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Sustainable Design Philosophy

“When we build with awe for life at the forefront of our process, we inherently build in a way that supports life. Therefore let’s adopt a mindset…of honoring our bond with the earth at every step of the building process.”
– Tristan Korthals Altes

Sustainable building design is a philosophy based on respect for earth’s ecological integrity and a belief that we must strive to live within the limits of the earth’s ecological carrying capacity. Less bad is not good enough.

My intentions are to practice and advance sustainable building design.

Strong environmental beliefs form the foundation of my design philosophy. A respect for nature - its beauty, diversity, and ecological principles - profoundly influence my design endeavors. The buildings in which we live and work do not need to be an environmental burden, but being “less bad” does not seem good enough. Although the truly sustainable building has yet to be built, I believe it is possible and apply my creative skills to achieve that goal. I am optimistic that we can be a vibrant part of the earth’s complex and wonderful ecological mosaic.

My philosophy has also been influenced by a quarter-century of designing and building energy-efficient projects at all scales and for a diversity of clients. The influences are several.

A building project is sparked by imaginative concepts, but I have learned that success is in the details. Great ideas must be integrated into a buildable, durable design whose construction is efficient of time, materials, and energy. This is accomplished by developing the details in a manner that can be successfully executed by the builders.

The design process must be thorough. The inevitable tension between wants and needs should be regularly challenged and refined. Good planning confronts the myriad of design and economic decisions that every building project contains before construction begins and changes can become costly and compromise the outcome. This is especially important in sustainable design, where new methods and materials likely need to be researched and understood before committing to their use.

Aesthetics is important. Our hearts sing when we are surrounded by beauty. Yes, function should influence form. But cannot that form bring joy to the eye and hand? Sustainable building should stand the test of time. The result of this effort needs to complement the natural and cultural setting into which it is placed.

In the book, The Philosophy of Sustainable Design, author and architect Jason McLennan states that “design implies intention.” I think this means that the buildings we design and construct reflect our personal, family and community beliefs and values - another way of telling our story. For the architectural designer this is tricky business. I am designing for clients, not myself. It is not the telling of my story that is important but the telling of theirs. Yet my thoughts and ideas cannot be fully divorced from the creative process. So I see myself as a collaborator in this translation of beliefs, values, wants, and needs into a physical habitable form. And what I have discovered is that when our intentions are similar that the results can be quite amazing.

(Photo credit: Marcia Goodrich, Michigan Tech Magazine, 2009)