several architecture firms, including Cooke Fox and Gensler,  Brandon decided the best way to utilize his entrepreneurial experience and have an impact on his community was by working with a developer. Radon Capital is involved in a lot of the exciting mixed use developments around Houston, including M-K-T Heights, Heights Mercantile, and the transformation of the former Stages Theater. Radon Capital approaches projects by asking how they can have the most positive impact, and always look for design specialists who have similar visions. Brandon’s MBA from Rice helps him feel more confident when making financial decisions. Brandon encourages other architects to work in the developer role because having diverse backgrounds on the team is an added value to the community.

After participating in a survey about the formal commitment and training at scholars’ firms (where subsequent discussion established that a commitment must be made, training happens in spurts and is generally inconsistent), the session dived into Part Two – Advocacy & Policy. Presenters Marina Badoian-Kriticos, Houston Advanced Research Center, gave an update on the current state of the climate (it’s bad) and the role that policy plays in actionable change. After confirming that high performing buildings really can have an impact on the levels of emissions, the scholars learned that Texas leads the nation in energy consumption. Policy change is happening faster and is more strict at local city level than state and federal. Fellow presenter David MacLean, McMax Cx, has been having the same conversations about climate change for thirty years – propelling him to start his company focusing on the business case of sustainable design.  $400,000,000 in energy savings was lost in Houston between the adoption of 2015 IECC and the enforcement of it. Without transparency and accountability, policy change is useless. 

Before beginning Part Three – AEC Industry Level, the scholars participated in a second survey focusing on their role as client advisors, their knowledge about sustainability, and whether they have the tools to make informed decisions. The survey was timed very appropriately as the next presenter, Sandeep Ahuja, showed the scholars cove.tool, a program she has developed to assist designers make complicated decisions. As an architect, Sandeep wanted to design sustainable buildings, but did not know how to quantify decision making. While working at a large architecture firm, Sandeep helped develop a tool to do just that. Inputting the necessary information was so time intensive, the tool was only useful on large projects with big budgets. Desiring to have a bigger impact, Sandeep started a company focused on streamlining design analysis. What began as a team of 10 working on 250 projects has grown to 35 people that have had an effect on 16,000 projects in the past two years. Cove.tool is always adding new features (like Covid safety and embodied carbon) and believes that the AEC Industry is very good at giving feedback. Understanding that every project is limited by budget, cove.tool helps architects and owners spend in ways to make the most impact.

To follow advocacy from an industry level, the scholars investigated B-Corp Certified business operations and strategies from David-Shove Brown who leads the 3877 practice in Washington, D.C. and Kevin Wilhelm who leads Sustainable Business Consulting. David-Shove Brown shared an emphasis on the importance of teamwork and company culture. Leading the first B-Corp company in the DC area, David explained that the business structure allows operations to become more knowledgeable and able to share knowledge while building trust and potential clients. The question and answer segment of the presentation allowed scholars to experience the common thread between the business structure and transparency within the organization. Kevin lead conversations regarding how to be better listeners and ask the right questions. Internally, Kevin and David both spoke towards financial transparency and how that supports employees support agency. Kevin’s consulting company was ranked as one of the top places to work and he also wrote the book, “How To Talk the Other Side”, where he shares strategies in finding the common ground and win-win situations.

To end our session, Tya Winn, head of Community Design Collaborative, shared her deep commitment strategies and practices regarding public design. Her work aims to connect professionals to raise awareness within revitalizing communities. Scholars were exposed to the process of securing funding for pro-bono work and grants and which part of services these funds cover. Tya’s work includes a lot of volunteering for public interest design programs that celebrate communities and raise awareness. Tya works with a team of 8 full-time employees and currently has 1000 on a growing list of volunteers and 300 in just the Philadelphia area! This business is currently exploring if their design process only includes schematic design, or if it becomes a non-profit architectural firm. Tya’s expertise and knowledge shed a light on the importance of the business of architecture and its community outreach. Scholars were given hard facts to understand a business’ direct impact and influence to a community and what that means from a monetary perspective.

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