by: AIA New York
As the Director, Environmental Sustainability and Compliance, at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York (MTANY), Porie Saikia, FAIA, FCIOB, RIBA, advances the vision for an environmentally sustainable MTA across its five agencies. She develops strategies for renewable energy, GHG reduction, and energy efficiency, incorporating long-term sustainability goals, anticipating trends in industry, technology, society, and legislative & regulatory practices. Saikia is a Registered Architect/USA, Chartered Architect/UK, Chartered Construction Manager/UK, and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Building. She has demonstrated exemplary leadership by driving design excellence in civic architecture and championing innovative project delivery to enhance the built environment experience, benefiting millions in the New York region and the world.
This year, the Jury of Fellows of the AIA elevated Saikia to its prestigious College of Fellows in the fourth category of Fellowship (public service, government, industry, or organization) which recognizes architects who have worked “To ensure the advancement of the living standards of people through their improved environment,” according to the organization’s definition. While only three percent of the AIA’s membership is distinguished with Fellowship, Saikia’s investiture will be held at a future AIA Conference and AIANY’s next New Fellows Reception.
Q: What is influencing your work the most right now?
A: Climate Change. Part of my work is focused on developing policies, procedures and methodologies for climate adaptation at the MTANY. The climate-induced change of the physical environment necessitates that MTA find an effective way to adapt its infrastructure, operations, and policies. So we look at developing a risk-based framework for systematic adaptations to climate change, which is important because of the long lifetimes of urban infrastructure, long planning horizons, and the significant social, economic, and environmental risks faced by urban coastal areas.
Q: What has been particularly challenging in your recent work?
A: In planning for climate adaptation, we have recognized that there is no “one size fits all” approach. For given expectations about climate change, different adaptations are appropriate for different types of facilities and their different life spans or criticalities. To protect MTA facilities with a lifetime of 100+ years against rising sea levels and storm surges, adapting elements with a planned schedule is imperative. To do it cost-effectively and with limited risk exposure to climate hazards, rehabilitation, and replacement cycles must be aligned with the otherwise needed rehabilitation, replacement, or expansions programs, which is challenging in our financial climate.
Q: What are some of your favorite recent projects that you’ve worked on?
A: In November 2019, MTA joined the UN-sponsored Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. Through the SBTi, a joint partnership between UNGC, WWF, WRI and CDP, we will develop a defined set of emissions reduction targets using climate science to keep the global temperature this century below 2 degrees Celsius. Targets set in both absolute and intensity reductions will result in many new projects. Potential absolute reduction pathways will include bus electrification, the electrification of diesel-powered commuter rail lines, increased energy efficiency at facilities, and to reduce supply chain emissions. Intensity reduction will focus on increasing capacity of the system.
Q: How have recent advancements in technology impacted your work?
The MTA recently launched a new initiative that will generate clean, emission-free, solar electricity as well as begin to open up a new frontier of previously untapped revenue by leasing of potentially millions of square feet of industrial roof and parking lot space to companies interested in generating solar power. Mapdwell Solar System tool is a rooftop solar mapping tool developed by a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was used to gather the solar potential of MTA property roofs. It calculates an estimate rooftop solar electric potential (PV panels), the total cost, and carbon offsets, and other financial, specs and carbon offset information.
Q: What are your greatest sources of inspiration?
A: The next generation of architects, designers, planners, engineers, builders and policy makers. Whether I work with interns in my department, team members on a project, lecture students in a class room, mentor enthusiastic apprentices, I am invariably inspired to learn more, to do more, to investigate more, to deliver more as I know we are the ones they are taking their cues from. This further compels me to be at my best, authentic, genuine, honest and conscientious self in what I do—it is as though I am somewhat, in some small way, accountable and responsible for the future of our profession and our industry.
Editors’ Note: This feature is part of a series celebrating the members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) New York Chapter who are elevated each year to the AIA College of Fellows, an honor awarded to members who have made significant contributions to both the profession and society. Learn more about Fellowship here.