Recap: New England COTE Leadership Summit, 2019

Mary Ann Lazarus, FAIA leads a panel discussion

By Jesse Anderson, AIA

The AIA held its annual New England Committee on the Environment (COTE) Leadership Summit last month in Newport, New Hampshire. The Summit was opened on Thursday evening by Mary Lazarus, FAIA, LEED Fellow, who was also this year’s moderator. After a brief speech introducing this years theme, “Mainstreaming the Demand for Sustainable Architecture: Changing the Ground Rules for and by Architects,” she went on to lead an interdisciplinary panel discussion on the theme featuring several leaders from across the region representing diverse backgrounds of architecture, financing, government and regulation, and non-profit stakeholders.  

The following day, attendees (which consisted of architects from throughout Northern New England, as well as several professionals from the building and financial trades), broke up into smaller working groups to debate a wide variety of specific topics; the issues discussed were predicated on the idea that architects may need to expand their role beyond that of the traditional, in order to make sustainable building practices the rule, rather than the exception.  On the table were topics related to community organizing, client education, influencing regulatory bodies, promoting social equity and climate action, and facilitating resilience and adaptation, among many others.  

In between working group sessions were case study presentations delivered Pecha Kucha style  by Ellen Watts, AIA, LEED AP; Megan Nedzinski, AIA, LEED AP, CPHC; Bill Maclay, FAIA; and Alyssa Murphy, AIA.  

Later that afternoon, the summit reconvened to discuss the outcomes of the day’s work sessions and to try and come up with a list of priorities and actionable items, as well as to discuss what role the AIA might play in facilitating the changing role of the architect. There were many suggestions ranging from stronger contract language, which would require architects to include sustainability goals in projects, to calls for greater education-- for clients, contractors, and architects, to becoming involved politically.  

In the end I came away from the summit with more questions than answers, which I suppose is how these things go. I couldn’t help feeling that there wasn’t enough time in the day to fully address many of the issues being discussed. It made me think about how we might keep the conversation and the exchange of ideas going, perhaps on a more local level. AIA Vermont could have its own state-specific COTE Leadership Summit which might be a great way to bring these topics home. We are a unique state and it seems to me that architects here are used to expanding their roles, by necessity. It would seem a natural fit for us to come together to reimagine how we might practice in an era in which climate change poses an existential threat, but also one that could ultimately be defined by sustainability.

Visit http://www.nneaiacote.org/ to learn more about the 2019 summit, as well as view the archive of previous years' events.

 Special thanks to Catherine Lange and Morgan Karanasios for providing photos from the event.