State of good repair

May 2, 2019
7:00 p.m.

The Housing System logo

This event is part of a spring 2019 series called The Housing System.

Taking care of what we already have often gets short shrift. Housing policy, arguably, and architecture, certainly, typically emphasize the new, but from the perspectives of equity, sustainability, and plain practicality, we should be paying more attention to the buildings we already have. This is particularly true for housing: Building new consumes substantial resources, both material and financial, while recent crises related to heat, lead paint, and water failures in aging buildings have highlighted the dangers of neglect. At the same time, cities need to take steps to fortify buildings for the future—preparing for sea level rise, dealing with population changes, and getting to carbon neutral—which will require massive renovations and overhauling existing systems.

An evening of short presentations followed by a panel discussion, this program will focus on what it takes to maintain, steward, and improve our existing housing stock and the range of labor, skills, and expertise needed to make that happen. From material choices to adaptation to post-occupancy evaluations, what roles can architects play? And to house everyone safely and affordably, when should we be championing maintaining over innovating, old over new?


Jennifer Davis started her career in building maintenance in Boston in 1987 at a 700-unit complex as part of a six-member team, where she learned the basics of maintenance and repair. After a hiatus, she returned to the building trades as the resident manager for a contemporary 86-unit building in Tribeca in 1998, gaining valuable on-the-job training as well as honing skills via classes provided by the trade union. For the past 13 years, she has been the resident manager in Greenwich Village for a 159-unit converted warehouse built in 1898, where she was involved in oversight and implementation of the mandated energy audit process. She is a firm believer in green building practices, conservation, energy efficiency, and reuse.

Laurie Kerr, president of lk POLICY LAB, is a national leader in green building and urban sustainability policy. She is currently advising New York City and State on the creation of second wave efficiency policies to set them on a path to carbon neutrality. As deputy director of NYC’s Office of Sustainability under Mayor Bloomberg, she led the development of the nation’s first comprehensive green building and energy efficiency strategies, including the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, the Green Codes Task Force, and the Mayor’s Carbon Challenge. Subsequently, at NRDC, she founded the City Energy Project to help American cities adopt policies similar to New York’s. She holds degrees in engineering and applied science, in applied physics, and in architecture.

Shannon Mattern is a professor at the New School for Social Research. Her writing and teaching focus on archives, libraries, and other media spaces; media infrastructures; spatial epistemologies; and mediated sensation and exhibition. She is the author of The New Downtown Library: Designing with CommunitiesDeep Mapping the Media City; and Code and Clay, Data and Dirt, all published by University of Minnesota Press. She contributes a regular long-form column about urban data and mediated infrastructures to the architecture, urbanism, and landscape journal Places, including the recent article “Maintenance and Care,” and she collaborates on public design and interactive projects and exhibitions. You can find her at

V. Mitch McEwen is principal of McEwen Studio and co-founder of A(n) Office, an architecture collaborative operating between Detroit and New York City. McEwen Studio projects in Detroit have focused on creating new urban possibility from vacant houses previously owned by the Detroit Land Bank Authority. Projects in Detroit include a combined residence and flower incubator for an engineer at 3M, the ongoing Jefferson Chalmers Neighborhood Framework Plan, and an award-winning repurposing of a balloon-frame house titled House Opera. A(n) Office and McEwen Studio projects have been commissioned by the US Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, and the Istanbul Design Biennial. She has been Assistant Professor at Princeton School of Architecture since 2017 and is also the 2018–19 curator of IdeasCity for the New Museum.


Architectural League programs are supported, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo. This program is also supported by the J. Clawson Mills Fund of The Architectural League.