Border Patrol: Professional Jurisdictions in Sustainable Urban Environments


  • Rebecca Henn
    Pennsylvania State University, Department of Architecture
Vol. 7 No. 1 (2010)
Research Articles
March 27, 2013


According to the United Nations, our world is becoming more populated, more urban, more connected, more globalized, and more complex. With this physical and social complexity comes a need for increased coordination in negotiating our urban futures. Environmental design and planning professionals have worked for decades according to traditional institutionalized role structures. Sustainability”in considering a wider variety of stakeholders”promises not only to include more members in the typical design and construction team (e.g., sustainability consultants, community representatives, technical specialists, etc.), but also to change the jurisdiction of tasks (e.g., project management, decision making, design leadership, etc.) taken on by actors in traditional roles (e.g., owner, architect, contractor, etc.). This paper examines how a wider social concern for environmental and social sustainability has affected the design and construction industry. Organizational and sociological theories suggest that professions are "bound to a set of tasks by ties of jurisdiction... [P]rofessions make up an interacting system... and a profession's success reflects as much the situations of its competitors and the system structure as it does the profession's own efforts” (Abbott 1988: 33). Abbott also suggests that "larger social forces” affect the structuring of professional boundaries. Treating sustainability as a "larger social force,” this paper examines current understandings of professional boundaries in the planning, design, and construction of our environments. It answers questions of how professionals renegotiate roles, responsibilities, and compensation when dealing with an uncertain change in traditional processes.The qualitative data stem from three university building projects. Each project was proposed ab initio without a mandate to achieve LEED Certification, but this complex criterion was subsequently added at different phases of design for each project. The in situ reconfiguration of existing responsibilities”and assignment of new responsibilities”shows how professionals integrate new practices and processes to achieve both environmentally and professionally sustainable futures.