David Eisenberg reflects on Richard Lorch’s End of an Era editorial.
Reading Richard Lorch’s reflection, “End of an Era,” brought into focus crucial aspects of the concerns so strongly expressed and actions taken by his colleagues and the extraordinary community of people who have come to know and work with him, and to rely on his knowledge, integrity, judgment and more. His editorial leadership and excellence at BRI is clear to everyone, including, most disturbingly, those who chose to terminate his contract.
As someone who has spent over two decades engaged in developing awareness within the building regulatory community of the spectrum of too-often ignored human and environmental impacts of the built environment, I developed a genuine appreciation for Richard’s approach and stewardship of the journal. The fact that my work was largely outside the realms of academic and formal research did not discourage Richard from reaching out to me to invite me to both contribute to the Journal and to engage in meaningful conversations about my views on critical topics. While maintaining high standards for rigorous integrity and accuracy in the field of formal research, Richard grasps the importance of seeing issues whole and in context, including the limits of specialisation and the tendency to create silos of knowledge with a level of confidence that belies their lack of interdisciplinary awareness and associated complexity.
Richard’s forward-looking orientation—not merely seeking gaps in knowledge and understanding about the current aspects of building-related impacts, outcomes, and performance, but also the potential importance of emergent issues—has enabled him to curate special issues of the journal on areas in need of serious reconsideration or new thinking. A prime example is the issue “Building governance and climate change: regulation and related policies,” for which Richard reached out to me to provide an overview based on my two decades of advocacy work in this arena of public policy. When the paper I submitted for peer review was critiqued by the reviewers for it’s lack of research citations and formal technical research – a point I had made to Richard when he invited a contribution – he asked me to turn it into a much shorter commentary. Grateful for the opportunity to share my experience and observations of the building regulatory sector and it’s myopic tendencies and problematic patterns, I also appreciated his editing and suggestions in helping me make my points more concise and clear.
What stands out for me now, is what will be lost in this change of leadership for BRI. It is Richard’s unique combination not only of his breadth and depth of knowledge and connections in this realm, or his unsurpassed skills as editor-in-chief, but his open, creative, intuitive commitment to bringing together the best minds on relevant topics, and bringing forward important issues, while continually striving to have the journal serve communities of practice by tying research to useful and critical outcomes in the real world of building and development. It is possible that there is someone else who stands at this intersection and can offer what Richard has, but that possibility seems hopelessly slim. More importantly, as reflected so well in the special issue I mentioned above, we have no time to lose to address existential risks connected to climate change and the built environment. Undercutting the potential contributions of BRI to that issue alone at this time is enormously consequential and, in my view, unconscionable.
David Eisenberg is Executive Director at the Development Center for Appropriate Technology. Tucson, Arizona, USA