New Perspectives on the Future

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by Rick Bell, FAIA, CSU Board Member, Deputy Director of Columbia | CBIPS

The Center for Buildings, Infrastructure and Public Space (CBIPS) at Columbia University’s Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science seeks to identify how best to design, construct, and manage buildings, infrastructure, and civic spaces, emphasizing social impact, sustainability, and resilience, in addition to cost, schedule, quality, and safety.

Since the COVID-19 lockdown starting last Spring, we have learned new ways of interacting, new ways of learning, and new ways of working. CBIPS endeavored to bring together AEC industry thought leaders from major asset owners and from principal engineering, architectural, and construction management firms. We used Zoom technology to connect students, private sector practitioners, and public agency officials across geographic boundaries and from different disciplines and formations. Experience gained from working on projects in cities around the world informed our collective knowledge, inspiring changes in practice, policy, and design.

Webpage of the AEC Industry Experiences from COVID-19, Columbia University | CBIP

CBIPS organized 28 weekly lectures in two series during 2020, every Tuesday at noon, Eastern time, starting May 11 and ending November 17. All the lectures were free and open to the public. The first 19 sessions, titled “AEC Industry Experiences from COVID-19: What We Did | What We Are Doing | What We Will Do” focused on the impact of COVID-19 on the architecture, engineering, and construction communities. The second group of talks, titled “Social Justice and the AEC Industry,” centered on issues of social equity. It was organized in response to the realization that public forums could help overcome the divides, distrust, distancing, and recognition of institutional racism made evident this past year.

Each lecture was hosted by CBIPS Executive Director Feniosky Peña-Mora, ScD, the Edwin Howard Armstrong Professor of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at Columbia, and the former Commissioner of the NYC Department of Design and Construction. He was joined by a different co-moderator/respondent for each talk, including representatives of collaborating organizations. Among the list of 28 distinguished co-moderators were: Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, President of the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization; Marcos Diaz-Gonzalez, Senior VP at AECOM; and Benjamin Prosky, Assoc. AIA, Executive Director of the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter. From Korea, Moonseo Park, of Seoul National University, served as a co-moderator, as did Tonja Adair from Splice Design here in New York, and Lucio Soibelman from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering in Los Angeles.

The combined series drew 2,290 participants. Of these 26.4% were architects, 19.2% engineers, and 24.5% in academia. Construction professionals, organization representatives, and other designers also participated. Video recordings and slide decks of the presentations can be found in the “library” section of the CBIPS website, https://cbips.engineering.columbia.edu.

Collaborating organizations co-sponsoring all or some of the lectures included the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization (CSU), AIA New York (AIANY), the American Council of Engineering Companies New York Chapter (ACECNY), the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the Construction Management Association of America New York & New Jersey (CMAA/NYNJ), Engineering News-Record (ENR), the National Academy of Construction (NAC), and the New York Council of Black Architects/National Organization of Minority Architects (nycoba/NOMA).

Speakers in the first series included public sector officials from the US: Gia Biagi (Chicago DOT), Lloyd Caldwell (US Army Corps of Engineers), Christine Flaherty (NYC Health + Hospitals), Thomas Foley (NYC DDC), Cris Liban (LA Metro), Eric Macfarlane (NYC DDC), George O’Lea (US Army Corps of Engineers), Deborah Weintraub (LA DPW), Daniel Zarrilli .(NYC Mayor’s Office). Private sector practitioners were Nicholas DeNichilo (Mott Macdonald), Douglas Mass (Cosentini), Anna Mehrotra (CDM Smith), Kim Yao (ARO), and Greta Zornes (CDM Smith). Participants from overseas included Vitor Aly (São Paolo), Catherine Barbé (Paris), Bok Nam Lee (Seoul), Peter Murray (London), and Keping Sun (Wuhan). Organizational and university speakers in the US included Jerry Buckwalter (ASCE) and Kartik Chandran (Columbia).

The second series addressed social equity issues as they related to the design and construction professions. The nine speakers were Justin Garrett Moore (NYC Public Design Commission), Mindy Fullilove (New School), Kerry Scott (Mott Macdonald), Yvette E. Pearson (Rice University), Kate Krug (Non-Traditional Employment for Women), Mark Gardner (Jaklitsch/Gardner), Pascale Sablan (NOMA), Joel Sanders (MIXdesign), and Victor Calise (Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities).

With speakers in both series presenting projects that were relevant to the interests of those listening in, there were many participants who came back week after week. Broadly linking issues of sustainability, resilience, public health, and social equity, each program addressed how we can collectively design and construct a better future.

Among the many comments received about the lecture program, one stood out from a participant from Helsinki: “I really enjoyed following the presentation and the discussion! It is a great way for me to get a sense of the ways in which the current situation has touched New York City, and it is always eye opening to look at things from a different perspective.”

The series is slated to resume in April of 2021 and will complement the recently announced CSU monthly lecture series “Green Cities” on sustainable urbanization. Check the CBIPS and CSU websites for details.

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.