Citizen Architect – Maureen Guttman, AIA
Maureen Guttman, AIA, has more than 25 years of experience in energy-efficient and green building design. A committed advocate at the local, state, and federal levels, Guttman is a leader in the fight for the development, adoption, and implementation of the type of robust building codes that will help the United States more effectively address the global climate crisis.
Before returning to Pennsylvania state government as a Design Project Manager for the Department of General Services, Maureen Guttman, AIA, was president of the Building Codes Assistance Project (BCAP) where she oversaw a nationwide campaign that advocated for model energy codes. Prior to BCAP, Guttman was executive director of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Green Government Council. She also has served on the Pennsylvania Green Energy Loan Fund Advisory Board and the International Code Council Sustainable Building Technology Committee. In 2010, Guttman was awarded AIA Pennsylvania’s President’s Award for her work to modernize building codes. Additionally, Guttman serves on the AIA Sustainability Leadership Group and the Government Advocacy Committee (and formerly served on the Codes and Standards Committee and AIA Blue-Ribbon Panel on Codes and Standards.)
Maureen Guttman, AIA, was instrumental in the development of AIA’s groundbreaking 2019 report, “Disruption, Evolution, Change: AIA’s Vision for the Future of Design and Construction,” which details an aspirational path to meeting the profession’s 2030 climate objectives.
Guttman’s journey as a Citizen Architect began about three decades before the release of “Disruption, Evolution, Change,” however, when she left an architecture firm in the nation’s capital and headed back to Pennsylvania. (Guttman holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Carnegie Mellon University.) Guttman became involved in AIA’s Pittsburgh chapter and, in short order, was asked to join the board of directors. A position with AIA Pennsylvania’s board soon followed.
In those roles, Guttman advocated for a statewide building code in the Keystone State, tracking legislation, meeting with state policymakers, and even creating AIA Pennsylvania’s political action committee (PAC). In 1999, the legislature passed, and then-Governor Tom Ridge signed into law, a bill that directed the Department of Labor and Industry to promulgate regulations adopting certain building codes as the Uniform Construction Code (UCC).
“I’ve been doing advocacy work ever since the effort to get the UCC passed,” Guttman said. “In Pennsylvania, keeping the code intact is a constant fight. It is important to keep up our advocacy efforts in order to make sure no cracks develop.”
Altering the UCC is such a source of interest in the Pennsylvania state legislature that Guttman and colleagues recommended to the governor that he establish a body to review every UCC-related legislative proposal. Guttman now chairs that effort, Pennsylvania’s UCC Review and Advisory Council, or RAC.
Between passage of the UCC in 1999 and her leadership of RAC, Guttman moved back to Washington, D.C. to lead the Building Codes Assistance Project (BCAP), which originally was a project of the Alliance to Save Energy. In 2014, Guttman established BCAP as an independent organization that would provide education and technical support for energy code adoption proceedings, promote collaboration among stakeholders to achieve action at the state level, and address common barriers to compliance through the development of programs and tools.
While leading BCAP, Guttman worked with well-known codes specialist, David Collins, FAIA, and codes consultant to AIA, to write “Disruption, Evolution, Change: AIA’s Vision for the Future of Design and Construction.”
“We wanted to see how architects interacted with building codes, how we could influence code development and adoption, and where the sector needed to go in the future,” Guttman explained. “Architects are a big piece of the solution to climate change, and this report outlines how we can shift the practice to reflect our responsibilities.”
The report focuses on four areas – energy, health/safety, welfare, and transparency – and
provides practical steps that architects can take today to address climate change. It asks all industry stakeholders to work together to urge policymakers at all levels of government to implement policies that encourage architects, builders, clients, and others to make reducing society’s carbon footprint a top priority.
Guttman said it is important that architects view building codes not as a “side dish,” but as the main course. “Building codes are a public policy tool, and when we are not involved in developing them, policymakers are not being informed by the experts,” she noted.
And lawmakers will listen. Architects have a “heck of a lot of credibility” at the local, state, and federal levels, Guttman said, because lawmakers know they are not advocating for their own self-interest, but for the public interest. “But first you’ve got to build the relationships,” Guttman explained.
How can architects start building the type of relationships that will lead to modern green building codes?
Guttman’s best piece of advice is that young architects start shaping public policy where she did – through their work with their local AIA chapter.
“I’m a big fan of state government, which has the ability to do things that have a big impact,” Guttman said. "We need to help lawmakers understand what they don’t know.” Guttman also suggests that, outside of volunteering time and intellectual capital, architects contribute to their state PAC, and to AIA’s federal PAC, ArchiPAC.
“As architects, we are not advocating for our own interests, but for the public’s welfare,” noted Guttman. “Being involved, starting a PAC or contributing to one, and showing up for the big legislative fights is vital to our mission as architects, which is to promote the health and safety of the community.”
–As told to Kerrie Rushton