by: AIA New York
Jessica Sheridan, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, is the 2020 recipient of AIA New York State’s Matthew W. Del Gaudio Service Award, which recognizes outstanding and significant service by an AIANYS member to the profession by promoting the profession of architecture. As a Principal at Mancini Duffy, where she collaborates on a range of projects from innovative temporary structures to large-scale commercial developments, Sheridan thrives on building consensus among diverse stakeholders to improve the built environment. She is a member of Mancini’s leadership team, focusing on building retrofitting and repositioning, as well as its resilience initiatives.
Sheridan has held a number of leadership positions at organizations, both within and outside AIA. Since 2019, she has served as At-Large Director in the AIA Board of Directors. She previously served as New York Regional Director for the AIA Strategic Council from 2015 to 2017, and has been a member of the AIA Community Resilience Network since 2015. She was a member of the NCARB Internship Advisory Committee in 2013.
At the local level, Sheridan has been a tireless advocate of AIANY for over 15 years, when she first started writing and editing for the chapter’s eOculus newsletter. In 2010, she was awarded the AIANY Stephen A. Kliment Oculus Award for her service to the chapter’s communications. She also served as Associate Director for the AIANY Board of Directors from 2012 through 2014 and has served a member of the AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction and Women in Architecture committees.
Here, Sheridan breaks down the role of buildings in greenhouse gas emissions and tells us why the architecture industry is on the precipice of change.
Q: What is influencing your work the most right now?
A: COVID-19 has brought to light the need for flexibility and adaptation in a way that is relatively new to architecture—at least at a broad scale. Whether it’s modifying apartments to comfortably work from home, building temporary structures to help restaurants stay afloat, or adapting alternative care sites to supplement hospitals, buildings traditionally do not adapt easily. Because my work largely focuses on building retrofits and repositioning—which considers new uses for existing spaces by definition—I believe that we must build in a way to help anticipate future unpredictable events.
Q: How/why did you decide to pursue architecture?
A: I love how architecture is pragmatic and artistic. The design of a space is psychological, scientific, and creative at the same time. I decided to be an architect when I was about 10 years old because I enjoyed drawing the houses my family stayed in when we went on vacations. I continue to pursue it because I will never stop learning. Everyone interacts with architecture every day, whether they are aware or not. I am proud to be part of a profession that impacts how people experience life. I aspire to bring positivity to that experience.
Q: What do you see as an architect’s role—and responsibility—within our culture?
A: Architects shape the built environment. They make places where people spend most of their time. As a result, architects are responsible to create space that makes the public feel a sense of belonging. They are responsible for people feeling at home; organizations developing efficiencies; children learning; and designing spaces where people feel a variety of stimulation, serenity, and creativity. Buildings are also one of the main contributors of carbon emissions. Therefore, architects have a duty to examine and evaluate buildings in a way that can help reduce the impacts of climate change. Health, safety, and welfare of the public is just the beginning.
Q: How do you feel about the state of the industry right now?
A: The industry is on the precipice of change. Technology has transformed to better enable us to educate our clients about architecture. With the help of expedited rendering software, VR, and gaming software, clients can literally participate in the design of their projects. As processes become more automated, it is easier and faster to confirm code compliance, interact with consultants and contractors, and track building performance. Technology enables more input from a broader group of stakeholders. While I’m not sure exactly what that means for our industry, I do know that it is becoming more inclusive and open-minded to those who inhabit the buildings that we design.
Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges, or opportunities, facing cities today?
A: Climate change is having—and will continue to have—the biggest impact on cities. Buildings account for roughly 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. About 11% comes from embodied carbon. Those of us who do work in the built environment must advocate with legislators, collaborate with our clients, and holistically design for a sustainable and resilient future.
The unpredictability of catastrophic events is the biggest challenge associated with climate change. As a society, we must prepare for this volatility, which is extremely difficult when discussing something meant to be as permanent as a building. Architects need to start thinking beyond physical walls, though. We need to better understand the social and psychological aspects of a community and begin to think of a structure, or a neighborhood, or a city as a place where people can convene and support each other during times of need.