Initiative for Adaptive Buildings and Cities

Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, Laudato si’, is a direct call to address the socioeconomic, urban, and environmental woes of our common home. It is a radical and urgent message to generate profound changes in both urban and rural lifestyles and modes of production and consumption. It calls for environmental stewardship through peaceful means. It demands an unprecedented discussion of avenues through which we may save our planet and ways in which we can ensure an acceptable quality of life for all, not just the rich and powerful nations that dominate global political and economic affairs. 

Spring 2024 Faculty Roundtable Series

The School of Architecture's Initiative for Adaptive Buildings and Cities is our answer to this call. During the spring 2024 semester, we are presenting five Faculty Roundtable discussions, led by Research Associate Carl Elefante.

  • The first session introduces the framework for addressing the challenges of 21st century habitation in the context of the climate, justice, and urban imperatives.
  • The second and third sessions investigate two scales of intervention, urban and building, to overcome the barriers to progress embedded in modern-era biases.
  • The fourth and fifth sessions focus on two specific building sector issues critical in addressing the real-world challenges our profession will face during the careers of our students.

The purpose of the Roundtables is to gather faculty perspectives on how architecture, historic preservation, and our transdisciplinary partners can reform human habitation to help resolve the intransigent crises of the 21st century. The Faculty Roundtables will contribute to the School's instructional and research missions and guide future activities both within and beyond the School and University.

Session One Recap Session Two Recap

Session 3

Roundtable 2 was recorded and can be viewed here. Both pre-recorded provocations are included within the video of the roundtable.

Roundtable 3 will be conducted on Tuesday, March 5th, 12:00-1:15 pm, in Room 113 of the Walsh Family Hall of Architecture. Roundtable 3 is titled: Beyond Modern Buildings. The second deep dive into the role of architecture in addressing the compelling challenges of the 21st century shifts to the building scale. Although the focus is on engaging School of Architecture faculty, the Roundtable sessions are open to all. Participation by students, faculty from other programs, and other interested parties is not only welcomed but encouraged.

Topics & Schedule

Interlocking Imperatives
Session One: Wednesday, January 24, 12 noon to 1:15 pm
Room 113, Walsh Family Hall of Architecture

Climate Imperative – The building sector is responsible for the most greenhouse gas emissions of any economic sector. In fact, urban form determines a great deal about emissions from all sectors, including energy, transportation, industry, and agriculture. Curtailing climate change requires retooling everything about how buildings are designed, constructed, operated, and refurbished. All building and urban actions over the next three decades will be measured using the metric of “carbon.”

Justice Imperative – But climate change is not occurring in a vacuum. Deep and intractable social, economic, and environmental challenges confront humanity globally as the 21st century hits its stride. Not only has the sustainable way-of-life proscribed by the UN Brundtland Commission in 1987 not been realized, rapidly accelerating consequences of climate change are exacerbating inequities.

Urban Imperative – Concurrently, the urban era is dawning. For the first time in history, more than half of global population resides in cities. By century’s end, nearly nine-in-ten people will. Solutions to climate change and other threats to peace and prosperity must be addressed by shaping conditions in the built environment. Architecture and urban form have never had greater relevance.

Pre-Recorded Guest Presentations

Climate Imperative – Edward Mazria, CEO & Founder, Architecture 2030 – The building sector and decarbonizing civilization.

Justice Imperative – Sharon Prince, CEO & Founder, Grace Farms – The building sector as microcosm of social and economic inequities.

Urban Imperative – Carl Elefante, Senior Research Associate – The built environment as resource and impact flows.

Watch here

Reforming Cities and Towns
Session 2: Wednesday, Februrary 14, 12 noon to 1:15 pm
Room 113, Walsh Family Hall of Architecture

Even the most vital American cities and towns struggle with blighted neighborhoods. In Rust Belt communities, South Bend among them, overcoming conditions caused by rapid suburban sprawl, systemic disinvestment, and misguided 20th century development practices holds the key to tackling intransigent social and economic hardships.

Architects in the 19th century overcame enormous public health challenges by changing built and urban form. Today’s architects are called upon to heal 20th century wounds to produce the secure, healthy, prosperous, just, and resilient cities humanity demands.

Pre-Recorded Guest Presentations

Main Street – Patrice Frey, Senior Advisor, Main Street America – The challenges of revitalizing America’s towns.

21st Century Urbanism – Michael Grove, Chair of Landscape Architecture, Sasaki – Cities as resource hubs. 

Watch here

Beyond Modern Buildings
Session 3: Tuesday, March 5, 12 noon to 1:15 pm
Room 113, Walsh Family Hall of Architecture

Long accepted modern-era building forms and construction practices were formulated during a time when social and environmental consequences were swept aside. In the nine thousand years of building history, such modern-era buildings and cities are in fact an anomaly, a brief period of fossil fuel addiction that must be retooled quickly and comprehensibly. Further, accepted notions of sustainable development and actions to curtail climate change in fact perpetuate the same modern-era biases which are incapable of producing rapid systemic change.

Building principles and practices which are fundamentally beyond those of the modern-era are urgently needed. As an architecture program dedicated to teaching traditional knowledge, we are called upon to help envision the design principles and construction practices beyond the modern era.

Pre-Recorded Guest Presentations

Historic Perspective – David Fixler, Lecturer, Harvard University – The anomaly of modernism.

Health Perspective – Liz York, Healthy Buildings, US GSA – Reconnecting with human health and wellbeing in the built environment.

Prioritizing Regional Design
Session 4: Wednesday, March 27, 12 noon to 1:15 pm
Room 113, Walsh Family Hall of Architecture

A misplaced belief in the universality of modern-era principles and practices resulted in the replication of modern-era cities and buildings from the equator to the polar regions and dependence on global supply chains for nearly every building product and material. Both practices produced significant social, economic, and environmental burdens on both sides of the supply-and-demand equation.

A fundamental necessity of indigenous and heritage building traditions, climate-adapted design is a lost art in modern-era architecture. Also, expression derived from the use of regionally-available materials and cultural connections is one of the most defining characteristics in the rich history of architecture. Rediscovering regionally appropriate cultural and climatic design and materiality is essential in defining post-modern built and urban form.

Pre-Recorded Guest Presentations

Global South Perspective – Ceylan Irem Gencer, Associate Professor, Yildiz Technical University – Lessons from the Global South: architecture without architects.

Bioclimatic Design – Victor Olgyay, Principal, Rocky Mountain Institute – Built form as climate response: the work of Victor and Aladar Olgyay.

Prioritizing Re-Use
Session 5: Tuesday, April 2, 12 noon to 1:15 pm
Room 113, Walsh Family Hall of Architecture

In highly developed countries in the Global North, led by the US, the post-WWII building boom was staggering. Not only has population continued to grow at breakneck speed, but per capita development has also skyrocketed. Further, there is a deeply held modern-era misnomer that the solution to almost every ill is to replace “bad” traditional buildings with “good” modern ones.

Re-using and refurbishing existing buildings is the most direct approach to reducing environmental damage and avoiding greenhouse gas emissions, reinforcing social and cultural connection, and addressing the host of socio economic challenges in modern-era cities.

Pre-Recorded Guest Presentations 

Adapting Buildings – Jean Carroon, Principal, Goody Clancy – The Global North’s unseen challenge: new life from existing buildings.

Traditional Buildings – Robyn Pender, Senior Analyst, Retired, Historic England – Traditional buildings and materials: time-tested performance.

Session One Recap

by Carl Elefante, FAIA, FAPT, Senior Research Associate

The first Roundtable for the Initiative for Adaptive Buildings and Cities was conducted on Wednesday, January 24th. From my perspective as the Roundtable series coordinator, it was a great success. Attended by nearly half of the School of Architecture faculty, the opening session both introduced the subject matter for the five-part series and initiated a thoughtful discussion – the series’ primary goal – focusing on the relevance of architecture in resolving 21st century challenges.

Roundtable 1 was titled Interlocking Imperatives. The opening presentation framed those challenges in terms of three urgent action agendas: curtailing climate change, addressing intractable inequity, and accomplishing both by reforming built and urban form. To my ears, the ensuing discussion made it clear that attendees understood the relevance of the three imperatives and the value of investigating them as forces shaping our profession and world. Further, discussion also demonstrated that there is a wealth of interest and insight as well as experience and expertise residing in our School. While the challenges we face together can be daunting, the Notre Dame School of Architecture is uniquely positioned to contribute real and lasting solutions.

[0:10- 11:55] Climate Imperative – by Edward Mazria, CEO & Founder, Architecture 2030
As an educator and researcher, Edward Mazria, FAIA, first gained international recognition for his groundbreaking work on solar energy, publishing the Passive Solar Energy Book in 1979. Twenty-five years later, Mazria stepped away from a successful architectural practice to found Architecture 2030, a non-profit dedicated to combating climate change by “decarbonizing” buildings. Mazria launched the Architecture 2030 Challenge in 2003 and played a pivotal role at the Paris Climate Summit in 2015. For his singular contribution to changing the course of the architectural profession, Mazria was awarded the AIA Gold Medal in 2021. Architecture 2030 remains the most trusted source on building sector climate action.

[11:56 - 23:25] Justice Imperative – by Sharon Prince, CEO & Founder, Grace Farms
Entrepreneur and philanthropist Sharon Prince established and leads the Grace Farms Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing humanitarian causes. Their 2022 Design for Freedom Report identifies construction and the building materials industry as the most “at risk” for supporting forms of modern slavery, mapping construction and supply chain human rights violations globally for twelve of the most common construction materials. Grace Farms provides resources for architects in their Design for Freedom Toolkit. Creating a campus to facilitate its mission, Grace Farms constructed the River Building, designed by 2010 Pritzker Prize Laureates Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, partners in Tokyo-based Sanaa.

[23:26 - 36:05] Urban Imperative – by Carl Elefante, Senior Research Associate
After an architecture career exploring the intersection of sustainable design and historic preservation, Carl Elefante, FAIA, FAPT, has devoted the past decade to advancing the profession’s efforts to address climate change, focusing on the importance of adapting existing structures and applying the lessons of built heritage to combat modern-era biases in building sector climate action. In 2018, he served as President of the AIA, playing a critical role in elevating climate change and social equity as AIA’s strategic priorities. Elefante is now serving as the first visiting scholar to the Michael Christopher Duda Center for Preservation, Resilience, and Sustainability at the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture.

[36:06 - 1:10:18] Roundtable One Session
[1:10:19 - 1:48:47] Discussion

Session Two Recap

by Carl Elefante, FAIA, FAPT, Senior Research Associate

The second Roundtable for the Initiative for Adaptive Buildings and Cities was conducted on Wednesday, February 14th. Like the opening session in January, the Roundtable was attended by about half of the School of Architecture faculty. The session opened with two 10-minute pre-recorded “provocations” offered by outside subject experts (see below) followed by open discussion.

Roundtable 2 was titled Reforming Cities and Towns. As the title suggests, the session explored both meanings of reform: improving and reshaping. The first pre-recorded presentation was made by Patrice Frey, Senior Advisor to Main Street America, focusing on the challenges facing America’s town centers and the place-based approach to revitalization fostered by the National Main Street Program. The second was made by Michael Grove, Chair of Landscape Architecture at Sasaki, showing recent large-scale urban redevelopment projects illustrating Sasaki’s work on carbon accounting and resource-production approach to planning and landscape design. The following discussion covered a lot of ground, illustrating an affinity for place-based solutions, skepticism about large-scale “top-down” planning, and curiosity about the benefits of analytical tools to inform design decisions.

[0:00 - 5:26] Introduction by Carl Elefante

[5:27 - 15:59] Main Street by Patrice Frey, Senior Advisor, Main Street America
For a decade, Patrice Frey served as President and CEO of Main Street America, a non-profit devoted to revitalizing historic commercial districts and town centers through place-based capacity building. Prior to Main Street, Patrice was the Director of Sustainability for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and led its Preservation Green Lab which conducted some of the most consequential research into the value of historic preservation as a factor in sustainable development.

[16:00 - 29:10] Productive Cities by Michael Grove, Chair of Landscape, Sasaki
Like the Fayetteville 2030 Food City plan prepared by the University of Arkansas a decade ago, Michael Grove has led Sasaki’s planning of large-scale urban districts that integrate food production and food culture. During this period Sasaki has also developed analytical tools to quantify greenhouse gas emissions into their planning and landscape design.

[29:11 - 1:08:23] Discussion