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BSA News

Jul 27, 2023

BSA Summer CE Workshops Return

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Photo by Pavel Danilyuk via Pexels

Explore How Mass Timber, Total Carbon and Other Topics Can Elevate Your Practice

With the August 31st deadline for AIA membership and state licensing requirements rapidly approaching, the BSA’s summer continuing education (CE) workshops have returned with a series of sessions to help architects elevate the quality and efficiency of their practice. From designing for fire safety in a changing world to innovative approaches to simulation to address lighting potential during design, the workshops promise to ignite creativity, fuel productivity, and provide architects with needed last-minute Health, Safety and Welfare (HSW) credits.

Each year, licensed architects face two CE requirements. The Commonwealth requires architects to complete 12 hours of CE credits in HSW by August 31. The American Institute of Architects mandates that architects complete 18 continuing education credits, with 75 percent of those credits dedicated to HSW, by December 31. This year’s summer CE workshops are designed to help architects meet these requirements, and many explore topics that will help architects navigate the ins and outs of changing codes and weigh practical considerations to optimize sustainability.

BSA communications staff sat down with Suzanne Robinson, Associate Principal and Director of Sustainability at LeMessurier, to learn how these workshops help architects stay on top of the latest industry advancements. Robinson will co-present at two workshops this August, Whole Project Decarbonization (virtual) and Mass Timber Design Construction in the North East (virtual).

Sustainability efforts and requirements are ramping up across the profession, Robinson noted, so the big challenge is determining how to accelerate the incremental changes already occurring in the field. “As professionals, we have a responsibility to integrate sustainability into all our projects. [Carbon challenges such as] AIA 2030, MEP 2040, and SE 2050 all recognize the looming deadline we face with climate change, “ says Robinson. “ And the Earth doesn’t care about excuses. We need to be making significant changes in our approach to design to meet these industrywide climate goals.” In the following Q and A, Robinson provides insights on sustainability and a window into what she will cover in her workshops.

Q: How is it that mass timber qualifies as an HSW credit?

Building with mass timber has the potential to reduce embodied carbon, which contributes to the sustainability of a project. Sustainability sessions have qualified for HSW credit due to the global welfare contributions. With mass timber, there’s a growing understanding and awareness of the embodied carbon impact of traditional structural materials such as concrete and steel. The structural components of a building can account for a large portion of the building’s embodied carbon impact. The extraction, production, and transportation of materials can produce a significant amount of emissions that end up contributing to climate change. So, it’s more about how every decision we make for the building makes an impact globally. Materials like mass timber can potentially decrease that negative global impact.

Q: How does the total carbon picture apply to architects in Massachusetts?

A: Codes are mandating higher energy performance of buildings and limits on carbon, both operational and embodied carbon. I've been in the sustainability field for almost 20 years and have not seen policy accelerate this quickly before. In Massachusetts the public and policymakers are understanding the reality of climate change, the role our built environment plays, and the deadline we are facing to shift our climate trajectory. Sustainability used to be an optional addition to projects. Now it is mandated with the new Massachusetts Stretch Energy Code, local city and town ordinances, and other policy that is in the pipeline. If you look at something like mass timber, which relates to embodied carbon, it’s already in the Massachusetts Stretch Energy Code, being incentivized alongside operational energy reduction measures.

Q: What might someone learn in your Mass Timber Design Construction in the Northeast workshop?

Even though mass timber has been around for a while, a lot of professionals have never designed with it. Mass timber is gaining traction as a viable structural material partly due to the lower embodied carbon compared to steel and concrete. Timber also has the potential to sequester carbon, which is an additional carbon bonus, but not all wood is equal–the forestry practices of the timber and the harvesting location play a critical role in the climate and environmental health contributions.

As an architect, faced with new technology or new materials introduced to the market, it’s hard to know what considerations are at play. If you’re designing a building here in the Northeast, you’ll want to know what the key considerations and challenges are, such as code considerations­—where are they now and where they’ll potentially be in the future. What is the availability and lead time and the cost considerations? Also, what you should keep in mind when designing a mass timber structure, such as bay widths, floor heights, coordination with MEP. The workshop I will lead addresses a lot of the questions we’ve heard from architects, developers, and owners on our projects as well as from the research and studies we’re doing in collaboration with a national team on a Timber Cities Initiative, a Wood Innovation Grant from the USDA.

Q: How does your Whole Project Decarbonization workshop play into the larger conversation about total carbon?

As an industry, I don’t think we have a good grasp of design decisions across the whole carbon picture yet; we’ve mainly been focused on operational carbon (reduced energy). Understanding embodied carbon is relatively new to most projects and there is some catch up as an industry that we need to do as we see more low-carbon policies being introduced in the region.

On projects, it can be difficult to know which choices to make and what to prioritize for the biggest carbon reduction. A critical first step is awareness of the terminology, principles, and questions to ask on projects, specifically questions for your engineers. I'm excited about this session because it crosses disciplines, having both a structural engineer and a mechanical engineer speak to the whole carbon of projects.

Q: What should architects be thinking about related to total carbon?

There are two terms I have gravitated to throughout my career: “order of magnitude” and “informed decisions.” We want to care about everything, but you can’t care about everything to the same level. Our job is to understand what our options are, the impact they have relative to each other, and to be able to make informed decisions based on this information. Decisions by architects have a big carbon impact on the design work of the engineers, but architects are not always aware of the order of magnitude of some of their design decisions related to mechanical and structural engineering. Often, we’re looking at the mechanical, structural and enclosure aspects of the building to reduce a large portion of the carbon impact of the building, and the architect really has a large influence on those three pieces.

Registration is now open for Summer CE Workshops!

Summer CE workshops will take place August 1-3 and 8-10 in-person or virtually. There are no hybrid options available, so please be sure to confirm each workshop location. In-person sessions provide an opportunity to connect with peers and colleagues over a cup of coffee. All workshops have been submitted for CE credit and will offer 1.5 LU|HSW credits when approved. Credits are automatically tracked on online transcripts for BSA members. Sessions cost $40 for BSA members and $80 for non-members for the first session. Registrants receive 20 percent off each additional session.

Visit the BSA calendar for a full list of workshops and to register now. For more information, please contact Patricia Olshan.