Editor’s Desk: Aging Infrastructure

Fixing the Present & Preparing for the Future

Where I live, you can’t go more than a mile without seeing a new housing development, apartment complex, or shopping center in the process of being built.  People are flocking to my Western city, and it’s been quite challenging for the construction industry to keep up with the constant influx of new residents.  It’s great to see new buildings springing up, though, as it keeps housing costs from rising too much, and it attracts new industries to my high desert hometown.

         But, what about all the older buildings?  Specifically, what about the reinforced concrete buildings that have a finite load-bearing maximum?  Earlier this year we were all witness to the tragic collapse of a Florida condo, which was one of the deadliest building collapses in American history.  While devastating, the incident brought into focus the importance of keeping an eye on the nation’s aging infrastructure problem, as well as they way buildings are constructed.  The American Society of Civil Engineers recently called America’s levels of investment for fixing our aging infrastructure “woefully inadequate.”  Ouch.  With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic ramifications, it’s unclear at the moment how big of an impact President Biden’s American Rescue Plan is making.

         So, what role can architects play in taking care of America’s aging infrastructure now?  Take into account several considerations when designing a new building or renovating an old one.  Are you utilizing strong, yet eco-conscious, materials that can withstand the test of time?  Will these materials uphold their integrity against typical geographic weather patterns?  What about atypical geographic weather patterns?  The entire country is seeing more and more climate phenomenon, leaving many homeowners and building owners scrambling to protect their structures.  The investigation surrounding the 2021 Florida condo collapse unearthed much more than a decaying building, including widespread ineptitude and corruption.  Hopefully, this scenario is outside the norm, but it’s still a learning lesson. 

         Taking care of America’s aging infrastructure is not a task meant for one profession.  Instead, architects, engineers, contractors, building owners, maintenance professionals, and government officials must work together to ensure that America’s buildings are safe for the people who rely on them.  Further, plans need to be adaptable, especially since technological advances are happening at lightning speed.  Electric cars, high-speed tunnels, and smart homes are all examples of technological and lifestyle inventions that are changing the way the world is built.

         Remember that your shiny, brand-new design will one day be seen as old, and it’s important to incorporate architectural elements that don’t put a label of inflexibility on your structure.  This undoubtedly includes utilizing technology to your advantage, specifically building information modeling.  Architectural West has reported recently on the benefits of cross-laminated timber, mostly for being green and cost-effective, but it’s also a contender for one of the best load-bearing materials.  Talk to your team, your subcontractors, and your clients to understand how you can work together to not only help the present, but also prepare for the future.

         America has a proud, noble infrastructure history.  Seaside ports allowed the original 13 colonies to grow, and railroads brought people to the Pacific Ocean.  Highways connected towns, airports connected countries, and the internet connected everyone.  It’s imperative for all of us to be stewards of our infrastructure, from the past and into the future.

Marcus Dodson

editor & publisher

Please follow and like us: