Thomas Hood, well known West Coast architect and designer of the 2008 Sunset Magazine Idea House and numerous other sustainable projects, discusses the growing emphasis on sustainability in architecture and his personal views on sustainability going forward.
Mr. Hood, you’re known in the profession as a sustainable architect - could you provide your thoughts on what a ‘sustainable architect’ actually is?
“The phrase sounds almost like a title, but it’s actually more a way of thinking about design itself, the materials you use, the impact of construction and its effect on the site while minimizing waste and considering how the materials might be reused in the years ahead. Sustainability is making a statement about the importance of using resources, manmade and natural, in a responsible, unselfish manner while creating value. Sustainability doesn’t need to be slick, flashy or modern, but it does demand the architect meet his clients needs while considering other requirements that aren’t on the drawings. I suppose a ‘sustainable architect’ is someone whose work may not make the front pages of Sunday supplements, but is appreciated by those who are aware of the importance of building unselfishly.
Is sustainable architecture a new concept?
“I was made aware of all the basic factors in undergraduate studies in the mid seventies – so the concept itself isn’t new. Hopefully, with the growing concern about green living and sustainability, some of the things we were trained to consider will hopefully become second nature, marketable and common practice for design, construction, manufacturing and living. Today, sustainability is making its way beyond elite commercial projects and into the public’s awareness. I see evidence of it in many projects, but still find it to be a new concept for many that may just be considering building.”
How do you actually go about building sustainability into a project? Is it primarily a matter of using green materials and natural sources of light and heat?
“Sustainability isn’t just about products. In a broader context, it considers where and how the materials were fabricated, mined or grown, plus the manufacturing, milling and finishing processes and labor inputs required and any by products that might be created. As well, the useful life span of the product itself plus shipping and packaging and the eventual disposal or second cycle reclaiming potential and these environmental effects need to be considered, and naturally, carbon footprint is fundamental in all of these processes Finally, while considering all these factors, we need to balance them with a client’s functional, aesthetic and budgetary constraints. The examples you stated above, utilizing natural light, heat and cold to conserve energy seem obvious, but you’d be amazed at how often these are overlooked or skewed to meet a project’s overall goals primarily costs.”
You mention costs, combining beauty and functionality with sustainability must create conflicts, how do you go about resolving them?
“Given our small segment of the market, I haven’t personally encountered too many conflicts and it’s been relatively easy to make green decisions. The more challenging part is deciphering conflicting or arbitrary claims on products that claim to be green.”
Is the movement towards sustainable building truly the new reality, or is it simply a passing trend?
“Trendiness is a good thing here. The well to do want it and our clients are asking for it. Most stylistic requests include phrases like ‘we want it to be green’. Our clients are willing to pay a little more but their decisions aren’t primarily cost based anyway. They want green mainly because it’s the right thing to do, and, of course, they can tell their friends they did something green. The good news is green isn’t necessarily more expensive, other market factors such as the price of oil driving up all costs. It’s part of my job as an architect to inform clients how to create value, while effectively lowering maintenance costs and increasing energy efficiency in their building.”
How do you feel sustainable building is going to evolve over the next few years?
“Growing public awareness of the ‘hidden costs’ associated with traditional building practices such as the costs of landfills and recycling, are becoming concerns for everyone. People are demanding these costs be reduced and want building codes and regulations to reflect more modern approaches. I can foresee tax incentives for green building materials such as passive solar panels, as well as updated permit regulations allowing new technologies to be quickly utilized and perhaps real estate tax incentives for ‘green buildings’. In reaction to public demand, regulators are looking at building codes and practices and trying to get ahead of this ‘green movement’. In many cases they are looking for design professionals to provide them with the knowledge they don’t have. Personally I’ve become more involved locally in business organizations, brainstorming on how to create and build responsibly at the county level. I can see this kind of activity moving quickly to the state level and directly impacting state legislation.”
Can you give us some examples of projects where you’ve been able to build in sustainability?
“At this time, we have two projects under construction in Monterey County that are essentially green. First, we are the architects for the 2008 Sunset Magazine Idea house. Working with Sunset magazine staff and a local developer, construction is expected to be completed in September on a 6,800 square foot residence incorporating green materials, energy systems, construction methods and landscaping. (See the Sunset Magazine Idea House) The other is a private residence using current technologies for insulating concrete forms, radiant heat, active solar thermal and photo voltaic energy systems for self-efficiency. It will be complete by spring 2009. Further north we are in design of a 3,000 square foot mountain home where the aesthetic recalls southern California. It will have its own power sources and feature native stone work installed by the owner, a skilled stone contractor from the Bay Area. Finally, outside Eureka, we’re working on a number of remodel and new construction projects and will soon be designing a water treatment facility that will be totally green. It’s a public facility you would actually want to visit for its use and aesthetics – a major departure from the traditional utilitarian facilities surrounded by wire fencing at the edge of town.”
Mr. Hood I’d like to thank you so much for your time and sharing your knowledge and thoughts. How can our readers get in touch with you?
“Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org”
By Murray Anderson