In recent years, the final letter of each president’s term has served as a vehicle for reflecting on the past 12 months and looking forward to new leadership. To reference the thoughtful writing of past presidents Audrey Maxwell, AIA, and Eva Read-Warden, AIA, I concur that the role of the TxA president is not motivated by a single platform. It does not occur within a vacuum of personal priorities but rather along the continuum of our goals as an organization. There is no finish line in this relay, but we can count the many steps we are taking along the way. We have five strategic goals toward which we are continuously working as we consider how we — as an organization and as architects — can make an impact.
One of those goals is “Resiliency,” which aims to support the planning, design, and construction of responsible, resilient communities that can thrive in the face of change. This past August, we witnessed the complete destruction of a town and loss of more than 100 lives in Lahaina, Hawaii, due to a wildfire that was caused by extreme drought combined with hurricane-force winds. Over the course of 2023, we have experienced more climate events than usual, including severe flooding, hurricanes, wildfires, and an unprecedented heat dome that brought triple-digit temperatures extending far beyond what is normal for a Texas summer. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, we set a new record for billion-dollar weather/climate disasters in the United States this year, having already reached 23 weather/climate disasters with losses exceeding one billion dollars each as of September 11. (For reference, the 1980–2022 annual average was 8.1 events, and the annual average for the most recent five years [2018–2022] was 18 events.)
As they grow in both number and scale, these disasters can no longer be thought of as isolated incidents. They impact our health, safety, and well-being as well our businesses. Not one of us remains unaffected by these climate events. This is not tomorrow’s problem; it belongs to all of us, today.
During National Preparedness Month in September, the AIA highlighted several resiliency resources, including AIAU live courses and toolkits, among other items. TxA will offer evaluator training for the Safety Assessment Program at our 84th Annual Conference & Design Expo in November. While we have these and other resources at our fingertips, as architects we must also understand the greater reasons for resiliency. Resiliency is about more than creating a buttress against potential damage or designing buildings that are physically stronger, sustainable, and economically more stable. The greater purpose behind these resiliency principles is to impact the spaces, communities, and planet in which those buildings exist.
Brantley Hightower, AIA, of HiWorks in San Antonio recently wrote a blog post about visiting Lahaina shortly before the devastating firestorm. He reflected on how our desire to experience places of natural beauty, history, and amazing architecture may yield unintended consequences for such fragile environments. However minutely, our presence and adoration can irrevocably alter these perhaps once resilient places as they evolve to meet new demands.
And yet, our veneration of “place” intimates not that we should do less in the face of this change, but that we need to do more of what we do best. Architects are creating carbon sinks, restoring ecosystems, and reversing biodiversity loss through design and the development of new materials. We have the opportunity to be leaders in the charge of sustainable growth and the creation of healthy environments, not only because we can, but because we cannot afford to remain mere bystanders. It is imperative not just to the relevancy of our profession but to our planet’s future.
As the Texas Society of Architects — as thought leaders and problem solvers — we will continue to move this work forward, as we have in the past. Our mission states that we support the creation of safe, beautiful, and sustainable environments. It is not unlike the Hawaiian saying, Aloha kekahi i kekahi, which means “love one another” or “care for and look out for each other.” As we strive for better, stronger communities, our resiliency and sustainability objectives reflect just a few of the ways that we look out for one another and will build a better future, together.
Nicki Marrone, AIA, is a principal at Alamo Architects in San Antonio and the 2023 TxA president.