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Tulane hosts national architecture education conference

November 21, 2019

The Tulane School of Architecture recently served as the host for 2019's Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) Administrators Conference, titled "UNCERTAINTY." Featuring keynote speakers such as Yale climate scientist Karen Seto, former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu, and Tulane Architecture visiting faculty Pankaj Vir Gupta, the three-day event addressed the increasing uncertainty brought by climate change and how the field of architecture is navigating this.

Below are excerpts from the keynotes:

Pankaj Vir Gupta: Welcome Keynote, Thursday Nov. 7

“These are fractured times in which much of what passes for architecture, exhibits at best, uncertain principles and dubious conceptual origin. Despite an urgent and rapidly accelerating urbanity, the fissures in contemporary Indian professional practice, expose limitations of historical oblivion, imperfect ethics, and insensitivity for social and environmental inequity. The results are physically manifest in our broken cities.”

“For vir.mueller architects, the act of architecture is also an act of resistance, a refusal to cater to the accepted praxis of design and construction as perceived across the vast landscape of India today. The idea of citizen architects, who make themselves visible to the public as an educated and informed voice of design-related issues, remains critical to our identity as an architectural design studio.”

“It is an essential element of active citizenship: the process of negotiating the rights and resources one is due in a given political society. By limiting the “Capacity to Aspire”, impoverished urban enclaves erode the basic tenets of democratic society.”

“Schools of Architecture are uniquely poised to lead multi-disciplinary research collaborators to address urban issues of water, infrastructure, health, sanitation, environment, and urban design. Situated in the service of a global community, the role of the School may be enlarged, imagined as one that would engender collaborations between teaching, research and governance.”

Mitch Landrieu: Evening Keynote, Friday Nov. 8

“There’s a very unique and distinct sense of place here in New Orleans. ...This is a deep, rich historic city.”

“When people are in trauma and when everything in their life is destroyed, the only thing they want is to put it back just like it was and hold on to the only thing that they know. ... After Katrina what the people of New Orleans wanted was desperately just to get back in their homes, to get back in their schools, to get back in their businesses, to go back to their churches, and act like nothing ever happened.”

“What the city did next is what I think is miraculous. ... I asked them [people of New Orleans] to join with me and not build the city back the way it was, to actually take a minute and stay in pain and agony. ... [I asked them] to do a gut check on whether or not the night before the storm the city was really as good as she was supposed to be.”

“When we think about climate change and the impact it’s going to have, you have to get ready for that and you have to build for that. ... One of the things we realized after Katrina, we weren’t really preparing ourselves for what was coming our way.”

“You [architects] are really the ones who have to work with elected officials and business leaders to start thinking about how you’re going to create and adapt your environment to what it is we know is coming our way.”

“You’re not building in isolation, you’re part of a much deeper organism. One piece of it affects every piece of it. ... And at the end of the day, it really has to be beautiful. Because beauty really does lift up communities. ... I hope you don’t see yourselves as just designers of one building.”

Karen Seto: Closing Keynote, Saturday Nov. 9

“Urban areas are major producers of CO2 emissions from energy use, which means that there’s quite a bit of opportunity for us to mitigate climate change through the built environment. ... If we look into the future, a significant amount of urban areas will need to be built going out to 2030. So if we were to aggregate all the new urban lands globally, it equals an area that is the combined area of France, Germany, Spain and Italy.”

“If we look at just the building sector, the building sector contributes to about a third of the final energy use in 2010. And the expectation is that emissions from the building sector are going to continue to increase anywhere from 50% to 100% going out to the middle of the century. We also found that deep retrofits can significantly reduce heating and cooling, but that these only occur in Europe or north America but most of the urban development is going to happen in Africa and also in Asia. And so one of the big questions is what kind of leap-frog technologies or policies can be implemented in these places that need these policies and technologies the most.”

“If we look at the emissions from buildings, the indirect emissions are greater than the direct emissions. The direct emission come the energy used in the building, so turning lights, heaters, computers. The indirect emissions come from all the energy that’s embodied in the materials to build the built environment, as well as to mine the materials to generate the energy. One of the things that we really need to focus on is not only the direct emissions, making buildings more efficient, but it’s also all the supply chain and downstream effects as well.”

“We cannot continue to think about mitigating climate change through the lens of individual sectors. In fact, we must take a cross-sectoral approach and that cities and the built environment are the natural place to do it. ... The buildings people, the transport people, the planning folks, and the scientists we all speak very different languages and we think about the solutions differently. So I think one of the big challenges from the education perspective is how do we train students, not just students but decision makers, to understand what the solutions maybe and what the constraints are. How do the folks in one sector actually interact and talk with people in another sector.”

“We’re adding 1.5 million people into urban areas every single week. We are converting an area equal to 20,000 American football fields into urban areas every single day and this is going to continue for the next 20 years. And urban areas are going to continue to use about 75 percent of the global energy. And so I think this presents a significant opportunity to better design, implement, plan, operate the built environment."

“We have a lot of the science to know how to build buildings efficiently and we have enough of the science to know how we should not design cities. So the question is I think both a science question and a practical one about limitations: How do we bring the science around buildings, transport, and land use together to design and shape the built environment so they are low-carbon? ... It’s not sufficient to have individual buildings that are low carbon. We need all activities to be low carbon. So it is the confluence of the building, the land use and the transport working together. To me that is the big challenge going forward.”