Helpern Architects

Operating on the theory that you get the future you want only if you make it happen, Helpern Principal Margaret Castillo is continuing her quest to make the city and region sustainable, healthy, and, now especially, risk-averse.

Known for being soft-spoken but persistent, Margaret has segued from her deep involvement in the politics of building design and development in New York City as 2011 president of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects to a regional role as member of the board of AIA New York State. Her focus is to influence the Governor, legislators, and agencies at the state level to make good decisions about structure and infrastructure and how they affect the well-being and safety of the state’s citizens.

This past winter, after Superstorm Sandy, Margaret’s statewide mandate expanded further. AIANY enlisted hundreds of design professionals and their organizations, many government agencies, and the region’s design schools in the Post-Sandy Initiative, a collaborative investigation of the issues, options, and opportunities in the wake of the Superstorm and “the escalating effects of climate change on New York City.” With an eye toward the mayoral debates, not just recovery, the Post-Sandy teams worked determinedly for six months to produce a report, website, and related exhibition and symposium coverage in eOculus. Margaret and her colleague Illya Azaroff, AIA, headed the Post-Sandy Initiative’s Advocacy Working Group and continue to put forth its agenda.

Who is making these decisions, anyhow?

One goal is to get design professionals a “seat at the table” of all government groups that deal with climate change and natural or man-made disasters, such as EMAC, the emergency Management Assistance Compact. As the Post-Sandy Initiative report points out: ““In many ways, the most important advocacy point going forward is to ensure that architects, planners, landscape architects, and engineers – those who understand the physical implications of the various policy and strategic options under consideration – are part of the discussions at the outset.”

During a disaster, who ARE you going to call?

Another goal is to pass a Good Samaritan Law at the state and federal levels. “Good Sam” would protect licensed architects from liability for unpaid services provided during a government-declared disaster. The absence of Good Sam protection spurred deeply onerous litigation after 9/11 that continues even today. The negative effect on speedy and safe reconstruction is incalculable.

Since this is a mayoral election year in

New York City, the stakes are even higher.

AIANY has created a robust policy platform – A Platform for the Future of the City – to push for solutions to “the most pressing issues facing our city’s built environment.” On May 11th at the Center for Architecture, Margaret and three other AIANY presidents officially launched the campaign, providing compelling statistics and discussing four categories of recommendations for our buildings, our neighborhoods, our city [Margaret’s topic], and our world.

Margaret specifically addressed “The Architecture of Well-Being,” including age-friendly design; energy efficiency and sustainability, her focus while AIANY President; and Risk & Reconstruction, important for a city with 520 miles of exposed shoreline. “We do not have a complete picture of our infrastructure. We are vulnerable to climate change,” she observed, adding that “Our current zoning and building codes do not take into account the threat from future natural disasters and climate change.”

For an electronic copy of the platform, click here. To see the Vimeo of the entire Future of the City presentation, click here for part 1 and here for part 2; Margaret’s portion begins about 45 minutes into the tape.