Diminishing Resources and the Role of the Architect in Society

Tapani Talo Architect est. 1984

Tapani A. Talo, AIA Principal

Architect and Artist


To: The United States of America

Re: Trillion a year wasted energy alone since 1977 original speech by Jimmy Carter

Architect’s 50th year Trillion-dollar ‘Moral Equivalent of War Speech – 2014 version!


A short background and reason for this speech.

As an architect, my professional life revolves around interpersonal relationships, the often one-on-one interactions with clients, engineers, and construction workers. Here, I want to reach out to as wide an audience as possible, to anyone interested in the future of our nation and what we leave for our children. Why would an architect reach out like this?

It is because of Cancer. When my late wife Judith was diagnosed right after 9/11 with stage 4 breast cancer, I had to completely change my career. I stopped travelling and searching for big business opportunities wherever I could, and found a way to operate locally and be with my family rather than bid for jobs around the world.

Despite a wide ranging career that took me from photography to working as a sound engineer for the Rolling Stones, my travels convinced me that I needed to be an architect and planner – my original ambition since the age of 14 – to make the world a better place. I was fortunate to begin learning about this career with professors in the UK who taught their students about green architecture from the very first second because, as they said, it was the only way to bring about a real change. But until Judith’s cancer, I had no time to stop and think about where we were heading, what was happening to all of us, and how I could really implement these lessons.

I was fortunate to be a leading designer in charge of technical innovation with architects like Edward Barnes, Philip Johnson and Steven Holl. I worked on projects in Times Square, high-rises, Museums, Class A international Airport terminals, sports fields, retail and hotel projects, the headquarters of CNBC and Turner Broadcasting, and numerous custom, green residential properties.

All this allowed me to commiserate with best thinkers in engineering, and to realize the stunning fact that by adding just a small amount to the average construction budget, 7% at most, buildings can be 90 to 95% more energy efficient. In turn, this pays exponentially greater financial dividends in terms of the health of their occupants, the savings from reduced energy bills, and the long-term resilience of these structures.

9618580_SThis sort of efficiency has real life significance. In 2010, when a winter storm knocked out power and my wife Judith was in the late stages of her illness, and when the outside temperature averaged 10 degrees, I was able to keep our house at 72 degrees for 8 days with a 100-year-old wood burning fireplace in the basement. It allowed us to maintain a high quality of life and to keep her comfortable at home, and allowed me to support her wishes – she did not want to die in a hospital.

That was the moment when all the payback from the effort go green was seared into my consciousness like nothing else, a branding iron that defined where to go and how to dedicate my life and work.


Dear Fellow Citizen,

Trillion is formidable number, even in our energetic country, and saving that much by making our built environment 90 to 95% more efficient a year with 800 billion in energy savings with current energy prices, and 200 billion in other efficiencies creating a new employment and proper industry, education and codes to help every builder and designer to build it right.


INSULATION – the cheapest – most modest – most powerful source of saving – in large quantities

All it takes is insulation: R-70 roof, R-40 walls and R-12 to 20 windows, and bit of standard orientation and correctly figured plan(s) – so anyone with slight training and with new correct local and national codes could do it! (with office buildings, bit more knowledge, but mainly correct financial incentives – we have to know how)

We would become leaders rather than laggards in to be independent on energy – and thus safer in crisis – and turn the clock back on climate change. Architects and engineers are the answer.

In President Obama’s Inaugural Address on Jan 20, 2009, he said: We will not compromise in our way of living – and this was after Bush had just spent over a trillion dollars alone fighting for oil on Iraq – which WE TECHNICALLY NEVER NEEDED!

In a Financial Times book review from August 30, Nobel Prize winning professor Joseph Stieglitz said: “In the list of fundamental drivers of today’s distress [Martin Wolf] leaves out the structural transformation (from manufacturing to services) of advanced countries.” But even Dr. Stiglitz (as well as economists such as Paul Krugman) with his credentials leaves out THE MOST IMPORTANT driver of distress – the invisible continuous waste that results in a near trillion dollars a year in Energy (and equipment) loss in buildings alone.

The impact of this loss on housing / building sector in general – not mentioning infrastructure – is BIGGER than the cost of our army and medical care put together. Our beloved country could be so much more wealthy and productive, our foreign policy would be so much healthier and planet Greener if architects and engineers were ABLE TO DO OUR job!

If we architects were able to do our job much like doctors or good lawyers, with professional fees that reflect professional thinking and research required in each and every project type, our buildings would need 90% or less energy that we use today, be 90% more comfortable (and like cars be really ‘cool’ and fast without expense) and in the event of natural or manmade disaster, fully operable. This would mean that we would not have to run around the world securing oil reserves with the world’s MOST expensive military troops but use them to build better AMERICA at home, and if bothered, defend our soil.

Nor would we need nuclear plants, or fracking that will supply only for next 2 decades or oil and gas prolonging our old BAD habits of waste. Our power grid and LARGE politically powerful utility companies are 80 to 90% NOT NEEDED, and very vulnerable to natural and manmade crises – as most of us have seen in the past 6 years with storms and outages here in the North East alone. We all remember what SANDY did in just one day to Manhattan and the east coast. What happens if in the event of a large, say 5 statewide disaster, natural or manmade. Relying on individual generators will not work in a war or major earthquake situation as supply lines are all but gone, and where the buildings are still energy hogs.

Homes and buildings (and cars for instance) that operate without utility companies are extremely economical in the long run for our nation, comfortable, healthy. Combine this with public transportation that combines school and local bus system with wind generated power and we could see a dramatically transformed, safer, and more economical and forever sustainable system.

We cannot rely on ACADEMIA, again the most expensive one in the world, and presumably the best. Creating a curriculum is a long process. One needs professors who are capable and willing to think out of the box FOR REAL. I was trained by an experimental group in London 1974-77, and energy saving and providing most comfortable buildings became second nature to us. But this program vanished with 80’s Regan and Thatcher thinking.

It takes 15 years to create a program, and other 15 years for the students to become leaders. That’s 30 years. We have about 20 years when our current energy, water, food, mineral supplies are becoming politically crisis due to costs and related instability in the world. This piece of math is scarier than the previews of the latest violent blockbusters at multiplexes.

One quick way to face this problem would be to train people through the equivalent of a national 12-month long Military service, which could include classes on how to build energy efficient houses and buildings, along with necessary skills to protect our country in case of emergency. A mandatory service would create in 12 months a group of people capable of thinking INSTANTLY in the way that we have not done ever before. So we would have the next generation would learn both survival skills in crisis and prevent crisis from happening by learning to build correctly. We do not have builders capable of understanding green matters in a way that they can be adequately bid out and not be prized out.

Currently architects AND engineers are not treated like serious professionals since our fees became competitive by bidding rather than what was needed for a good job and training our next generation of architects and engineers in our offices: They are given a bone or a meal almost as a curtsey. They are not listened to or given the latitude to protect our clients, or our country’s future or security.

Our professional mandate from clients and real estate professionals is to follow our building codes (40 years out of date) and NOT TO SPEND a dime beyond it. Our building codes are a result of years of hard bargaining with utility, construction and real estate professionals who desire a quick profit after the project is completed. None of them can think long term we don’t have mechanism like in Germany where buildings, canals, railroads are measured and supported to protect the health and well-being (MONEY)  of the country in the long run. With the amount of education dollars we should be TWICE as good and efficient as Germany.

If doctors were treated like architects and engineers, the operation table would have 3/4 less staff, time, and equipment AND thus: How many of us would allow ourselves to be on that table?? WE architects are squeezed on every project so hard that we cannot even train the next generation like we were 40 years ago, as it is the most important measure of professionalism and future.

If we took the trillion as a benchmark that we would start to aim at, like Carter had said in his famous Moral Equivalent of War Speech 1977, where he gave the 10 principles for the plan, I would not be giving this sobering 50th anniversary speech as an architect to you.

But this principle of focusing on smart society should not stop on just building our buildings through smart incentives AND hard slaps on the wrist for not doing it. The benefits if they are spelled intelligently out make it no brainer:

Why cannot we have real estate REALTORS lay out the cost of running the building like car dealers. This house is supremely comfortable, has hardly any equipment to break down,  Cooling this much 30 dollars a month in the summer, heating in the winter same amount in the winter max, GOOD lighting and hot water is provided by solar.. Passive green houses don’t have utility costs to speak of. So one can pay that amount off the loan principal, and save over 15 years period the price of house mortgage for instance.

Or by informing people of the inefficiencies like the fact that people in Manhattan pay 30 dollars a square foot for unnecessary heating and cooling a year? Or my local doctor friend who complained about 5000 a month cooling bill for his 6000 sf house.

We cannot continue on our current energy path. We have lost 50% of top soil of our farmland in the past 25 or 30 years due to industrial method of farming corn and such. What happens when it is all gone, and the oil that produces the fertilizer in prohibitively expensive as oil’s in rapid decline due to increased usage and less production AND doubling world population wanting to be like us.

The true cost of possible nuclear disaster clean up insurance would shut our current plants in one day…The nuclear cloud rolling over our country would be like someone would have used a eraser across it, very much like what happened in Russia and lately in Japan.

Our political system should apply the same principle of less waste to ALL sectors of life, including financial industry (as they don’t really produce but are more like service industry) , cars should be minimum of twice as efficient, weight should be taxed correspondingly rather than sought after by car industry for bigger profit. Weight is (like space in buildings) inefficiency as it needs corresponding fuel to move and operate, and safety hazard against smart fuel-efficient cars. If everyone had smaller cars, we would have less deaths on the road.

There is no other country more unusual than The USA. We can do anything that we want, but the only criteria is WHAT we want. Peace and security is taken as for granted, as our focus seems to be measured via advertizing – cars, media, food, clothing and sports. Our friends who grew in the 1930’s Depression still store food, take care of their savings, are careful to make sure their offspring’s are safe for the foreseeable future.

Since 1950’s, the world has seen its greatest prosperity and comfort. It has never totally easy, but it has allowed serious calculated academic worry about diminishing resources to be all but forgotten beyond- maybe one out of 100 peers of mine, engineers, friends, professionals, or political leaders – including Capitol Hill

I am SO worried for my children’s sake, as even Rockefeller Brothers Fund director Stephen Heintz said the move to divest from fossil fuels would be in line with oil tycoon John D Rockefeller’s wishes,

“We are quite convinced that if he were alive today, as an astute businessman looking out to the future, he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy,”

This is a good start, but it is the dumb wasteful consumption due to poor building practices that we need to redline;


Tapani Talo, AIA


New York , USA  Tel: 1- 914 – 645 2940,

Email, – talo.tapani@gmail.com