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RDC 2011: Leading the way to prosperity

As Massachusetts and the country at-large work to find their place in a post-recession world, we can’t forget what precipitated the Great Recession—housing and the uneven residential landscape. The recession’s origins are well known: predatory lending, veiled sub-prime debt bundles, inflated home values and lax regulatory oversight. But what about A/E/C professionals? What roles do we play? RDC 2011 addresses the responsibilities of our industry, emphasizing the problems and opportunities revealed during these often painful past few years.

For the first time, workshops are packaged into three tracks: Energy, Housing and Renovation. They were chosen for their role in leading us back to prosperity, representing vital needs that both public and private clients are fulfilling. After the economic shake-out, these still stand.

A/E/C professionals take great ownership in Energy—its sources, delivery and efficiency in the places we live, work and play. The path to net-zero energy has been blazed for architects and engineers (workshop A3), who know how to accommodate a field of solar panels as well as they know how to design a super tight exterior envelope (A4). We must become better advocates. Regulations increasingly aid this effort, if not flatly requiring that the steps be taken (A1; A6). Technology allows energy tracking in all stages of design, development and occupancy, and offers a clear and tangible communication line with clients and other decision-makers (A8).

Housing is a universally discussed subject in the A/E/C industry. Multifamily and affordable projects have rarely been the path toward critical acclaim, but they are desperately needed. How do we bring good design to projects with tight budgets and a lack of community support (B4)? Government is a critical player, acting as both the state’s largest landlord (B1) and design client (B2), as well as administering the zoning regulations that make projects possible (B3; B7). NIMBY opposition has always been a significant obstacle. RDC 2011shows that architects can create healthy communities meeting and exceeding budgetary and community expectations through good design (B5; B8).

Renovation and alterations to existing building stock is a classic New England challenge. The historic colonials, Victorians and brick warehouses which trademark our landscapes create a distinct sense of place, and A/E/C professionals are their stewards (C7). Designers ply their renovation trade through historic preservation (C3) and rehabilitation, modern retrofits (C1; C8) and residential additions. By blending 21st-century insulation techniques with old brick facades (C2), energy-efficient windows with hand-carved architectural moldings (C5), architects let history live. Design challenges come in all shapes and sizes, and the aging of our buildings is one to be embraced with pride and two hands.

As we in New England emerge from our recessionary slumber, we need to know and embrace the unique challenges we face. Massachusetts didn’t create the speculative, ghostly developments we see in states like Arizona, Florida and Idaho. In fact, Massachusetts has the opposite problem. Housing supply has been lagging demand for decades, if not centuries. Neighborhood and government bottlenecks, aging and dated towns and buildings, and keeping pace with ever-changing technologies are among our challenges. RDC serves up some of the best and brightest our industry has to offer, delivering content to lead the way to prosperity.

Residential Design and Construction is April 28–29 at the Seaport World Trade Center, Boston.