Editor’s choice for 2017: AIA in ARCHITECT Magazine

Orlando metro area - Editor's Choice 2017

In her feature story on the Orlando metro area, Kim O’Connell explored how a shifting population has created a new definition of “downtown.”

Each month, AIA reports on trends, business, practice, research, and design in ARCHITECT Magazine, and the best stories of 2017 reflect some of the bigger questions that face the profession. What is the relationship between urbanization and place today? What lessons does Nairobi hold when we observe informal settlements becoming established communities? In the broader conversation about resilience, how can architects think about water—a precious resource and a demonstrated threat? In case you missed them the first time, here are the stories that stood out this year.

Water’s threat and climate change’s urgency

One of the most rewarding parts of 2017 was partnering with ARCHITECT’s Editor-in-Chief, Ned Cramer, Assoc. AIA, on covering the environmental crisis. Our team’s coverage of water’s paradox complimented his team’s coverage of climate change in the October issue of ARCHITECT, which galvanized readers several weeks ahead of the release of the 2017 National Climate Assessment. What do architecture, design, and planning have to do with climate change? Even if you think you know the answer, October’s coverage—including Cramer’s editorial—is worth reading in full. It’s not the first time we’ve heard a stark and unsurprisingly dire analysis of climate change’s impact, but it’s the clearest articulation of the important role that architects must play today and in the future.

A dispatch from Kibera

Thomas Vonier, FAIA, has worn a lot of hats. He has just finished his term as the 2017 AIA President, and in 2018 he will take the reins at the International Union of Architects for a three-year term. You’ve seen him on television, and you’ve heard him on the radio, too. On occasion, he has served as a special correspondent for notable newspapers about a range of topics, including the 1987 Tour de France. It’s this last role that he agreed to play once again before he boarded a plane to Nairobi to meet with the African Union of Architects. “Nairobi astounds,” says Vonier in the opening salvo of 'Aboard the New Urban Agenda,' and his exposition of its largest slum, Kibera, leaves the reader with a visceral understanding of why that statement is true. Kibera is one of a dozen slums in Nairobi, and taken together, they account for only six percent of the city’s total land area and a full 50 percent of the population. It’s a place, in other words—and as Vonier points out—where extreme conditions prompt both enterprise and despair in equal measures.

Thomas Vonier, FAIA, 2017 AIA President, visited Kibera in Nairobi and penned an eye-opening travelogue about urban accretion and one of the starkest examples of disparity.

The vanguard of architectural research

This year marked the 10th anniversary of AIA’s Upjohn Research Initiative, which supports applied research projects that enhance the value of design and professional practice knowledge. Ben Schulman’s series explored six successful Upjohn projects from the past decade—how their researchers spent up to $30,000, what they intended to accomplish, and what they actually accomplished. In 'Biology by Design,' he interviews the principals of LabStudio to find out if architecture can respond to spatial needs in the same way that cells respond to molecular changes. In 'The Value of Environmental Care,' he talks to Kyle Konis, AIA, about the relationship between daylighting and the well-being of memory-care patients. Four other pieces round-out this series—all worth reading.

Majorly cool minor pyramids

Just when you thought that the Great Pyramid at Giza was passé, French and Egyptian scientists thrust it back into the news again after showering it with unstable subatomic particles, called muons, and discovering a hitherto unknown void in the structure. Is it a ceremonial passage? Is it a burial chamber? Is it a single space, or multiple linked spaces? The answer is likely forthcoming. While you’re waiting, though, ponder some lesser-known pyramids in an infographic that stemmed from Dominic Mercier’s feature story on AIA’s Twenty-five Year Award, which looked at the urban context of the Louvre’s iconic entry and courtyard. Pyramids are still cool, apparently, which we can confirm first-hand—the pyramid piece was one of the most widely read of 2017.

Pyramids are elemental forms that are programmatically adaptable and formally much more diverse than we imagine.

Maybe Orlando is a real place, after all?

Kim O’Connell’s report on Orlando, 'Assume There’s No Magic Kingdom for Five Minutes,' started with a basic question: Is Orlando a real place? Two signs point to no—first, its most famous “place”, conjured by Walt Disney more than half a century ago, is intentionally and obviously unreal. (And, many of its 20 million annual visitors only ever see the airport and the parks—nothing in between). Second, like Los Angeles or Atlanta, Orlando has multiple centers—and you don’t necessarily go “to” Orlando so much as you drive around it. According to O’Connell, though, we were barking up the wrong (palm) tree. “The question is less about holding Orlando to an unreasonable standard of placemaking, and more about how the city can carve out a sustainable future—even in spite of its walkability score,” she says. That sustainable future has to do with inland resilience (which she also covered), but also with responsible growth for the metro area’s 2.4 million people.

For more stories from the Institute, visit ARCHITECT Magazine's AIA section.

Image credits

Orlando metro area - Editor's Choice 2017

Steve Williams Photography

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