DesignDC: Celebrating Hope, Beauty & Impact

Cambium Carbon’s VP of Sales, Jeff Cohen, reflects on sustainable design and building

It is impossible to hide from the constant reminders that we are still in the middle of a global pandemic. With the necessary vaccine reporting, mask wearing, and indoor space restrictions, it is more challenging than ever to lose oneself in the moment of a work or social event. However, the AIA Washington D.C. chapter’s DesignDC awards gala, held on September 22, offered a unique and intimate opportunity to celebrate the year’s architectural achievements. 

key takeaways
  1. Clients, designers, architects, and builders are advocating for sustainable projects at a higher rate than previously seen. 
  2. Salvaging trees removed from a project site can blossom into a rewarding, and potentially, award-winning proposition when given a second life and woven into the project story. 
  3. Make the effort to get together; we need human interaction and social exposure. Industry and work events, and even, school functions, are excuses to get dressed and meet new people; do not take any moment for granted.
The Cambium Team at their Design DC booth, with our friends at OE Custom


Before continuing on about the evening, I want to give out some (virtual) high fives and good vibes. I want to specifically give kudos to associations, companies, and individuals out there who push vehemently (and safely!) to organize events for the good of humanity. Given the uncertain state of public health around the country and world, it is often easier to postpone events to some point “in the future.” After all, with so much still up in the air, the possibility of last-minute cancellations, risks of low attendance, or any other of many reasons to not host an event, it is truly inspirational seeing an organization put on a stellar event and ensure the health and safety of all attendees. I encourage more to try. We all miss the interactions and conversations. Before 2020, I would attend industry events with mixed feelings, and after a few hours on my feet (even in my most comfortable shoes), I found myself looking for an exit. Who knew how precious those simple moments were for all of us? Who knew how much I would miss a mandatory, after-hours work event? Life is funny.

I digress. At the DesignDC awards night, I was swept up in the charming atmosphere and the bevy of new faces. It was fresh, fun, and unexpected. The new connections and the enlightening conversations spurred bright ideas and sparked imagination for future projects. The AIA DC HQ was bustling. Attendees were enjoying drinks and snacks while visiting with colleagues. Reconnection was in the air. Vendors were educating and making plans, and it felt far more collaborative (rather than competitive) for any one person’s time. The theme for the two-day event was Reboot & Rebound, a fitting theme given the world today. The buildings we occupy and inhabit play a crucial role in the economy, our well-being, and our impact on the environment. We need our design community at full throttle, hence the “Reboot” and “Rebound”. We need them to be thinking a bit different, too. This latter point was made evident by the project awards at the culmination of our evening. The awards theme shifted into a space that was both familiar and refreshing; it was all about “Reuse & Preserve”.


You can probably guess that I am partisan on this issue. Our brand, Cambium Carbon, is built on the reuse of – what most people consider a waste stream: urban wood. Where others see zero function or value, we see hope, beauty, and impact. The various AIA award winners, who were announced through a short description of their stunning projects, share this same vision. Consistently, the emcee noted that the judges appreciated the reuse of materials, structure, façade, and/or design. The Lubber Run Community Center project by VMDO Architects caused me to audibly gasp. The highlight included the reuse of trees removed from the property turned into high-value architectural details. That is what we do! It was a beautiful confirmation: Cambium Carbon and our urban wood partners are creating standout design elements. Let me get this straight. We can attempt to change the way the world looks at wood, fight the climate crisis, spark local economies, and save cities money, all while impressing the design community? Oh man do we have something here!

The (socially distanced) crowd at DesignDC

For some of us, our sustainable planet goals have not changed. For many more, however, they have become more obvious. The world is changing quickly. For architects, their dream has stayed largely unchanged: to help shape and define the homes, communities, and skylines that surround us. That dream still exists today. Now, however, that act of shaping does not come solely from the creation of something brand new out of nothing, but rather, the transformation of something that already exists. It’s an opportunity for the client, community, and environment to all win. The same way we ask our corporations to be responsible for their part in the future of carbon emissions, we now must ask our design community to go even further.

Thanks to the AIA D.C. and our local architect partners for helping with that goal. Over and over during the awards portion of the night each project was applauded for its brilliance based on a major design element in sustainability. The community celebrated creative reuse in design, the same way, we celebrate practical reuse as the core Cambium Carbon mission. The event was more than just a couple of hours with colleagues, a break from the virtual meetings, or an opportunity for a company to build lasting relationships. It was a reminder of how pivotal a role design and architecture play in the world we leave behind for our children. Beyond the skylines and neighborhoods, the new stamp a design professional should feel proud about leaving behind is that on the environment. I feel hopeful. Moving forward, we need only triple-bottom-line architects; equally weighing the mission of profits, people, and the environment. Lucky for all of us, I meet several of them on Wednesday.