Sustainability Within a Broader Context

Our approach to architecture, as demonstrated both in our buildings and in Moshe Safdie’s writing, has always been premised on the importance of a respectful and reciprocal relationship with the natural world. While the term sustainability has become increasingly fashionable over the last decade, the principles that this term upholds have been the basis of our practice since its inception. Those principles include:

–conceiving of an architecture that is inherently buildable;
–use of labor-saving means and methods of construction;
–deploying the available crafts and skills of those in the region;
–incorporation of local and materials that can be replenished;
–minimizing the need for energy consumption;
–use of renewable and passive energy sources;
–consideration of the long-term operational and maintenance issues.

Much can be learned from studying and reflecting on nature’s design, particularly living organisms. We are not suggesting that the shapes and forms of what we find in nature literally inspire us, but rather that they afford an understanding of causality, of how design is progressively improved through the evolutionary process to better respond to needs, which are defined in large part by environment. The extraordinary fitness of purpose in nature’s designs provides a basis for the process of architectural design.

Sustainability, at its core, implies a way of building that is sensitive to its location and the culture that has shaped it. Correspondingly, the strength of our practice lies in the geographic diversity in which we work. We have designed buildings in places as diverse in geography and culture as Boston, Los Angeles, Ottawa, Jerusalem, Bangladesh, and Singapore. Always balancing our broad spectrum of experience with our commitment to develop reciprocity between a building and its setting, we have found that our appreciation of the site and a region’s landscape, climate, and heritage has deepened and enriched our design and construction process. This has provided us with a fundamental understanding of how regional climates and geographies can radically transform the ways in which a building that works with nature looks.

Fundamental, embryonic decisions–where to build on a site; what shape, height, and form a building should take; how the building should be oriented; how we can take advantage of the natural cycles of light, wind, and growth of vegetation; where people should circulate, etc.–have profound impact on the environmental performance of the building, and all emanate from respecting and understanding the microclimates and specific features of the site.

Engaging in dialogue with the client and the entire project team from the outset affords us the opportunity to integrate sustainability into the principles that are being developed for a given project—as opposed to attempting to apply sustainable features superficially after the design has been conceived. We have developed, in consultation with our affiliated engineers and environmental designers, strategies that allow us to measure sustainability performance, understand trade-offs and cost benefit, and assess the environmental, economic, and social impact of the various design approaches being considered. We have found that this approach of integrative design yields environmentally responsive designs that preserve resources and enable us to construct the most with the least.

We position sustainability in the broader context of livability, and conceive of buildings with attributes that make a structure transcend and improve the quality of the working and living environment, thereby promoting better health and productivity. We propose architecture that always seeks to enrich the lives and uplift the spirits of all.