By Richard Yancey, Executive Director, Building Energy Exchange
From Who Cares About Energy Codes? the architect’s guide to New York City’s aggressive carbon reduction code

In 2021, we are at an inflection point in the climate crisis: innovative solutions are becoming funded initiatives; ambitious policies are becoming laws; and the United States has re-joined the Paris Agreement. Of the sectors that contribute the most to our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions —such as transportation and electricity —perhaps the most elusive is buildings. This includes the carbon associated with building and operating our homes, offices, shops, and factories. While electric vehicles are gaining traction with commitments to phase out combustion engines and clean energy is now both cost competitive and heavily incentivized, buildings require a multifaceted and nuanced approach that must engage an incredibly diverse set of decision-makers.

New York has been one of a growing group of cities to recognize the central role of buildings in effective climate action and initiate aggressive measures to curb their emissions. For these measures to succeed, however, architects must expand their professional and ethical duty for ensuring the safety and health of our built environment to include climate action, and seize their agency in leading a rapid transition to high performance buildings. Just as the profession took on the responsibility of making architecture accessible to all, we must ensure that buildings are an effective part of the climate solution. Building performance must become a fundamental design element, no longer an afterthought with responsibility for compliance relegated to another consultant.

Building performance must become a fundamental design element, no longer an afterthought with responsibility for compliance relegated to another consultant.Richard Yancey, Executive Director, Building Energy Exchange

New York’s forthcoming predicted energy use code (Local Law 32 of 2018), as well as the groundbreaking building carbon emission limits, of 2019’s Local Law 97, will require fundamental changes to the practice of architecture. The Building Energy Exchange’s 2020 Architect Advisory Council has outlined how the profession must adapt to comply with these new laws —and lead the path forward to a cleaner and healthier city. The Council determined three areas that require action: the profession, the design and construction process, and the practice of architecture.

• Profession: Architects must take a leadership role in setting a project’s performance goals and standards, and in ensuring they are met. This will require changes to the way risk and liability are assigned, and a fluency with energy modeling tools and new performance technologies and systems.

• Process: Change comes slowly to the building sector. Architects must champion a new ‘business as usual’ that fully incorporates performance into every stage of the design, construction, and occupancy process; and imagine new business models to deliver on this imperative.

• Practice: Architects must apply their systems- thinking expertise to ensure successful outcomes through an integrated practice with clear verification, quality assurance, and accountability. They must advocate for these principles to be adopted universally as required practice.

The existential threat of climate change provides an opportunity for the profession of architecture to lead the transition to carbon neutral and energy efficient buildings, dramatically reducing their 40% contribution to the world’s GHG emissions. In successfully adapting the standards of practice to meet New York’s new energy code, the profession can also renew their fundamental role of shaping a better world for generations to come.


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