Interview with Bret Gregory, CEO of Mithun, Seattle based architecture firm
1.How do you feel sustainability is progressing in the market and among professionals?
Sustainability is a fundamental factor of design and business in the 21st Century. Guy Battle (of the London-based firm, Battle McCarthy) in his interview last month with BetterBricks, pointed to a “massive sea change in attitude just in the last 12 months” in sustainable building. I couldn’t agree more. Economics, health and values are driving the worldwide movement toward environmentally intelligent design. In the European Union, carbon limits and resource costs are creating a huge demand for smart buildings. Community values have brought forth new neighborhoods, and whole cities, such as Malmo, Sweden, have adopted very aggressive goals for environmental performance.
Here in North America, we will see that demand accelerate even faster as resources become more expensive, the links between health and indoor air quality become better understood, and knowledge of every individual’s environmental footprint comes to the forefront. In the private sector, marketplace demand will give environmentally intelligent buildings more economic value. People are recognizing this. The education of architects, designers and engineers in sustainable design has accelerated exponentially because our clients are demanding it.
What is the next evolution in design?
The platform is there; the playing field has been established. Many design firms, contractors, jurisdictions and owners have implemented strategies to educate their staff in U.S. Green Building Council, or local green guidelines, which is a great first step. Additionally, clients and designers are beginning to establish aggressive goals regarding environmental impact for individual building designs. However, the future of green design is truly in broad-based systems like large-scale city planning. In the long-term, we need to take an integrated systematic approach to all that we do, which will come from multidisciplinary design. On a larger scale in the United States, we may need to see a modest realignment of tax and regulatory policies before this truly takes off. Internationally, we’re hoping that countries like China emerge as a location for the cutting-edge of sustainable design. That country is certainly consuming a dramatic amount of natural resources. Fortunately, there are many people who are very aware of the need to address this issue.
Which of your projects do you consider exemplary of sustainable high performance design?
That’s a bit like asking which of your children is your favorite. Each year, more than 4,000 kids come to IslandWood, the outdoor experiential learning center on Bainbridge Island, to explore the environment, art and technology in a truly natural setting. REI’s notoriety has influenced design in many commercial venues, which are now incorporating environmental values; and the book Resource Guide for Sustainable Development in an Urban Environment that we authored with the Urban Environmental Institute is still having an impact on market-based speculative development. Right now, our Lloyd Crossing project is breaking new ground in integrating community infrastructure and building design. But, I’d really have to say my true favorite project is always the next one. With each project we become more educated and sophisticated in natural systems so we can create more value for our clients and less impact on our environment.