Architecture in the Age of Trump

What will a Trump design and construction industry look like?

I suspect the economy may improve, since Republicans, and Trump, are interested in economic growth. An improved economy creates work for architects, and that is a good thing. I am, however, worried. Architects in my geographic area are at the forefront of efforts to build environmentally friendly, safe, energy efficient buildings. I fear the demand for buildings with these three attributes may diminish. I fear the type of buildings I am professionally and ethically obligated to design will fall out of favor. A rush to deregulate the design and construction of buildings is short-sighted. Only those who are unaware of the symbiotic and intertwined roles of government and the private sector would contemplate an ill-advised goal.

Government Enables Good Design

Sealander Architects makes good use of government support for the design of high performance buildings. For instance, we use a freely available energy modeling application called BEopt, written and distributed by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. BEopt, and practically all other building energy simulation software, makes use of weather data also supplied by the government. Typical Meteorological Year (TMY) files are available for thousands of locations across the United States. We use the Bar Harbor TMY file to perform energy simulations for projects on the Downeast coast. These simulations, and the design insights we glean from them, are an indispensable tool for designing climate-specific, high performance buildings.

Government Purchases Good Design

Sealander Architects, and other Maine firms, are designing high-performance buildings for the State of Maine. Maine encourages good design that produces economical, durable, and safe buildings. Government buildings should last for decades, if not longer. Therefore, small increases in first cost are outweighed by the life cycle advantages of well-built buildings. Maine recognizes this, and is saving money in the long run because of it. What happens when State policy changes, and first cost drives decision-making?

Government Mandates Good Design

Perhaps the biggest effect the government has on design is from mandating minimum quality levels through the adoption of building codes. Codes are actually written by non-governmental agencies, most notably the International Code Council (ICC). The triennial code review process involves private sector actors, such as building product manufacturers and design and construction firms; professional associations, such as the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE); and government members themselves.  Through a consensus process, these actors set the bar for minimum standards to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public. I took part in the last triennial review, and it was a great experience.

Were it not for building codes, buildings would be less safe, more energy consuming, and less durable. How do we know this? Because buildings built before the adoption of current codes are demonstrably inferior than buildings built under current codes. Similarly, buildings built in jurisdictions that do not enforce current codes are demonstrably inferior to buildings that are built in jurisdictions where current codes are enforced.

In other words, private developers left to their own devices will build buildings that are inferior in terms of health, safety and welfare protections for the general public. This is not true for all private developers, but it is true in general. We see this in Maine because Maine does not uniformly enforce codes. The areas that do enforce codes have better buildings than the areas that do not.

It is the enforcement of building codes- codes created through a consensus process involving diverse stakeholders- that are adopted by the government that has led to this country having some of the safest, most energy efficient and durable buildings in the world. Our buildings are using less energy, they are surviving earthquakes and other natural disasters, and they are not burning down.

When the Trump administration talks about defunding the Department of Energy, or reducing regulatory burdens on business, or reducing the amount of first-cost expenditures on government capital projects, I worry. These are short-sighted statements. They are the statements of unsophisticated people who have not learned through experience the intertwined and effective way government and the private sector work together to make this country the envy of the world.


Follow Mike Sealander, Maine Licensed Architect:


Principal at Sealander Architects, Ellsworth Maine. Revit guru. Married with 3 children. Avid gardener. Lived in San Francisco for nine years. Master in Architecture from Columbia University Bachelor of arts in religious studies, Wesleyan University. Graduated Staples High School, Westport CT. Hope to spend some time in Hokkaido before all is said and done.

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