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4 Things We Learned at AIA Convention 2016: Philadelphia

Jun 2016

At the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Convention 2016, attendees chose from over 500 sessions and walked a 17,000-square-foot Expo floor that featured almost 800 different product and industry booths. Plus they heard from keynote speakers who delivered, including Neri Oxman talking about the importance of biomorphism and design at the intersection of science and engineering, and Rem Koolhaas suggesting that “architecture stands with one leg in a world that’s 3,000 years old and another leg in the 21st century.” 

In addition to thinking about the future of architecture and just soaking up the breadth and scope of AIA Convention 2016, here are four things we learned at the conference. 

We still have work to do.

There were a handful of sessions devoted to materials, chemicals, and risks. The speakers promoted banned lists and spent a lot of time talking about PVC. What was often missing: science. This goes to the need for architects and designers—and the journalists who report on these stories—to understand the science. It’s also a reminder that the vinyl industry has more work to do educating our audience on the facts versus the fiction.

Product labels are not food labels.

The other troubling trend coming out of AIA Convention 2016 were the speakers in several different sessions who equated product labels with food labels. Their argument is transparency: people should know what chemicals are in their materials and products the same as they should know what’s in the food they eat. 

It’s a false equivalence. 

The exposure (let alone the risks of exposure) are simply not the same. The food we eat ends up in our bodies. The PVC pipes in our walls or vinyl in our floors—well, that doesn’t, does it? This goes back to understanding how to calculate actual risk and actual exposure.

Vinyl film is looking up.

Vinyl film is already a very versatile material. It’s used to wrap everything from buses to buildings. A large part of its appeal is that it’s easy to install and can be removed without doing any damage to the underlying surface. At AIA Convention 2016, we talked with representatives of a major flooring and ceiling manufacturer who told us that they’re preparing to launch a sticky-backed vinyl film for ceilings. Think commercial kitchens, hospital rooms, and more.

The durability of your product matters.

There was a fair amount of conversation at AIA Convention 2016 about product durability. Vinyl’s durability is well-documented (in actual use—and by science). 

So what happens when you avoid one product to pick something else that doesn’t hold up as well?

The first three takeaways in this post were about things we did hear; this is about what we didn’t. If you pick a product with a shorter lifespan or one that perhaps uses more energy or more water in the manufacturing process, you’re placing different stressors on the environment. You’re also adding economic stressors since the end-user has to renovate more often or otherwise factor new costs into their construction and design budgets. At a time when everyone is focused on sustainability and resilience, shouldn’t all the variables factor into the material selection process?

The annual AIA Convention and Expo is the architecture and design event of the year and we look forward to more exciting news from AIA Convention Orlando, next April 27-29, 2017.