If books reveal affinities among people, Hillary Brown and I are twins. I never met anyone whose library is so similar to mine. There is a certain logic in this. Hillary and I are both architects schooled during the period of participatory design. Though our careers took different trajectories, we share kinship with Kevin Lynch, Vince Scully, Frank Chang, and Robert Caro.
Actually, Hillary’s career has had several trajectories of its own. After graduating from Yale she worked in Edward Larrabee Barnes’ office back when discrimination against women in architecture was both quiet and ubiquitous. After he told her, “I am the idea, you are the pencil,” she decided to move out on.
Over the years she’s run her own firm – twice. She wore numerous hard hats in the NYC Department of Design and Construction under Mayors Koch, Dinkins, and Giuliani. She founded the Office of Sustainable Design, which wrote New York City’s High Performance Building Guidelines, and oversaw fifteen demonstration projects, all of which were built. Then she consulted with various US cities to develop their sustainability programs. Now Hillary is Director of the MS Program in Sustainability at the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at CCNY. “It’s my fourth career. I never would have thought I liked academia, but the students are so wonderful. CCNY started as a school for immigrants. You walk into the classroom and there’s not a Christian name.”
I met Hillary through a serendipitous Haiti connection. She and several of her Haitian students did some planning work there. They visited Grand Goave, the town where I contributed to reconstruction after the earthquake. Her book, Next Generation Infrastructure, addresses how to simultaneously reinforce our infrastructure while making it more sustainable and resilient. “The training I received in architecture school was less effective about how to build a building than how to identify problems, recognize patterns, and formulate solutions.”
Hillary understands that sustainability is more than matter of reducing consumption and boosting renewable energy. “The bleeding edge of sustainability is, ‘What is the new economic paradigm?’ Slowing down. Working less. Right now, it is only a theoretical model.” To move beyond theory will require a shift in consciousness. “We don’t even know who we are anymore. We on the coast are disconnected from the middle.” We have to acknowledge and appreciate our interconnectedness.
Hillary grew up in the Riverdale section of The Bronx. After living in a downtown loft for over thirty years, she returned to Riverdale two years ago where she lives in a 1950’s mid-rise with a gorgeous view up the Hudson River. “I had an interesting urban view from my loft, water towers and rooftops, but not a bit of green. I realized I needed that.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“The trajectory of the future is not in looking at the United States. It’s looking at how emerging societies adopt our values and our consumption.
“We shall live tomorrow if we get in stride with each other and align ourselves with the dictates of the planet. Or we shall not. It’s an either/or.”