Frank Harmon, FAIA, Frank Harmon Architects, Raleigh, N.C.
Whitney Powers, RA, NCARB, Studio A, Charleston, S.C.
Laura Hartman, AIA, Fernau & Hartman Architects, Berkeley, Calif.
Heather H. McKinney, AIA, McKinney Architects, Austin, Tex.

Green is good, but can green design be the same? The architects on the panel of Reinvention's special summit "Strategies in Sustainable Design" proved that sustainable design doesn't have to look 'green' (read: funky, weird, or just plain bad). In fact, from the examples shown during this session, green design and good design can combine with ease and grace.

For these architects, a green house uses high-tech as well as low-tech systems, materials, and architectural features, and draws as much on tradition as on innovation in its design. Traditional means of creating comfortable interiors in houses evolved over time out of necessity and frequently offer the simplest and most elegant solutions, providing the most benefit for the least amount of effort.

During the Q&A session, Frank Harmon, FAIA, said, "Eighty percent of sustainable design is in how you site the building, not things like photovoltaics." He outlined his two cardinal rules for sustainability: to make the building more comfortable and to engage residents with the environment.

During her presentation of an Austin, Texas, house she designed, Heather McKinney, AIA, pointed out that she and her clients were able to quantify the house's level of green design (5 stars) because of its location in Austin, home of the Austin Energy Green Building program (the first comprehensive green building program in the United States), and the knowledge base available there.

Responding to an attendee question regarding cost versus quality in architecture, McKinney noted that it pays to do the math up front when designing a sustainable house. Break down how much specific sustainable systems will save the client and how that compares to the resulting increase in mortgage payments, she advised. She added that LEED accreditation will cost the client, but because most of her firm's clients are planning to be in their houses long-term, they are less resistant to investing in energy-saving, cost-saving systems.

Presenting her Charleston, S.C.-area River Road project, Whitney Powers, RA, NCARB, discussed the necessity for buildings to stand up to their climates as a key in sustainable design. "This is a brutal building environment, here in Charleston, and every building is subjected to extremes: high temperature, high winds, high humidity, Formosan subterranean termites, and winter rain," Powers said. "This is particularly crucial for those of us who choose to design modern buildings in this place, because our ability to contribute to the history of this place requires that our building survive this place."

"Sustainability is not just about saving BTUs or using recycled materials; it's really a way of life," Laura Hartman, AIA, pointed out during her turn at the podium. Hartman's presentation centered around a Bolinas, Calif., house incorporating straw bale construction--popular in dry, hot climates for the thermal mass it provides. Marin County, she related, had just adopted codes that accommodate straw bale, and the project provided a learning experience for her firm.

Panelists all noted that each client looks at sustainability from a different perspective, depending on their own experiences and environmental concerns, and based on the environmental issues of the regions in which they live. For some, energy efficiency is most important, while for others, conserving water is the more critical issue.