July 9, 2020
On the heels of Tuesday’s primary election, the New Jersey Architects Political Action Committee has announced their endorsement of Simone Tsigounis, AIA, Esq., in her run for Bergen County Freeholder. Ms. Tsigounis is a registered architect, a member of the Architects League of Northern NJ, a certified interior designer, LEED AP, and a member of NJ and NY Bars.
Simone, a past multi-term councilwoman for Cresskill, NJ, is the first citizen architect to request consideration for endorsement from the NJ APAC. The PAC’s decision was based on the organization’s mission to encourage citizen architects and Ms. Tsigounis’s responses to the following questions:
There is a need for having architects on planning and zoning review boards. Land use boards act in a quasi-judicial manner and must follow zoning ordinances and apply the Municipal Land Use Law. They shape the development of our towns. Architects have the skills to do this and the sensitivity to include other considerations in their review processes such as sustainability and walkability. Architects can, therefore, ensure against errant decisions while promoting the greater good to the community.
Enforcement of a mandate, however, may not achieve the optimal result. There is a cost to public service of which I am personally aware. By way of background, although a member of the AIA since 2000, I have been involved with local government in Cresskill since 1997; first on the Zoning Board, then moving on to the Planning Board in 2004 where I currently Chair the Subdivision Committee, and finally on the Council, where I served the past ten years, two as Council President. My passion for civic service came with the awareness that I was not able to take on projects in my community. Many solo or small firm architects rely on work from neighboring clientele who, likewise, prefer hiring a local architect. Although willing, these architects are not able to serve on their community review boards because of financial considerations to their practice. Alternatively, architects who commute long distances might not be available. In lieu of a mandate, more flexible standards should be set which take these contextual factors and changing circumstances into account.
This is an interesting question and one which requires an understanding of Agency Law. Based on my understanding, our Legislature created the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and vested in them the authority to promulgate regulations. The DCA is tasked with responding to a variety of issues of public concern. These issues include fire and building safety, housing production, and community planning and development, all which have a direct impact on our built environment. Our profession takes the burden of complying with these codes. As such, architects should be an integral part of the process in developing and assisting in the adoption of codes.
Enveloping question 1, I would support a mandate to have architects represented on the various divisions of the DCA. Our presence would ensure codes are pushed beyond the bare minimum in order to help save lives and make our built environment and communities safer and more resilient. My years of service on Cresskill’s governing bodies brought with it the urge to speak out against legislation that was steering our community away from smart growth. But to best voice my concerns, I first needed to learn the language of the law and entered Rutgers Law School in Newark in 2014. Although presently a member of the NJ and NY Bars, I do not practice law. I chose to continue my work as an architect, embracing civic engagement as part of my practice. Today, I am in a unique position to advocate the value of design at a higher level of government. I will help steer policy decisions that shape our future, whether it be through the legislative or DCA process, to keep our communities growing in the right direction.
There is simply no bright line “yes” or “no” answer to mandating or prohibiting the use of specific materials in specifications for buildings. As architects, we are ethically and professionally responsible for protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public in the built environment. We include specifications in our drawings for which we rely on experts’ opinions as to their effects. When hazardous, I would agree with mandating their prohibition. On the other hand, when beneficial, to mandate their use may lead to manufacturer monopolies which then need to be regulated to protect the interests of consumers. Thus, absent a showing of their effects, whether to mandate or prohibit the use of specific materials depends on the circumstances.
Yes, there is a strong argument for tax credits on all levels for climate change environmentally specific design. More needs to be done to incentivize developers and building owners to employ sustainable design practices. Moreover, such incentives can be used to stimulate the rehabilitation of existing buildings whose embodied energy yields a decrease in energy consumption. Absolutely, I support tax credits on all levels for climate change environmentally specific design.
Without question, I support AIA National’s Legislative Agenda and Policies as part of my platform. On a more local level, I intend to represent the collective voice of AIA-NJ. Therefore, I will rely on our members throughout our state to weigh in and will bring to the table important issues facing our profession, our businesses, and the communities we serve. Just as AIA National has captured our Congressional leaders’ attention, I will ensure our county government recognizes that architects are vital to crafting public policy solutions that impact their constituents.
In closing, Aristotle wrote that the architect does not know how to lay bricks as well as the bricklayer, but he [or she] knows how to direct the bricklayer toward the completion of the building. In other words, architects embrace a common-sense capacity to pursue the proper ends amidst constantly changing circumstances. As a legislator on a county level, I hope to bring the architect’s perspective to the deliberations that formulate the actions of our county executive. An endorsement from NJ APAC would consolidate and strengthen the representation of our profession in my Bergen County Freeholder candidacy.
A financial contribution from the NJ APAC is being transferred to Ms. Tsigounis’s campaign fund.
Simone will be on the AIA West Jersey panel discussion tonight “The Civic Architect” being offered online at 6:30PM. Click HERE for more information and to register.
To support the New Jersey Architects Political Action Committee, architects’ political agenda and citizen architects, click HERE.
To offer your individual support to Simone Tsigounis in her bid for a Bergen County Freeholder seat, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Stacey Ruhle Kliesch, AIA, AIA NJ Advocacy Consultant | Posted in AIA West Jersey, Architects League of Northern New Jersey, NJAPAC | Tagged: #ALNNJ, #CitizenArchitect, #NJAPAC, #PAC, #PoliticalAction, #SimoneTsigounisAIA, #WIA, #womeninarchitecture | Comments (0)
Architects are creative professionals, educated, trained, and experienced in the art and science of building design, and licensed to practice architecture. Their designs respond to client needs, wants and vision, protect public safety, provide economic value, are innovative, inspire and contribute positively to the community and the environment.