In the current edition of “California Buildings News,” features AIACC President Michael Malinowski, AIA. You can read what was printed of the interview in the magazine, of course, but we thought it might be interesting to present the interview in its entirety—both the questions and the answers. So, for October, in lieu of the standard “From the President’s Desk,” we bring you all of the interview. Malinowski has a lot of passion and insight into the world of architecture and the state of the profession, as evidenced by the Q & A below.
What are the biggest public affairs challenges architects face from proposed and existing state and federal laws, regulations and recent court rulings? How does AIACC propose they be resolved?
Keeping up with the ever shifting landscape of regulation and legislation is a challenge for California architects. We are fortunate at the AIACC to have a very experienced staff in Paul Welch, our exec director and Mark Christian and Kurt Cooknick Assoc AIA, bolstered by our consultants. They work in concert to keep AIACC leadership in the loop. This year there have been a few ‘shooting comets’ that got a lot of attention only to have since dropped to the background – one example was the proposed sales tax on services. This was a proposal which would have had major negative impacts on the competitiveness and service model for all California architects, which major fallout for citizens and institutions statewide as a result. We are quick to move when new proposals come to light; we take a ‘big picture’ view in analyzing the impacts not just for our profession, but on citizens, the environment, on business and on sustainability. We use that lens to craft positions that we believe in most cases become the prudent course that prevails. We consider this work part of our calling to be ‘stewards’ of the built environment.
One area that has been of interest to me for several decades is Permit Streamlining. I was leader of a entity in Sacramento called the Development Oversight Commission, and in that volunteer role got to see first hand what it took to move a building department from dead last in ‘customer service’ surveys to number one. Since the recession, the challenges for both building departments and design professionals is that we all have to find ways to do ‘more with less’.
Having founded a local program over a decade ago called ‘Code Conversations’ has helped build an environment of trust and communication with regional code officials. That open channel brought some serious dividends for both sides of the counter when in late 2014 decides to focus on common ground: a shared interest in high performing buildings that comply with modern design standards, life safety codes, energy efficiency goals, and sustainability objectives. For a small task force of local Architects and Code Officials, the ‘win win’ result after rolling up our sleeves for about six months: the PASS Program (Prequalified Architectural Submittal System). PASS increases efficiency and effectiveness of the plan review process, with minimal change to normal business practices of design professionals, with the result that citizens enjoy high performing modern buildings quicker, with lower cost, and increased public safety and code conformance. PASS boosts economic development, at little to no cost. It’s not surprising given the win win foundation of PASS as an innovative approach to the regulatory process that is already in use by 16 jurisdictions including the City of Sacramento, Folsom, Elk Grove, the County of Sacramento and more – the first such regionally consistent program in the country. A companion program ‘One and Done’ which eliminates wasteful and costly excessive plan review cycles is in beta test now. Together these innovations are great examples of how design professional can bring their creative problem solving skills to the table in finding solutions that are ‘win win win’ – without changing roles and responsibilities of the parties. The success of PASS is drawing attention from around the country as these issues are not unique to California. To help further the work of PASS, we’ve set up a non profit entity – the Streamline Institute – which can help spread this good stuff to other communities throughout California.
How can architects play a bigger role in designing multifamily dwellings that can help alleviate the housing shortage?
Housing choice and affordability is a challenge throughout California – and Multifamily housing is one of the elements that has to be part of a comprehensive approach to addressing it. With the loss of redevelopment as a financing tool, in California now we are left with Housing Bonds and Federal Housing Tax Credits and a short list of other more exotic paths that developers can turn to. All of the available resources are incredibly oversubscribed. To get projects launched developers in many cases have to cobble together many sources; each of which brings its own stakeholders, regulations, and design requirements. California Architects in this environment have become very savvy in finding creative means to navigate an increasingly complex mix of community and financing stakeholders while also addressing community design guidelines, sustainability goal, carbon sequestration, net zero energy goals, specialty standards such as historic review, coastal commission, transportation choice and live/work geographic balance … in sum, myriad other considerations that have to be balanced by the design professional, on what is usually a very tight timeline. Of course we add to our own desire that our new buildings be not only attractive but inspirational and aspirational– whilealso being low in construction cost.
With so many competing factors, you can imagine the size of the challenge for housing architects. In this complex landscape it is not surprising that the costs of the required design process has been increasing, while fees have not budged – which presents a challenge to the business side of architecture. New tools and design approaches have promise to increase our efficiency; but they come with the own costs and constraints. This is the tightrope that we walk on every project as architects; so when a project really sings – all the more reason to celebrate the architect behind it.
Are California architects becoming more sensitive to the need to design workplaces and housing that promotes wellness?
Architects are the natural stewards of the environment, and they share a passion for creation of spaces that promote a 360 vision of wellness. The toolkits of architects ranges from the simple – provide attractive and convenient stairs and walkable alternatives – to the design of places for people to grow their own food, to exercise, to share stories and experiences, and to gather for fun. At my own Warehouse Artist Loft project in Sacramento, the formerly empty roof top now has tenant gardens, a childrens’ play area, and a community BBQ and seating. This makes it one of the hearts of ‘place’ that has led to a four year tenant waiting list. That line of people wanting ‘in’ may be a comfort for the developer – but it’s also an indication that there is great demand for the amenities that enrich health and that boost wellness on all levels. Wellness is not just about ‘safety’ and ‘sanitation’ – today the concept goes much further. Wellness includes the stress reduction which accompanies a supportive network of neighbors and friends; it touches resilience when weather or seismic events create havoc and there is a place of refuge; it’s about having opportunities to get exercise conveniently; a place to share the joy of growing a tomato with a child and sharing a fresh ripe one; and having a place to relax, share a meal and a story. This is how buildings build community. I believe that when Architects are given the latitude to ‘push the boundary’ – amazing things result, and that rising tide lifts all boats.
Building management and operations people sometimes feel buildings are designed and given components that are less functional than O&M people desire. Should there be more front-end collaboration between architects and facilities operations people in new buildings and retrofits?
As we move aggressively toward net zero energy throughout California, the operation of buildings and how design supports maximum efficiency over time becomes a key part of the equation that defines success. Architects are eager and ready partners with O&M folks; and in fact as a rule designers relish the opportunity to get into the details of shaping a long term vision for the buildings they create. Success for a building is not defined on the day ribbons are cut and speeches are made – success in shaping the built environment extends decades down the road. What will it take to keep our buildings at top efficiency – both functionally, mechanically and aesthetically … this is an important question every architect today is asking as they explore and research design options. On the client side – the resources need to be allocated to allow for design phase modeling, analysis, and the thoughtfulness that can provide the full measure of success for the long haul. We also believe there should be added incentives to both the development and design community to take the long view – incentives built into the entitlement and permitting processes, and also in property taxation. With a few more ‘carrots’ we could do much more to move toward net zero energy more quickly.
There can be conflict between an architect’s design vision and the need to make buildings more sustainable. How are California architects resolving this issue, since the state has such a green focus?
The ‘old time’ view of architects as ‘black caped wizards’ is a myth in todays faced pace business world. Today what matters more: energy performance metrics, data on employee effectiveness and other real world measures of ‘design success’. While data gathering has a cost in time and resources – the value far exceeds that cost, and it provides the solid business case for good design.
So what do I mean by ‘Good Design”? Good Design is an all-encompassing envelope; and architects are really looking forward to the near future when all their customers – public and private – are ready to support solid data and metrics to measure success in all dimensions. We call this new multidimensional success the ‘triple bottom line’ – the consideration of Social impacts, Business success, and Environmental sustainability. As the marketplace starts to put more attention on this triple bottom line view of design success, architects are ready to provide the tools, modeling, analysis and measurements that are the foundation for best practices for true high performance design.
Architects are quite influential in proposing various types buildings products, and this was done traditionally with the help of librarians. How has this process evolved with the more extensive access to web-based product offerings? Any suggestions as to how product vendors can sell more effectively to architects?
In the fast paced environment we are all immersed in, having current information at my fingertips is essential. The internet is the tool that allows that magic to happen. The volume of on-line information in fact is now so huge and so readily available that the biggest challenge that is emerging is not lack of information: it’s the means to curate that information. How can architects separate the critical knowledge needed right now – from the vast amount of background noise? Product vendors that are savvy to this dilemma have found ways to move far past the ‘pitch’. These days, to really get the attention of busy design professionals vendors and their representatives must become trusted advisors, who can reliably and honestly sort through the vast information and get to the needed answers – complete, consistent, and comprehensive. The best vendors are ready to talk about far more than ‘selling’ – they know about all the offerings in the marketplace, their advantages and weaknesses. Those that are trusted advisors help the team get to success – even if it means steering them toward a competitor on occasion. I have found that the vendors that can find the courage to move to this ‘cat bird’ seat will get the attention. Trust and respect will follow, and that lays the foundation for channels of connection that transcend advertising, marketing and sales. Of course the product data, examples of applications, cost information on both installation and materials and more – those facts have to be there as well – but that’s just a starting point in today’s incredibly competitive landscape.
What’s your strategic agenda for AIACC this year and how are you proceeding in its implementation?
As a small firm principal myself, it is both a privilege to lead the largest AIA component in the country with some 11,000 members – and a challenge. The AIACC – like the AIA at local components and National – is a volunteer driven entity – with a paid staff that helps create the continuity and the motive force for the many initiatives that are underway. Architects are a creative bunch – so you can imagine that at any gathering of architects there are always many good ideas that bubble up to the surface. In fact, there are always more great ideas than there are resources of time and money to tackle. So in my view, a core challenge of AIACC leadership is to determine where to put our focus.
The strategic plan that I sheparded into place during my term as President Elect has some essential elements that were particularly important to me in this context. A good plan in my mind has to be simple, and it has to be short; but it also has to encompass the full range of the 100 existing and emerging programs we actually have on the table (!) In my initial board meeting as incoming president – as the 60 board members arrived (the largest board of directors of any AIA component in the country in fact) I told them one thing they were going to leave with that day – was going to start on paper, then it would move to their head, and finally by the time they left, it would be in their heart. That ‘something’ was the essence of our strategic plan, which has three columns:
Resources. These are the many things architects need to have to be successful in their work of shaping great places for people. Examples of resources? Talented collaborators; powerful computers and software; smoothly running business systems, etc. AIACC firms range from a single person (about 25% of our architectural firms); to four or less (about 2/3 of our architectural firms) all the way up to 5000 people. The world’s largest architectural firm is based in California – and I had the pleasure a few months ago in fact of awarding Art Gensler AIA personally a Lifetime AIACC Achievement Award. Diversity in every dimension characterizes our profession.
Influence. This is the legal, regulatory, business and public environment that best supports the work of architects in shaping great places for people. The codes; the permit processing; the demand for architectural design that conforms to the latest standards of efficiency, sustainability and design quality are examples of what we need to influence.
Finally, the third column:
The Future. This is the long view; the look at how we today will support the work of architects of the future as they will shape great places for people. Examples of The Future include working on the pipeline of people who will choose careers in architecture; insuring that developing architects receive the support, information, mentoring and guidance to thrive; and prosperity for those who have devoting their lives to shaping great places for people in the often chaotic and rapidly changing business operation of a professional practice whether big or small. Entrepreurism in Architecture is blooming – and I believe this will become the main driver of the future of our profession.
My goal as president: to have every board member with an ‘elevator speech’ ready – in the heart – to explain what we as the AIA California Council is doing. This message hopefully gets to both the roughly half of licensed architects in California that choose NOT to belong to the only architect focused professional association; and to all prospective architects of the future.
My goals for the year include instituting a ‘dashboard’ based on metrics that help us measure our success in implementation of our strategic plan. Another objective recently realized: curating a broad discussion on the Future of Architectural Practice. This very lively conversation from an incredible panel of experts from Academia, Practice, the newly Licensed, a Licensure executive, and AIA leadership – all were channeled by a brilliant Architect/Journalist Moderator in Anne Gray FAIA. We launched this conversation broadly at our July AIACC board at Woodbury University and garnered over 100 participants from all over the state; and the result has since viewed by over 600 on facebook live here: (https://www.facebook.com/AIACC/. This conversation was a tangible example of how our AIA leadership is looking up; taking the long view, and providing more direct and tangible value to our members through such myriad programs – including our upcoming NowNextFuture Conference on emerging Architectural technology (October 28th Los Angeles); a Building Information Modeling Software Benefit exclusively for AIA members, and much more.
How can schools of architecture do a better job preparing students for the real world in terms of finding work, obtaining licensure, establishing a practice?
The connection between the schools of architecture and our profession is one part of the core conversation that occurred in the panel discussion noted above (The Future of Archtiectural Practice) – which I believe will become an annual event. What came to light was solid data on positive changes that have already happened – and more on the way – in the licensure process. We also heard first hand a passionate and poetic description of the mix of joy and challenge that encompasses architecture; and we heard the conviction of a recently licensed architect that they were supported, mentored and successful in their dream to make a difference.
Of course it’s clear that there is room for improvement. In my personal view we need to pay a little more attention to a fact from the AIA’s ‘repositioning’ research: the number one driver to engage architects by the public is knowledge of ‘codes and construction’. Not every architect is going to be a ‘designer’ creating the latest parametrically driven façade; in fact I estimate that only about 1 in 10 architects who are actively shaping the built environment are focused primarily on design. Most are working on getting the details sorted out: research; material connections; code compliance; integration of building system; the balancing of dozens of considerations that all must be addressed to get a project to success. We need every kind of person, every perspective, every talent. We need everyone one at the design table; it’s a collaborative effort. If anything is optional: it’s the black cape! In point of fact, in most architectural offices, ‘design’ is not a separate function per se, but something that everyone is engaged in. Design is not just about the ‘look and color’ of buildings, but about the full consideration of the triple bottom line of success. Considerations of People, planet and profit all have to be in balance – and of course buildings must also be beautiful as well.
It is also inspiring to hear of advances that have already occurred in the connection between academia, licensure and practice; an increased focus on diversity- insuring that our profession has opportunity for all and a healthy and rich mix of people from all backgrounds and from all perspectives. This in fact is an ideal time to move this diversity agenda forward, because there are indications that we are presently and in the near future going to be seeing shortages in our talent pool. Even though we got some bad press during the recession from a job perspective; today predictions for the future of architecture are rosy indeed and it’s looking that way as far forward as the numbers go.
How can architects take the lead in designing better, more livable and resilient cities?
Architects are already leading the charge in shaping more liveable, healthy, functional and resilient cities. We had our National AIA Grassroot’s Conference in Detriot this year – which happens to be the City where I was born and raised – and that provides a great crucible for innovation and invention in transformation. While it is still a work in progress – a long way from what might be termed a ‘success’ – it does reinforce the optimism that is essential to every architect a belief that transformative change is possible.
What are the challenges of maintaining the architect’s role as design leader/“master builder” as roles and project delivery methods change?
As architects have redefined ‘design success’ according to the sustainability triple bottom line (considering Social, Business and Environmental perspectives) they become ‘trusted advisors’ and essential members of the teams it takes to successful shape buildings, cities, regions and countries. The challenges we face are daunting, but our optimism, creativity, and endless energy are the engines that will make us indispensable leaders in making real the vision of a prosperous, healthy, and sustainable future for everyone. We are among the most admired and respected professions by the public, because as architects, we are driven to do that every day, on every project in which we are engaged.
In fact, I’d be so bold as to suggest that one thing the world needs: more architects; more projects that involve architects; and more architects engaged in civic and business leadership.