A Statement on Sustainability by BUILD LLC
November 16, 2008, 8:56 pm
Filed under: Architecture, BUILD LLC

As designers and builders deeply concerned with our collective future, we’re overdue to renew our basic premises regarding ‘sustainable’ and ‘green’ practices.   Having thought long and hard about the need to do more to ensure a high quality of life for future generations, Build LLC offers the following principles of honest, sustainable design.

Durability make sure stuff works and is built for future generations.  Outsmart and outlast both designed and perceived obsolescence.

Sensibility continually assert discipline in size, scale and program.  Know when to subtract and streamline.  Beauty and comfort result from intelligent solutions, not the reflexive addition of  features.

Density incorporate the most people and activities that can sensibly be sustained in a given volume.  There is a healthy balance between lawn covered neighborhoods and asphalt encased towers.

Regionalism use local resources: architects, contractors and materials.

Timelessness understand what forms and innovations will last; reject fashion, pretention, and conscious efforts to attract attention.

The best ‘green’ features disappear into a building: the structure works better and enhances the inhabitant’s health and enjoyment.  We start from these basic, common-sense sustainability practices.  These are core to our practice, like our desks and pencils.  We don’t brag about them- we build them in, naturally.  And when we don’t, we’re honest that we didn’t – and, this just means we can’t go waving the banner of sustainability around.

Technology will improve and our mindsets will continue to evolve.  While we’re developing usable ‘cradle to cradle’ products and processes, our best alternative is to use these five principles to guide our actions to achieve the most sustainable outcomes possible.

If these principles seem basic, that’s the point.  They are fundamental and instinctual.  Let’s get them right wherever we can while we sort out the emerging technologies.


13 Comments so far
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one of the things that drew me to the northwest was this issue of regionalism’s effect on sustainability. i naively believed that there was a lot more going on design-wise w/ regards to the ‘green’ movement. luckily, the environment here in the NW is such that you can usually get by without much cooling, and if you site the building well, perhaps much heating. we have our windows open almost year round, which is very appealing to us.

and for the most part, designers in the region have utilized these strategies for years. there is also a fairly active “lunatic fringe” of architects that go beyond the minimum, and it is nice to see some firms going high-tech green a la foster or piano.

but for the most part, we’ve got enough going on here that we already have the know how and tools to make low-energy (minergie/passivhaus anyone?) buildings. and this can be done w/ out adding significant costs or utilizing new technologies.

there are also several firms here that claim to be doing ‘sustainable’ work, but it’s mostly lip service. kinda lame and doesn’t really promote the cause.

at this year’s AIA awards, we saw several projects that were heavily weighted on this side of the spectrum, and i’m hoping that ‘green’ projects only get stronger. it was great to see the jury rewarding this.

useful resource link is TU darmstadt’s powerhaouse datenbank (german w/ some english):

w/ some shameless self promotion:,id_184,s_Projects.en.fb15

Comment by mike

These principles sound excellent and if implemented on every project really could make a difference.

But for you to totally abandon your #2 principle—Sensibility—and make an entire west facing wall of a structure glass just because of a nice view is very disappointing.

West elevation

Comment by steve

Well said guys. Concise and to the point. Good to know where you stand.

Comment by goodchemist

i couldn’t agree more. i’ve been using these concepts in my designs for years but never got to writing them down in such a succinct manner. reading these on occasion may keep me more focused. thanks.

Comment by alan

This seems so sensible and simple, but I imagine it took quite a bit of effort to get to this succinct point. Reading this, it feels familiar, but I can’t remember reading anything like this prior (or maybe its just so basic it seems that way).
In my opinion, these principles are something that nearly any designer can do/ use and as you’ve pointed out, should get proficient at using these automatically.

Comment by Samuel

Mike – that TU Darmstadt site looks like a good resource – thanks for getting that on our radar. Nice work on Patchworkhouse, it seems well crafted and super-functional.

Steve – when you post to our blog be professional and thorough. This post will get over a thousand page hits today; most of those visitors will have no idea what you’re talking about. Try a lead-in or link to so that people can get engaged with the conversation. Otherwise it comes across like you’re just stopping by to throw tomatoes. To say that we’ve “Totally Abandoned” principle #2 of Sensibility is an exaggeration. Admittedly, it is a compromise among different factors.

Comment by buildllc

It’s important to remember that Steve is also the guy who thinks that PV panels are cost-effective and that my house should have its foundation completely torn out so that the house can be turned 90 degrees such that it doesn’t point west towards the view anymore. Grain of salt…

Comment by Mike D.

Well said – I can’t tell you how tired I am of hearing about solar panels, greywater tanks and geothermal tubes. All great technologies worth pursing but simply designing smaller homes that last longer will do more for sustainability than all of these “green” technologies combined.

Comment by Keyser

Mike: I suggested a wind and solar system. In a strictly monetary manner such a system is expensive, but when are we going to realize that money isn’t the only cost we are dealing with?

Build: I consider sustainability in building practices as creating a structure that is sustainable. I’m sorry, I just don’t understand how a building with a two story wall full of glass can be considered so. Is it sensible in design from a sustainability point of view? Is that not what you are writing about? I consider the windows a more of a “reflexive addition”, nice view=more windows.

If you are “deeply concerned with our collective future” shouldn’t energy efficiency be more of a priority then a nice view?

Comment by steve

Steve: Let me know when you’re done reading the 38 page Cal Berkeley report on solar that I directed you to on my blog. What’s sustainable about a system whose panels are “expected” to last up to 25 years and whose inverters are supposed to be replaced every 5-10 (at a cost of $8000)?

Also, what wind system will power a house in an area that 90% of the time sees very little wind?

It’s really fun to bluesky clean energy sources in blog comment threads and imply that homeowners and architects who don’t end up using them are backwards in their thinking, but building a home is a series of compromises (cost, environment, and otherwise). The fact that 90% of the existing home is going to be recycled instead of shoved into a landfill has a greater impact on the environment than many other things that would be considered “building green”.

And finally, I have a friend who just built a huge house on the eastside (too big, in my opinion) and his energy consumption is minimal because of how tight his envelope is. His gas/electricity bill peaks out at $200 in the winter and is about half that in the summer. Gas-powered, forced air. I have another friend living in a smaller 1930s house with oil heat and single paned windows, and it costs him about $1000 a month to heat his house in the winter. Building smart is not always about jumping on all of the latest sexy technologies like solar and wind. It’s also about using current building codes to your advantage in ensuring your house is energy efficient from the inside, regardless of what fuel you end up using… whether gas, oil, electricity, solar, or geo.

Comment by Mike D.

Just a few little side questions. How are solar panels manufactured? What are the energy sources to produce them? What is there life span? Then what about all batteries that go along with solar? How sustainable are they? Solar technologies seem all clean and green once you’ve purchased them but think about all the energy they have consumed to get there. I know this is a little off topic of the blog post but its just something for those to consider when you think solar is sustainable or “Green”. As one of my professors told me “You have to make ugly somewhere.”

Comment by station 104

First I will say I love the blog and the work. I feel it is great to do this kind of introspective self analyzation and have a manifesto for sustainability, but the energy “issue” does seem to be conspicuously absent in your reasoning. If sustainable energy is being dismissed as “blue sky clean energy” and “reflexive addition of features,” shouldn’t we at least be concerned about energy conservation. Isn’t that the low hanging fruit that should go along with smaller footprints and durability? I agree that the energy solutions cannot control our designs, but it should at a minimum inform our decisions. Keep up the good work, but don’t completely remove energy issues from the equation.

Comment by moderns-r-us

[…] necessity and function as opposed to fashion.  We like that.  As we see it, an important part of sustainable design is simply designing in such a way that it’s not going to be replaced in 5 years because it fell […]


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