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The Architect's Role in a Warming World: Learning from Jamie Lerner
Amanda Reed, 23 Apr 10
“The City is not part of the problem, it is part of the solution.”

So says Jamie Lerner, a Brazilian architect and former three-term mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, in reference to climate change. Lerner recently gave a lecture at Columbia University called "Sustainable City" in which he explored the role of cities and urban mobility as a response to climate change and as tools for sustainable living. Vishaan Chakrabarti, an architect and professor at Columbia, attended the lecture and wrote about his thoughts in a new a new article on UrbanOmnibus: To LEED is Human; to Lead, Divine. Clearly inspired by Lerner's lecture, Chakrabarti writes that he was reminded "of the architect’s potential role in a warming world."

Chakrabarti argues that architects, planners and developers have a responsibility to "influence the form and mobility, the very morphology, of our cities," to go beyond designing buildings only and wield a broader sword. He calls for a re-emergence of the architect as a leader and power player and points out that "as designers we can lead as others cannot. We are empowered with a holistic understanding of the environment and a project-based education that are ideally suited to the challenges of our day."

And he suggests looking to Lerner as an example of how to successfully lead the design of sustainable urban spaces. As mayor of Curitiba, Lerner promoted city development without neglecting environmental and social factors. His successes are well documented; the efficient public transit network, ingenious waste management system and green spaces preservation program are all legacies of his time in office. The city is also a stellar example of livability.

But what makes Lerner's work so exemplary for designers, according to Chakrabarti, is his "ability to conceptualize scalable solutions to urban mobility and sustainability" with "the logic of design." He writes,

In Lerner’s world, everything must be smarter, and must use every unit of space and resource with wisdom and clarity. His work continually recognizes that the jump in scale from Curitiba to São Paolo demands a jump in the scale of intervention. Yet in all cases Lerner states unequivocally that the key issue facing a rapidly developing planet is the distance people must travel to get to work – the means by which that distance can be smartly traversed and reduced, he rightly asserts, are the keys to global sustainability...About green buildings, by contrast, he shrugs. Nice, he says, but the real issue is how people move between the buildings.

Changing whole urban systems, and developing more dense, transit supported cities, are all part of building a bright green future. Building on Lerner's example, Chakrabarti envisions designers at all scales working collaboratively to design and build a more sustainable world. To read Chakrabarti's full article, click here.


Image of bus in Curitiba, Brazil courtesy of Flickr photographer Mathieu Struck under the Creative Commons License.

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