2019 - Daylight Symposium
"An Illustrated Address" by Thomas Vonier
International Union of Architects
Along with our planet and its people, architecture faces great challenges. Environmental degradation and human poverty stand out today, partly due to building and development patterns that erode heritage, degrade habitat, squander resources and perpetuate socioeconomic imbalances. If we hope to counteract these forces, we must halt the indiscriminate destruction of natural landscapes and agricultural land. We must build responsibly, and we must build well. Planning, architecture and design are essential parts of the solutions. Architecture interacts with every one of the United Nations 17 sustainable development goals. Through realized buildings, settlements and cities all over the world, architectural solutions are already contributing to sustainable communities and improving the quality of life. We know that design and creative energy can make great contributions to the pressing global challenges of our time. That is the very basis of innovation, the theme of this year’s UN habitat General Assembly in Nairobi.
Every year, we lose hundreds of thousands of precious acres to automobile-dependent exurban sprawl, with enormous social, environmental, health and economic costs. At the same time, we face human need and poverty at an unprecedented scale—much of it concentrated in informal settlements that are now part of many large cities. At least one billion people on our planet live in makeshift housing. The UIA represents more than 3 million architects all over the world. We embrace UN Habitat’s New Urban Agenda as our own, we endorse the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and we pledge to achieve “carbon neutrality” in our communities and buildings. The world urgently needs effective solutions; we need designs for cities and buildings that improve all lives, not only the lives of the wealthy and fortunate.
New approaches to architecture and planning can upend the damaging patterns of the past and the present, and we call upon all professionals and citizens to join us in developing news solutions and contributing to their realization; not tomorrow, but today. We need a broad range of new solutions, each adapted to local climate, culture and challenges, and we need them on the ground, implemented and in use. Only realized buildings, settlements and planning that can achieve results. It truly matters how people build, where, and at what cost to society and the environment. We must build better communities for the benefit of all, while conserving our resources and using them wisely.
Thomas Vonier FAIA RIBA is president of the International Union of Architects (UIA), the only global organisation representing the world’s 3.2 million architects. He has led projects to address the challenges of rapid urbanization, regional conflict and changing climate patterns. Thomas was a delegate to COP 21 (Paris) and COP 22 (Marrakesh), as well as Habitat III (Quito) and the World Urban Forum 9 (Kuala Lumpur). He appears regularly in the news and at conferences on issues related to the built environment. As a private architect based in Paris and Washington DC, Thomas works with public and private clients to secure commercial and institutional facilities. A board certified security professional, he also works with municipalities to improve urban security. Thomas led innovative work on US embassies resulting in landmark security recommendations to the US Secretary of State. He served as president of the 93,000-member American Institute of Architects in 2017, and was a research affiliate with the Laboratory of Architecture and Planning at MIT.