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Welcome to another episode of 5 questions, this is a spot where we ask architects how they work on their projects to make their designs more sustainable, energy efficient, use their LEEDs skills, and take on the Architecture2030 challenge – along with creating beauty in their design.

Garner Miller the newest partner at MSGS Architects in Olympia, Washington has said “yes” to our request for answers to our 5 questions. Garner is the Father of two young sons and is married to an Educator. He is a sailing enthusiast, Sand in the City sculptor, bicyclist, and all around good team manager and designer.

Garner Miller

Garner Miller

Thank you Garner for sharing your thoughts and welcome to the Biking Architect:

  1. Why did you choose Architecture to express yourself in your work? We live in the ‘built environment’ (as my college professors liked to call it) almost 100% of the time, except during those rare occasions we can get out into nature far enough to get away from any man-made alterations. Whether in a building, out on the street, or in a park, somebody designed the space. While to most people most of the time the spaces they are in seem to be ‘background’, the reality is the qualities of spaces have a profound influence on the individual person, as well as the collective community. As an Architect, I have an incredible opportunity and responsibility to design spaces that create positive influences and make our world a better place to live in. Though designers will never top nature for its beauty, we do have the ability to complement it, and the responsibility not to destroy it. I guess I chose Architecture to express these values because the canvass is very real- we set the direction for millions of dollars worth of change in our environment every year, and to actually see the positive effects of our work is very rewarding.
  2. What was/is your favorite project and accomplishment? Winston Churchill once said “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us”. Whitney Houston once said “I believe the children are our future…” Is it ok to quote Whitney Houston? I have had the fortunate opportunity to design several schools in Western Washington, and probably partly because my wife is a passionate educator, I believe my greatest accomplishments have been to create positive learning environments for children. It’s certainly been some of the most rewarding work I feel I’ve accomplished. A project that comes to mind was a new Junior High School in Redmond WA- This was a project where the community, teachers, staff, students and parents all took such an active role in the design direction for the school my role as designer was much more to facilitate and organize their wonderful ideas and give them life. The results were not only incredibly functional and beautiful, but everyone connected with the building took such a pride of ownership in the design. Especially the students, who basically designed the main lobby to be integrated with art concepts they were creating with the project’s artist. So in this case, the building created a positive learning environment not only with the completed structure, but with the design process itself.
  3. Have you taken the Architecture2030 Challenge and how are you working LEED into your designs and projects? I believe strongly in working toward carbon-neutral buildings. In the US, over half of all energy consumed goes to constructing and running buildings, and they account for almost 40% of the carbon emissions. Everyone talks about cars- and that’s important- but when you look at the numbers, buildings are far worse culprits for negative effects on the environment. The good news is technology is moving very rapidly toward this end, now that there are capitalistic incentives to do so. LEED is the most recognized benchmark for sustainable buildings, our firm is currently constructing 2 projects under this program. However sustainable design principles permeate all our buildings. Having said that, there’s so much more we could explore. LEED does a good job of encouraging current strategies for green building, but doesn’t always account for pushing the envelope with new ideas and technologies. The trick to getting to 2030 will be to do just that- and take our clients along with us.
  4. How do you challenge a client to use green, sustainable, or alternative energy resources or incorporate green design when there is no code or financial incentives to comply? This seems to be one of the greatest challenges we face right now. The truth is, in most cases, if there is no code requirement or financial incentive, you need to appeal to their sense of responsibility to the planet and the future, and that constructing a building actually has a pretty large impact. Fortunately or unfortunately, we’ve reached a tipping point where the combination of code requirements and the cost of energy have created the situation where the financial benefits of green design are being realized. So in essence, it’s a reactionary response, not a pro-active response. But at least it’s a response.
  5. What impact can Architecture have on our Global Environmental Future? With buildings accounting for such a huge percentage of energy use and emissions, Architects may have the greatest opportunity of just about anyone to have a positive impact in the near future. With that comes a great responsibility, and it’s not something we can do alone. It takes clients, jurisdictions, engineers, etc. all moving in the same direction to affect change. That’s our greatest challenge. But I am encouraged. We’re moving out of the fringe stage with green design, and it’s on the way to becoming every bit as much a part of mainstream ‘Architecture’ as building with concrete and steel became a century ago.

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Thu, July 23 2009 » 5 Questions

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