Citizen Architect - Suyama Bodhinayake, Assoc. AIA
Suyama Bodhinayake has always been interested in sustainable design. Now settled in Orange County (OC), California, Bodhinayake uses knowledge gained from a career that has spanned two decades and three continents to convince policymakers to include architects as stakeholders in their sustainability plans. He is helping guide Irvine, California’s effort to meet the city’s bold carbon neutrality pledge.
“Given the magnitude of climate change and the reciprocal impact on the built environment, I am aware of the urgent need to have architects’ voices heard in our communities, especially by policymakers who play a role in shaping our environment,” said Bodhinayake. “I’m a strong advocate for building decarbonization, highlighting how strategies to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions must address the building component.”
Suyama Bodhinayake, Associate AIA, is an associate at BAUER Architects, a firm with a longstanding and enduring commitment to environmentally sustainable and energy-conscious design. He is active in AIA Orange County where he is the director of advocacy and sustainability, chairs the Committee on the Environment (COTE) and serves on the Design Awards Committee. Bodhinayake also serves on AIA California’s Climate Action Steering Committee, co-chairing chapter outreach, COTE, Advocacy Task Force and the Embodied Carbon Working Group. He served on the Steering Committee that helped Irvine gain selection as one of three winning cities in the Empowerment Institute’s Cool City Challenge, a Climate Moonshot grant competition for California cities to develop innovative plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. Bodhinayake now serves as technology co-chair to develop the Cool Irvine Program.
According to the International Energy Agency and the United Nations Environment Programme, buildings globally consume a third of energy and produce nearly 40% of carbon emissions from construction and operations. In cities, this energy consumption and emissions can be as high as 70%.
Bodhinayake said there are ample opportunities for Golden State architects to get involved in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings and their operations. California already has mandated 100% renewable energy and zero-net-carbon emissions targets that the state must achieve by 2045. Additionally, the California Energy Commission is updating energy codes for new construction and considering how to decarbonize existing buildings. On the municipal level, some cities are updating their climate action plans and others are commissioning them for the first time. Architectural expertise is needed to help cities address gaps in awareness about building adaptability and decarbonization.
In particular, city leaders need input on the importance of decarbonizing existing buildings, Bodhinayake said. With more than 90% of 2025’s building stock already standing, climate action plans must include comprehensive, equitable strategies for decarbonizing existing stock.
In 2020, Bodhinayake proposed that AIA OC begin a first-of-its-kind initiative for direct outreach to the county’s 32 cities to promote building decarbonization and to pilot this initiative in Irvine. The AIA OC board unanimously approved this plan. Architects are now recognized as stakeholders in the development of Irvine’s climate action and adaptation plan.
Irvine has become a leader in the state’s move toward carbon neutrality. In August 2021, city leaders unanimously approved a resolution committing Irvine to carbon neutrality by 2030—15 years ahead of the state’s timeline. Irvine was the first OC city and the third in California to make that pledge. Civic, public and private sector partnerships are being developed to deliver policy, technology, behavioral changes and market opportunities to meet that pledge. Bodhinayake and his AIA colleagues are counted on as partners in guiding the city towards carbon neutrality.
While cities like Irvine have adopted a mindset of urgency, in communities where leaders are skeptical, Bodhinayake advised architects to listen first.
“Architects can transform the vibrancy of a community through design and collaboration, and I am a strong advocate for utilizing that expertise and environmental stewardship to support urgent climate action,” - Suyama Bodhinayake
“But building trust, building partnerships, comes before developing policies. A key component of that trust is listening—literally, at city council, financial commission, and environmental committee meetings. By engaging those with differing viewpoints, we can often agree on goals like prioritizing health and safety, improving asset value and the importance of healthy economies. Then, I highlight achievability—the readily available, cost-effective design solutions and technology for decarbonizing buildings.”
Architects new to advocacy should start by getting informed, Bodhinayake advised, by reviewing city council agendas, paying attention to planning and development, and, most importantly, attending local government meetings. “We often hear, ‘Get involved in any way you can,’ but first it is important to make an effort to be aware of the issues that are at play in your community,” Bodhinayake advised. “It’s like conducting a site analysis during the pre-design stage.”
Bodhinayake has lived and worked on three continents: Australia, Asia and North America. He said his approach to sustainable design and to advocacy has been influenced by living in different places and experiencing how architects use what is available to transform environments. At no other time has the need been greater for architects to engage with their communities to facilitate collaborative design solutions that mitigate the ongoing effects of climate change.
“There is power in the voice of the local architects who live and work within the community,” said Bodhinayake. “The message to policymakers is amplified when the engagement of local architects is coupled with the collective voice of architects and design professionals networked through the local and state AIA chapters.”
- As told to Kerrie Rushton