The IGCC - Perspective from Within

The profession of architecture is evolving and we have the good fortune to be witnessing and experiencing this metamorphosis. A recent study by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has cited the directions in which the profession is changing that will affect how that profession will look 2025. One theme indicates the architect of the future will be a more networked professional teaming with others and working more closely with the contracting arena as projects are constructed. One project manager in a global consulting role is quoted as stating: “Architects have shed project management, contract administration, and cost and ultimately if they lose design coordination then you have to ask what they are there for…”

I have a unique view of the International Green Construction Code (IGCC) having been involved with some smart, passionate and dedicated AIA colleagues in creating the code and being involved in it’s development through code hearings and subsequent discussions. The quote above hits home for me because this code and the practice issues we are now facing are issues that impact the future of our practice. We are effective and smart stewards of our built environment and I believe we are the profession that should be leading the collaborative effort to provide intelligent, healthy buildings that perform and in so doing conserve our finite natural resources.

As our member architect’s begin to review the IGCC and other recently revised and updated codes such as the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), it will become clear there are a number of practice issues that will be challenged by these codes.

In developing the IGCC we identified a number of challenges and concerns to traditional practice issues which I defined as points of fear. These points were important to identify in developing strategies to effectively overcome the perceived burdens of increased unfunded work scope as well as risk management of commissioning, building energy performance, life-cycle analysis, and owner education.

We know we need to address the management of risk associated with commissioning, building energy performance, building service life, and owner education issues to name just a few. We know it is tough to embrace change when we have a legal system warning us change means exposure to greater risk that is potentially detrimental to our professional health, or when it is perceived this means more work for the same or less fees, or losing our market share to others.

We also know what we do when we identify these important issues determines our character as a profession. We can either let fear determine our path or we can chose a path effectively countering these fears with smart, thoughtful and creative ways to successfully work through these concerns.

And while we are identifying real issues we face with a new practice paradigm and new and revised codes let’s also begin to shift the discussion about the IGCC and related subjects such as sustainability, green, and climate change to stewardship and resource conservation – the essence of our work and honorable pursuits.

For if the outcome of a project governed by the IGCC is a building whose proven performance reduces an owner’s net annual operating income isn’t this both a stewardship of financial resources issue as well as a resource conservation issue?

If the outcome of a project built under the IGCC is a reduction in the energy required to manufacture or ship products to that building isn’t this a resource conservation issue?

If we develop a building that uses less water to operate aren’t we effective stewards of a finite resource?

If we create healthier indoor air, a more comfortable work environment and reduced commuting time benefittng the health of the user: then I believe we can legitimately claim we are good stewards of our employee / human resources.

And if we, as architects, independently create a series of projects effectively reducing the consumption of water that results in our community not having to expand their waste water infrastructure allowing those financial resources to be re-purposed, isn’t that good financial stewardship?

Do we really want to be afraid of these outcomes?

With increased emphasis on building performance that has been created by rating systems, and a more highly educated development community I see the role of the architect encompassing these scopes of services, and doing so well. Architect’s know how to do this and generally I believe we want to create efficient, well designed healthy buildings. A little codified assistance will not hurt this cause.

In a recent series of blog discussions in one of our AIA knowledge communities a good deal of analysis was done to understand the implications of the IGCC and what it means to current practice, fees and exposure to risk. It is a smart analysis and a worthy expenditure of time. We need more of our members looking seriously at these codes so the Institute can develop strategies to assist in equipping our members to be successful at working with these new codes.

It is also important to understand that a number of our dedicated and passionate volunteer members and valued staff are actively pursuing answers to some very important issues and questions related to these practice issues.

Fee issues are vitally important. The fee versus code mandated services issue has been firmly and passionately brought to my attention and the attention of other leaders within the Institute. We get it. It is time we identify strategies to help our members successfully negotiate appropriate fees for the work required to address the increased work these new codes and practice paradigms will require of us. We operate under an anti-trust agreement and cannot collaborate or collectively set fees. We can, however, develop a collective, comprehensive understanding of changes in code development that impact fees and scope negotiations toward being more successful architectural service businesses.

Risk management is a critically important issue. When new laws and statutes are legislated and adopted, lawyers don’t whine they charge more. Why shouldn’t architects respond similarly?

We are the most qualified problem solvers in the building industry. We know how to synthesize information to develop effective, creative building solutions. We have opportunities to adopt a leadership role and work with our legal advisors and risk managers (ie: insurance groups) to define methodologies that will allow us to be successful in taking on the risks of additional project scope and responsibility.

During the development of the IGCC, the AIA convened a group of insurance executives to discuss language within the code in relation to errors and omissions coverage and related insurance products. There continues to be a dialogue with our strategic partners in the insurance industry to address the risk factors in this new practice paradigm. It is imperative that our members engage with their carriers to let them know the importance of these issues.

Contract Documents are another vitally important issue. AIA staff and another group of volunteer leaders staff has begun discussions with attorneys in the AIA’s Contract Documents department to address the need for appropriate agreement language for use in executing agreements for the work required by the advancements of the new codes.

Another tool being studied extensively is energy modeling. The new practice paradigm and codes will require more emphasis on this aspect. A key task force is studying existing energy modeling tools, techniques and metric data bases to understand what we have, what we don’t have and what we need.

I have been afforded a very unique and humbling opportunity along with a number of my colleagues as a volunteer leader in the AIA to be significantly involved in the development of an important code, the IGCC.

The phrase: “If you ain’t at the table you are on the menu” is very true in this instance. Had AIA architects not been at the table someone else would have written this code without the smart, informed and practical knowledge we were able to provide. We would have been the meal in the alternative scenario.

As AIA architects have the opportunity to positively address changes in our practice, grow and learn, and positively affect the built environment. We have the opportunity to be resources and advisors for our communities to responsibly address the stewardship and conservation of our resources. We have the opportunity to change and upgrade the tools in our practice tool sheds. A growing number of dedicated volunteer AIA members are working diligently to do just that.

I would suggest it is time to change our thought process from accusing a printed code document of being the rogue catalyst in changing our practice paradigm. Instead I believe we should recognize the seismic shift in practice a printed code document responds to. The IGCC isn’t going to go away. There are too many communities that have this code on their radar for us to deny its existence.

So, the question is this:

do we fight and argue to maintain current practice status quo because it is safe and view code revisions as a threat to an existence we perceive to be temporarily comfortable and safe or,

do we roll up our sleeves, and work hard to collectively develop new effective tools and best practices so we can be smart, successful and prosperous in a new architectural business paradigm?

I choose the latter.
Chris Green