Heather Benjamin
4 minute read

Two LEED credential holders share their thoughts on the art of sustainable architecture.

Architecture is a field that combines the artistic and the technical in a unique way. To achieve sustainable buildings and LEED certification, the challenge is even more complex, as designers must make environmentally sound choices from the beginning.

The market for architecture, engineering and design is a healthy one. According to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, there are more than 113,000 licensed architects in the United States. The total number rose by 10% between 2008 and 2017. In New York, the top state for architects in terms of earnings, the median annual income for an architect is $109,520.

As population increases and we create more buildings in which people will live, learn, work and play, architects will be even more in demand—but they will also have a greater responsibility for helping to build a greener world. Many architects hold LEED Green Associate and LEED AP credentials, in addition to their degrees and certifications. Here, two USGBC credential holders share their thoughts about the art of sustainable architecture.

Building green today and tomorrow

As green features become the norm for the building industry, future sustainability efforts will need to be broadened to continue to achieve gains, says Leon Drachman, AIA, LEED Green Associate, and a principal at Payette Associates, Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts. "The green building initiative will have a deeper impact by expanding its scope—by shifting its focus to areas outside of building design, such as real estate economics, zoning regulations and land use, while concentrating on the human experience and societal well-being," he says.

Drachman, who was the Project Architect for the LEED-certified Hershey Cancer Institute at Penn State, advises learning the technical side of sustainable design to develop a reliable intuition for how to deal with design challenges. "While it is exciting to think big, to seek the innovative and groundbreaking idea, it is important to invest the effort and learn the specific relevant data that lie beneath the problem," he says.

"Sustainability should be considered not as an independent, separate process, but as an integral part of design itself," he comments. Payette designers are accustomed to using nature as a "primary design strategy," according to Drachman. This involves "the careful provision of views, sun and natural light, as well as access to the natural and artificial landscape...performance and design quality are not two strategies, but one," he emphasizes.

LEED-certified Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute

The LEED-certified Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute, designed by Payette Associates, Inc. Photo credit: Warren Jagger Photography.

Andrew Hernandez, LEED AP, co-founded A-Industrial Design Build in Los Angeles, California, with Jackie Muñoz. Both owners of the firm, located in the downtown arts district, also teach classes to future architects, builders and construction inspectors at Mount San Antonio College. "The academic system has an obligation to educate these future designers and builders for the next generation," Hernandez says.

The decisions professionals make today have an impact into the future, and Hernandez believes it's important to integrate sustainable products into projects to "help minimize the pollutant footprint of tomorrow's byproduct." He adds that "manufacturing will play a heavy role in providing resilient materials that will enhance the project's performance in extending its life cycle."

Exploring ideas through collaboration

For Drachman, the personal “well of new ideas” in design is filled by working and conversing with clients and colleagues. "Design exploration entails a long-term process of study, analysis, testing, drawing, measuring, building and evaluating," he says. "More and more, this is a collective enterprise, fed by multiple perspectives, voices and experiences"—what he calls a "magic sauce," stirred by working in a studio environment among many designers, clients, consultants and specialists.

Similarly, Hernandez views all projects as "a collaborative adventure" with clients. Finding creative, original solutions is the priority, because "all projects have constraints and limitations that shed light on conventional and unconventional solutions."

According to Hernandez, having education in both architecture and environmental design has pushed him and Muñoz to "harness the context and site conditions that can potentially shape projects in unique circumstantial schemes."

Stay current with your LEED AP

Your LEED AP credential tells clients that you're not just a good architect, but also one who is expert on sustainable design—a specialty that is rapidly becoming indispensable in our changing world.

Take a look at ways to maintain your credential so you can stay up to date on changes in materials and technologies. Also, see our breakdown of how to locate LEED-specific CE courses.

The architects playlist on Education @USGBC gets updated quarterly with new courses.

Doing quality work to build reputation

For Hernandez, the "build" portion of his company's work is the natural execution of its "design" scope. Doing great work is what grows A-Industrial Design Build's reputation. "The quality of construction and its end-product aesthetic are crucial elements in marketing for future projects," he says. He recommends sharing creative design work with strong photography to help gain new clients, but also advises that it is word-of-mouth recommendations that often build a business reputation locally.

Payette's positive standing has been created by the quality of the buildings they design, Drachman agrees. "We would have no clients without a good reputation, and the work we do for our clients is our reputation," he says.

"It is also important to note that the process that delivers this architecture (i.e., the experience of the client during the process of design, construction and occupancy of their buildings) is as important as the building itself," he says. "We look at the design process as a design problem."

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