Category Archives: MY OPINION

At the AIA 2015: A message of optimism!

A week ago (May 14-16,2015) I participated in AIA 2015, the American Institute of Architects annual convention, in Atlanta. What an excellent event it was!

The AIA 2015 was hosted at the state-of-the art Georgia World Congress Center, just a few blocks from downtown Atlanta.
The AIA 2015 was hosted at the state-of-the art Georgia World Congress Center, just a few blocks from downtown Atlanta.

I had the honor of contributing to AIA 2015 as a speaker, jointly with my colleague Rachel Minnery, FAIA, in delivering a seminar: Beyond Single Building Toward a Community and Regional Resilience Approach (TH302 – also offered online at AIAU) ). This is the second time I have been invited to contribute as a speaker to the AIA convention. My first time was for AIA 2010 in Miami Beach, Florida where I guided a tour and presented a paper: Characterization of Impact: A tool for designing for disaster.  [please click of the following link TECHNICALPAPERfor tour]

Anticipation and excitement mount as more than 7000 participants in AIA 2015 pack the main auditorium for the opening general session and keynote speaker Bill Clinton.
Anticipation and excitement mount as more than 7000 participants in AIA 2015 pack the main auditorium for the opening general session and keynote speaker Bill Clinton.

Let me say this, for an event organized by a 158-year-old institution this one really energized me. I came back with a sense that this venerable and aging organization is full of pep with a message of optimism, and ready to do well not only by its members but for the communities where they practice, in the U.S.A. and the world.

AIA 2014 President Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA welcomes participants to AIA 2015
AIA 2014 President Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA welcomes participants to AIA 2015
AIA 2015 VP and CEO Robert Ivy, FAIA reinforces the message of the AIA having a voice and making an impact!
AIA 2015 VP and CEO Robert Ivy, FAIA reinforces the message of the AIA having a voice and making an impact!

From the opening remarks by AIA President Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA, and AIA Executive VP and CEO Robert Ivy, FAIA, to the inspiring contributions by AIA medal awardees Moshe Sadfie, FAIA and Edward Mazria, FAIA,

AIA medal winner Edward Mazria, FAIA for his work to combat climate change through the design of energy efficient buildings
AIA medal winner Edward Mazria, FAIA for his work to combat climate change through the design of energy efficient buildings
AIA 2015 Gold Medal winner Moshe Sadfie, remember 'Habitat' in EXPO 67 in Montreal?
AIA 2015 Gold Medal winner Moshe Sadfie, remember ‘Habitat’ in EXPO 67 in Montreal?

we heard words stated with forceful conviction about ‘doing things for a purpose’, ‘making and impact, and ‘having a voice’. I really believe that this institution that has done so well by its members, is now decidedly poised to take its rightful place in the national discourse and have its voice,  the voice of its 86,000 members, heard and listened to with the objective of tackling critical challenges we face as a nation and as humankind, riding our spaceship Earth. From climate change, environmental degradation, energy, to sustainability and resilience, the AIA intends to make a significant contribution in the search for and implementation of effective solutions.

Keynote speaker President Bill Clinton addresses the audience with a message that highlighted the tremendous opportunity that presents itself to the AIA moving forward
Keynote speaker President Bill Clinton addresses the audience with a message that highlighted the tremendous opportunity that presents itself to the AIA moving forward

This message of optimism was well-framed within the context of current world problems and future challenges, and the exciting opportunity these represent for the AIA, by an equally optimistic contribution by keynote speaker President Bill Clinton, during an opening general session attended by more than 7000 participants.

This sense of optimism is reinforced not only by what I heard from the AIA leadership and the members, but perhaps even more so by what I heard from and saw on the faces of the rather large contingent of young, new generation, architects and design professionals participating in AIA 2015.   During Q&A and in conversations with several of these young professionals after the conclusion of my seminar, I got the sense that they ‘get it’, they understand or know what the critical challenges are and they want an AIA that rises-up and confronts them effectively and with purpose. They do want an AIA with a voice that is not only heard nationally or worldwide, but that is sought by decision-makers here at home and elsewhere.

The AIA must follow these words and expressions of intent with actions. These actions must be based on a clear statement of  objectives, a well-defined strategy, and a simple and effective plan to execute initiatives on several fronts.  I trust the institute will open itself to new fields of action, beyond its trusted education and outreach activities. An example of such critically needed new fields is applied research; what I mean by this is research in the pursuit of effective solutions toward the attainment of sustainable and resilient communities in regions that are highly vulnerable  and fully developed, where we do not have the luxury of a clean slate to consider utopian design approaches, but where we must confront the reality of extensive urban development, a prevalent way of life and a standard of living, as well as critical environmental considerations to protect and take into account. While the AIA has no track record, to my knowledge, of engaging in or sponsoring this kind of research, I submit the time to engage in  it is now as this will contribute a foundation of support to the objectives of ‘making and impact’ and of ‘having a voice’!

AIA, I am ready to engage and do my part.  Where and how do I sign up for it? Thank you for an excellent AIA 2015 Convention and for the new and inspiring sense of purpose you have offered your members and friends.

The BBC: Example of Impartial Professional Journalism

The BBC, ‘bebee’ or ‘Auntie’ as some Brits call it,  that symbol of British broadcasting will be 92 years old this October, but these days it is showing the energy, courage, and guts of a fearless teenager as it sets an example of what it is to practice professional, responsible, impartial, and excellent public service broadcasting.

BBC logo
BBC logo

What the BBC is doing in its reporting of science, and more specifically of climate change, is nothing less than setting a new paradigm of excellence in, and higher standard of, broadcasting the news and reporting about science and climate change issues.

The BBC Trust [BBC Trust], guardian of the public interest in the BBC and its governing body, commissioned Professor Steve Jones of Imperial College London to conduct an independent review of  impartiality and accuracy in the BBC’s coverage of science. This study [BBCscience_impartiality] was requested in the context of assessing how well the BBC was fulfilling its mission to inform, educate and entertain and more specifically its duty to contribute to scientific literacy among the public

Based on findings from the study the BBC reached truly cutting-edge, advanced, even revolutionary, conclusions [BBCrust_conclusions 2014]

For example:

  • “It is a fallacy to conclude both sides of an argument have equal value”
  • “No attempt to give equal weight to opinion and to evidence”
  • “The false balance between fact and opinion must be avoided”

In turn, these and other findings have resulted in a new BBC policy related to its coverage of science news and issues. This new policy requires that BBC staff  must pursue accuracy, impartiality and ‘due weight in covering scientific issues.

The significance of this new policy is evident when one considers reporting on climate change. Before this policy was instituted BBC staff sought impartiality  by giving equal time to both sides of the issue, for example when reporting on scientific findings giving evidence of human contribution to global warming. As in turns out, under that model a report on human caused climate change gave equal time to a scientist presenting scientific facts, supported by 97% of the world’s scientific community,  and to a climate change denier expressing an unsubstantiated opinion.

What the BBC was doing was achieving a ‘false balance’ between well established scientific fact and the opinion of a denier of science. Clearly this undermined  the BBC’s pursuit of accuracy in its reporting.

The BBC could have solved this false balance issue by covering the same topic of human-caused climate change, by having 97 scientists on one side and three climate-change deniers on the other, and then giving each one an equal amount of time to present theirs facts or opinions. Clearly, this approach is not practical from a broadcasting point of view.

The solution comes with the BBC requiring its staff to add the component of ‘due weight’ to accuracy and impartiality when covering this or any other climate-change, or scientific issue. In the example given before, such due weight is achieved by the BBC’s reporter clearly informing the public that 97% of the scientific community support the facts being presented, while only 3% support the unsubstantiated opposing opinion.

In establishing this new policy the BBC has considerably raised the bar for excellence in covering the topic of climate change and other science  topics. It is clear that BBC staff will have to dig deeper and work harder to be able to report science news including the new requirement of due weight for both sides of an issue,

It is clear that it takes abundant courage and guts, or in the words of a former USA Secretary of State : “cojones”, not to mention foresight and honesty, to do what the BBC has done in establishing this policy of accuracy, impartiality, and due weight in science coverage.

On the opposite side of this refreshing news, here in the United States we still have to suffer the tendentious propaganda, spewed by broadcasting media paid by special interests, consisting on  unsupported biased opinions. Oh, if only these outlets could have the courage to attempt accuracy and impartiality only, and to honestly try to inform and educate the public rather than indoctrinate and misinform.

What a brave lesson from a 92-year old Auntie Bebee. Well done indeed! Bravo BBC!