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News > Climate Action and Leadership > AIA Philadelphia's New Council on Open Building Committee Highlights the Value of Sustainability

AIA Philadelphia's New Council on Open Building Committee Highlights the Value of Sustainability

Welcome the Council on Open Building as a NEW AIA Philadelphia Committee.


The Council on Open Building ( was launched in 2017. We thought the time was right to stimulate and support a shift in attitudes and practices among colleagues practicing architecture, engineering and urban design. We also thought that this shift was needed more broadly in the A/E community, including builders who construct what we design, product manufacturers who make what we specify, regulators, investors and our clients – public and private - who make it all happen.

The shift we had in mind can be summed up in a few words:


Events since 2017 have demonstrated that our mission is more important than ever.

Everyone knows that our buildings and neighborhoods, if they are to be truly alive and resilient and sustainable and also to gain value, must be able to change incrementally in a ‘fine-grained’ way. Otherwise, they become rigid and block real life and ultimately loose value.

Some might say that handling change is too difficult because it too complex and is random. But we don’t think so. Smarter and more systematic practices to deal with change are possible and are being used, around the world.

There’s another key point. We don’t think anyone would disagree that no single party controls the transformations in our buildings and neighborhoods, certainly over time. This leads us to a central principle of the OPEN BUILDING approach. We must SEPARATE DESIGN TASKS.

There are many ways to separate design tasks. But the most important in an OPEN BUILDING APPROACH is to separate based on LIFE-CYCLE and SOCIAL STRUCTURE. That means that one task is to design what lasts 100 years and what we can call THE COMMONS – what is SHARED. There are many names for this. In building design, we say that there is a Base Building or Core and Shell or Primary System. In urban design, we say that at this level of intervention, we shape public space, establish architectural themes, and generally set the stage for the design of individual buildings or building complexes.

The other, separate but complimentary task is to design what has a shorter life and, in buildings, may last a generation or less. We give this level various names, such as INFILL or FIT-OUT or TENANT WORK. This is the level of intervention connected to INDIVIDUAL or SMALL GROUP AGENCY.

But one thing is clear: the design of what is short-lived cannot and must not determine what should last 100 years. This is what a circular economy requires.

While these realities may be obvious, we believe that many of our practices – and the demands of our clients as well as the regulatory and financing instruments that shape our work – do not match this principle very well, and that we could and must do better.

Yet while we advocate the OPEN BUILDING approach as a way to address the challenge of SUSTAINABILITY and DESIGNING FOR CHANGE, we want to be very clear that the approach is not an end itself. We advocate this approach because it is a means to achieving a living and lovable and regenerative built field.

We face a big problem, however. There’s a troubling disconnect between the actual forces at play in shaping contemporary everyday built environment and how we discuss our work, make policy, conduct our practices and make investments. This disconnect renders us less able than we should be to contribute to the stewardship and resilience of everyday environment.

Council members see that the OPEN BUILDING approach points to a trend apparent in various kinds of real estate assets, such as workplaces, commercial and retail facilities, and gradually in healthcare facilities.

Sadly, residential and educational projects remain outliers up to now.

But thankfully, we see colleagues, especially those in a younger generation of practitioner and clients, who are working hard against strong headwinds to close that distance and overcome those obsolete attitudes, often under the radar and too seldom recognized and celebrated for their efforts.

Perhaps more than answers, we should be able to frame the central questions in a compelling way. The Open Building approach has some answers but certainly not all of them, and ultimately what is needed are changed attitudes, incentives and practices - both in the public sector and private sector, both on the demand side and the supply side. Inventive architects, planners, engineers, clients, public officials and investors will be able to find new strategies, but unless we ask the right questions, we can't make the needed progress.

We believe that the impacts of these trends on real estate and architecture will be significant. We’re talking about changes in our regulatory environment, our financing of real estate, and in the RFP’s clients put out when they seek proposals from the A/E community. And we’re talking about new design skills. Fundamentally we’re talking about a new GAME and new GAME RULES. The Council is suggesting that these trends and this new GAME invite clear recognition and active development. We launched the Council to help establish a platform for study and development of approaches to handling these trends. We look forward to more participation in the work of the Council and to collaborating on this mission with others who share the same vision.

-Darin Jellison, AIA, Blackney Hayes Architects - Board, Council on Open Building

-Steve Kendall, PhD - Vice President, Council on Open Building

Check out and JOIN the Council on Open Building Committee Page Here

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