Michael F. Malinowski FAIA
AIA CA Guest Article for CBSC Newsletter
The American Institute of Architects California (AIA CA) is the voice of the 11,000 architects and design professionals who design most of California’s built environment. As a profession which prides itself on service to society and stewardship of our environment, we look broadly at how building design intersects with opportunities to address the many interconnected challenges we face in California, such as climate deterioration, our housing crisis, and equity and inclusion disparity.
Considered through this lens, even something as seemingly mundane as building code development takes on new importance. This shift was presaged in 2018 when the AIA Blue Ribbon Panel for Codes and Standards outlined a bold new vision of building codes and standards as valuable design tools for a resource-constrained and climate-challenged future. This broader view maintains the traditional elements of life safety, fire protection, and structural and other system integrity. It also goes further by looking at the public health, safety and welfare impacts of a deteriorating climate, as well as the need for revitalization of our cities and economic opportunities for all our citizens. Two initiatives underway in the current intervening code adoption cycle for the California Building Standards Code, Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations (Title 24) provide specific examples of how these perspectives come together.
California Existing Building Code Working Group
Most of the buildings that will exist when we cross the environmental tipping point of climate deterioration are already here. How can we make these buildings more efficient, while at the same time using the many underutilized or obsolete office, retail, and commercial structures that abound in our cities for new and innovative mixed-use housing development? To take this combination of unrealized potential opportunity and unmet environmental challenges and turn it to our advantage requires a robust code specific to existing buildings. This broad perspective was the driver behind an AIA CA petition to bring to California the full range of code compliance paths that already exist in the International Existing Building Code.
Getting seven additional chapters to fit into our California code framework is a complex and difficult task as it’s not a simple “cut and paste.” Each new sentence has to be carefully considered in relation to our complex existing legal and regulatory infrastructure. To accomplish this careful and public vetting process, hearings are currently underway under the auspices of the State Fire Marshall. AIA CA is committed to this major effort as we believe it will yield benefits that will touch communities and people throughout California for decades to come.
CALGreen Carbon Reduction Collaborative (CCRC)
AIA CA is proud to be among the founding entities of the CCRC, recently launched under the joint auspices of the Division of the State Architect, the Building Standards Commission, and the Department of Housing and Community Development. This working group is taking a broad look at how the California Green Building Standards Code, Part 11 of Title 24 (CALGreen) can better serve California in supporting a movement toward a sustainable, climate-supportive, resilient, and equitable future. Ongoing discussions include a number of potential additions to CALGreen, such as:
- Embodied carbon Because of the speed at which climate deterioration is occurring, it is essential to include the large near-term impacts of embodied carbon in our assessments. For example, when a building is torn down, much of the carbon used to construct it in the first place is immediately released back into the environment. Even a very high performing new building can take many decades to recover from this impact. Embodied carbon is a complex topic, so we are focusing on a limited number of materials where there has already been significant research and development, such as concrete which is a key component of every building.
- Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment Looking at greenhouse gas emissions from a whole building perspective is also going to be very important in limiting climate deterioration. Having the knowledge of what the actual impacts are is important to making the right decisions about design, materials, and AIA CA is suggesting starting with very large buildings of a limited range of occupancy types to get the industry familiar with using these analytical tools effectively.
- Zero Net Carbon Design AIA CA has been successful in a recent effort to require California’s licensed architects to acquire continuing education in the nuts and bolts of designing buildings that minimize greenhouse gas emissions. Establishing a framework for the terminology, metrics and practices in this evolving field is essential to our sustainable future as a state.
- Tier System With over 50 California jurisdictions adopting reach codes, the CALGreen tier system is an underutilized framework that could increase consistency and reduce the cost of adoption, implementation and follow through for AIA CA is interested in finding ways to use this CalGreen innovation more effectively in future code cycles for the broad benefits it can bring to communities, the building industry, and climate action.
AIA CA supports the open, thoughtful, and methodical process used to develop California’s building codes. We know that it is important both to move quickly to address climate deterioration, while at the same time being careful to avoid unintended consequences and ensuring that all stakeholders’ perspectives are thoughtfully considered. We are confident that working together we can achieve the broad and essential benefits of new codes while at the same time ensuring continued advancement in economic vitality and increasingly diverse prosperity and health for our citizens. Disruption, Evolution and Change: AIA’s Vision for the Future of Design and Construction. http://content.aia.org/sites/default/files/2019-06/ADV19 Disruption Evolution Change.pdf
Michael F. Malinowski FAIA is a consultant to the American Institute of Architects California (AIA CA) on code and regulatory matters. AIA CA is an 11,000-member organization that is the voice of the architectural profession in California. It is dedicated to supporting architects in their endeavors to improve the quality of life for all Californians by a commitment to excellence, livability and sustainability in our built environment.