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Building Innovation Conference Builds on 50 Years of the Built Environment

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May 26, 2024

By Christian Hamaker

An audience of architects, engineers, and other building enclosure professionals at this year’s Building Innovation Conference, May 22–24, 2024, in Washington, D.C., heard from speakers spanning the private sector, contractors, and government agencies on issues including resilience, technology, and building performance and sustainability.

The “Enhancing Resilience Through Climate-Smart Infrastructure Investments and Building Codes” Panel. L-R: Christopher Clavin, Bradley Dean, Tim Judge, Kristin Leahy Fontenot, Ashley Armstrong, and Eric Letvin


The National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS)—the conference organizer celebrating its 50 anniversary this year—used its opening session to look forward to the changes that will affect the next half-century of the building sector. “A Look Ahead: The Next 50 Years of the Built Environment,” addressed climate adaptation and mitigation and workforce equity among other subjects.

“People think we’ve been doing [climate adaptation] forever,” said Doug Parsons, director of America Adapts Media and host of a podcast that addresses climate adaptation. “No, we haven’t. We are early days.” He added that while there currently is “a lot of trial and error” in the field, that’s actually good news because the absence of settled norms means that those who have good ideas are in a good position to receive monetary support to pursue those initiatives. “It all comes down to money,” Parsons said.

While climate adaptation may be in its early days of seeping into the public’s consciousness, women in the workforce is, relatively, a much more established movement—or so you might think. Women on the panel noted that whatever progress has been made in that area during the last 50 years, there is still much ground to be gained.

“I admit that my voice doesn’t matter in a lot of rooms,” said Christi Powell, leader of the Women Business Enterprise Division of 84 Lumber Co. “Men that I work with are intimidated by me,” she added. “Why is that a problem in 2024?”

Amy Marks, executive vice president of global strategy at Symetri, pointed out the need for industry unions and other groups to re-examine their names, which could be sending negative signals to women in the industry. “If you want more women, stop calling it the Brotherhood of the Electrical Workers,” Marks said. She also pointed a finger at the businesses that sponsor events and could be reaching out to female students in an attempt to recruit them to the building industry.

Frank Musica

During “Beyond Carrots: The Legal Sticks of Climate Adaptation Failure in Construction,” Yvonne Castillo, senior vice president and director of risk management and global ESG chair at Victor Insurance Managers LLC, cautioned building professionals about the legal risks of failing to sufficiently address climate trends in their building projects. Castillo and panelists Mika Dewitz-Cryan, risk management attorney at Victor, and Frank Musica, professional liability risk advisor at Victor, then reviewed recent cases that showed how building professionals need to be thinking about foreseeability, codes, and industry practice.


Jim Schneider


Building Innovation sessions also covered precast and ready-mixed concrete. At “Precast Protects Life: Healthy Buildings,” Jim Schneider, executive director of the PCI Mountain States Chapter, stressed the importance of building health to worker safety and productivity, and made a case for precast concrete’s positive contribution to building health. Tiffany Reed-Villarreal, director of sustainability codes and standards organization at the National Ready-mixed Concrete Association, quickly ran through a number of industry codes and standards that affect buildings, and her organization’s involvement with each.

Schneider pointed to a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study that said we spend 90% of our time indoors, and that our individual health is directly tied to the health of our buildings. When buildings provide safety and boost wellbeing, that creates a comfortable environment for those inside, encouraging greater productivity and making people more willing to spend time in such spaces, Schneider said.

Day Two

Day two of the Building Innovation conference started with a panel discussion on climate resilience. “Enhancing Resilience Through Climate-Smart Infrastructure Investments and Building Codes” brought together representatives from several federal agencies to tout what they’re doing to fund building innovation.

Moderator Christopher Clavin, senior policy advisor on climate adaptation and infrastructure resilience in the White House Office of Management and Budget, said, “We’re sprinting still in implementing once-in-a-generation investments entrusted us by the infrastructure act … to address inequities, the climate, and [to ensure] that they’re … there to serve the communities for generations to come.”

Panelist Ashley Armstrong, senior advisor at the US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, said the agency has $1 billion in grant funding for state and local authorities to update building codes—but that proposed updates shouldn’t leave out energy efficiency. “We want buildings that get built or funded with this funding to be the best that they can be,” she said. “Tell us what your needs are: Resilience? Codes? You can do that, but bring along energy with it.”

Doug Trout

In “Prevention through Design,” Doug Trout, medical officer with the Office of Construction Safety and Health at the  National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, stressed the importance of design changes that could prevent construction accidents. With the number of fatal falls at construction sites increasing 53% between 2011 and 2022 and with 42% of fatalities in the US between 1990 and 2023 related to design, Trout said that design changes in permanent structures could have greatly reduced construction site incidents.