Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industry Experiences from COVID-19 Lecture Series

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By Rick Bell, FAIA, CSU Board Member

On May 26th Daniel Zarrilli, New York City’s Chief Climate Policy Advisor and OneNYC Director said “We are going through an unbelievable trauma during this ongoing COVID-19 crisis” but described how New York City is still focusing on climate-centered aspects of OneNYC as it relates to the current moment. He said that “We will continue to require short-term health and economic response and recover programs, plus a thoughtful reactivation in New York City after the ‘pause’.” Outlining the key aspects of OneNYC 2050, New York City’s “Green New Deal”, Daniel noted that in April of 2019, “New York City took stock of the many challenges facing our city and laid the foundation for transformational change.” He proceeded to describe the three key challenges of confronting our climate crisis, addressing health and wealth inequities, and bringing all New Yorkers into the civic life of the city, thereby strengthening democratic participation. “We’ve already seen the impact of global warming here in New York City” he noted, adding “and it will only get worse, with triple the number of days above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.”  

His remarks came in the context of a lecture in a new series called “AEC Industry Experiences from COVID-19: What We Did | What We Are Doing | What We Will Do” organized by Columbia University’s Center for Buildings, Infrastructure and Public Space (CBIPS). The CBIPS Executive Director, Feniosky Peña-Mora, said “We are glad to host Daniel Zarrilli today, following up on the first two talks in the series by NYC Department of Design and Construction Deputy Commissioners Tom Foley and Eric Macfarlane.” Peña-Mora added “Our first three speakers are all working in municipal government here in New York, responding to the COVID-19 crisis in different ways and addressing the new priorities of the city’s capital construction program while keeping in mind ongoing priorities for sustainability, resiliency, well-being and social equity.”

The first lecture in the Tuesday noontime series, on May 12th, was on “Public Buildings Moving Forward (While Maintaining Social Distancing)” and gave the floor to Tom Foley to talk about capital projects, borough-based jails, project excellence, the ‘pause’ and emergency projects. Tom spoke about the $40M project for Times Square as an example of prior work, and described the temporary hospitals done in partnership with the Department of Health, with Health and Hospitals, and with Emergency Management. Over 1,100 beds were added at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing and the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook, including intensive care facilities.

Tom’s talk was followed on May 19th by a corollary presentation by NYC Department of Design and Construction’s Infrastructure Division head, Eric Macfarlane, who spoke about critical infrastructure projects being done in partnership with NYC Department of Transportation and NYC Department of Environmental Protection. In the form of a management report he explained what was going on in the division following the March 7th declaration of a state of emergency. He noted that the executive order allowed for essential construction to continue. Nonetheless 360 of the 447 staff in the division went to telework status. The others, 87 staff stayed on the most critical construction sites. The first thing established was a safety protocol.

The fourth talk, after the May 26th lecture by Daniel Zarrilli, was by Kim Yao, principal of Architecture Research Office (ARO) and the 2020 President of the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter. Kim spoke on June 2nd  about the work of ARO, before the start of the pandemic, and how COVID-19 has changed her practice. She also discussed the AIA’s initiatives to help the design community and the city.

On June 9th, Cris Liban, Chief Sustainability Officer of LA Metro, addressed the impact of the pandemic on the burgeoning public transit system of Los Angeles, and how a reduction in the use of private cars during the public health crisis has changed air quality in the region. A week later, on June 16th,  Catherine Barbé, the Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Société du Grand Paris, described the similar impact in the Paris region of the Grand Paris Express, which, when done, will add 100km to the network linking Parisian suburbs. Both transit plans are linked to the planning for the Olympic games, in 2024 and 2028, respectively. But both go beyond that impetus to help refigure patterns of economic development and community empowerment.

Additional speakers will be addressing public buildings and infrastructure in Los Angeles and London and critical care facilities in New York and across the US. In general, the lecture series addresses past, current, and future initiatives, constraints, and budgets arising from AEC experiences from COVID-19. The weekly programs, all at noon EDT, will continue into September. There is no fee to participate. Registration by Eventbrite is required, with a link easily found on the CBIPS webpage: https://cbips.engineering.columbia.edu/content/covid-19.

These events have been submitted for one continuing education unit. Videos of the lectures can be viewed by going to https://cbips.engineering.columbia.edu/videos.

The series, is organized by CBIPS in collaboration with the American Council of Engineering Companies New York (ACEC-NY), the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter (AIANY), the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization (CSU), the Construction Management Association of America Metro New York/New Jersey (CMAA NY/NJ), Engineering News-Record (ENR), and the National Academy of Construction (NAC).

With sustainable urbanization as a key focus area, the lecture series addresses the post-first wave COVID initiatives and innovations in civil engineering, architecture, urban design, construction technology, real estate, finance, city planning, historic preservation, landscape architecture, and their allied sciences and arts.About the author: Rick Bell, FAIA, a CSU Board Member, is an adjunct associate professor at Columbia University, and deputy director of the Center for Buildings, Infrastructure and Public Space. He previously worked at the NYC Department of Design & Construction and the AIA New York Chapter.