Sustainability. In the era of anthropogenic climate change, sustainability is the key to reducing our carbon footprint and conserving precious resources. But what is sustainability? And who are the leaders pioneering the sustainability movement in the US? 

Well, the truth is that sustainability is not easily defined. It is an extremely difficult quality to measure because of how many things are taken into account. The source of the material, construction method, site, and environmental disruption, transportation, and heating and cooling all play a role in making a building more sustainable. Even with standards such as LEED, it is incredibly difficult to determine which architecture firms are leading the way. As such, this list is entirely subjective and can change depending on what is used to measure sustainability. 

However, what is certain is that any architecture firm committed to more sustainable methods of designing and constructing buildings is a leader in the architecture field. Now more than ever, we must step up to face the challenges brought on by raising emissions and do everything to quell them. Here are some architecture firms doing just that.

1. Lake|Flato Architects

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A picture of their project titled “Story Pool House”. 1 Lake|Flato

Lake|Flato Architects is a firm based in San Antonio, Texas, and Austin, Texas with a commitment towards reducing energy and material consumption. A common feature of all of their buildings (aside from elegant design) is the reduced impact on the environment. Buildings feature natural ventilation and rainwater collection, as well as low energy appliances for heating and cooling. All of these are determined by complex models that simulate the environmental impact of a building, allowing for the intelligent implementation of technology.

2. Brooks + Scarpa

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This sustainable award-winning project houses homeless vets in Los Angeles. 2 Brooks + Scarpa ©www.brooksscarpa.com

Brooks + Scarpa is a firm with an exceptional record and their buildings are a reflection of it. The exemplary design allows their buildings to be at their most efficient by taking advantage of natural airflow to reduce the consumption of electricity for heating and cooling. Additionally, buildings are oriented to maximize sunlight inlet to save the amount of energy for lighting. By taking all these steps, Brooks + Scarpa has shown its commitment to solving the problems of the 21st century; and doing so in a creative manner.

3. BNIM

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Pictured is the Seamans Center for the Engineering Arts and Sciences. 3 BNIM ©www.BNIM.com

BNIM is an ambitious firm to have all their buildings free of carbon emission by 2040. The firm’s plan is detailed in its annual sustainability report Subject To Change which is incredibly thorough. A special focus on walkability accompanied by efforts to reduce energy and carbon consumption, plant native species, and manage stormwater allows BNIM to go above and beyond in designing their projects, which hold the answer to how humankind can continue to grow more responsibly.

4. Perkins + Will

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The Gardner Neuroscience Institute, one of many projects featured on their page. 4 Perkins + Will ©www.perkinswill.com

Perkin + Will is yet another established architecture firm at the front of environmentally sound development. Guided by their philosophy of living design, Perkin + Will is set on incorporating inclusive, resilience, sustainability, regeneration, and well-being into all of their designs. Some instances include energy and daylighting analysis on all of their designs to ensure optimal design. They’re also committed to using healthy materials such as nontoxic and engineered wood.

5. Gensler

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The Nvidia headquarters in Santa Clara designed by Gensler. 5 Gensler

In both design and strategy, Gensler is one to watch. As one of the leading architecture firms in the US, Gensler is uniquely positioned to lead by example. And that is precisely what it has done. Employing 1,200+ LEED-certified professionals ensuring that their buildings meet environmental standards, Gensler has shown the world that even the largest of firms can take on the challenge of designing a building to be both aesthetically pleasing and sustainable.

6. The Miller Hull Partnership

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An illustration of one of their buildings at Georgia Tech. 6 Miller Hull

The Miller Hull Partnership is an extraordinary firm that is guided by its regionalist design philosophy, which keeps all projects within the range of their two offices in Seattle and San Diego. Several of their buildings are designed such that they don’t consume electricity from the power grid which is an incredibly amazing feat. Additionally, they are part of the AIA 2030 Commitment which aims to design carbon-neutral buildings by 2030. Their design philosophy encourages resilient buildings as well as non-toxic, eco-friendly materials.

7. Mithun

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At their UCI building, they started a sustainability initiative to reduce food waste. Mithun ©www.mithun.com

Mithun is one of many firms leading the fight against climate change. Like all the other firms on this list, it sources renewable materials, designs buildings with a small environmental impact, and is committed to keeping our planet healthy. However, it has distinguished itself by promoting sustainable practices to the public through events and initiatives. Within their projects, they have promoted healthy practices to their clients and all those who use their buildings.

8. WRNS Studios

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The computational building at the UC Merced campus. WRNS

As a major proponent of the sustainability movement, WRNS has designed several efficient and ergonomic buildings that uphold its promise to a cleaner future. They’re breaking barriers across the US which includes designing the first 0 net energy library in the US. They’re in the process of aiding UC Merced to achieve 0 net energy, 0 net waste, and 0 net carbon emissions by 2020, which is an incredibly ambitious but noble undertaking. WRNS has proven that they’re willing to take the challenge head-on.

9. Opsis Architecture

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A render of one of their proposed designs for a design and innovation center. Opsis ©www.opsisarch.com

On their list of works, an astounding 18 buildings are listed under the sustainable development section; a true testament to their resolve to reduce their carbon footprint. By maximizing airflow in their buildings and utilizing solar panels, Opsis Architecture is doing its part to improve the livability of their city, country, and Earth.

10. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

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An image of a project titled “The Curve Tower”. SOM ©www.SOM.com

Last on our list, we have another giant architecture firm leading the way in sustainable design. From energy-efficient towers to humble libraries, they made sure that all their projects have the smallest impact on the environment. They’ve promised to do their part in saving resources and protecting the planet through ingenious design, responsibly sourced materials, and healthy designs.

Architecture is known to be a field that responds slowly to change, but these architecture firms have stepped up to the challenge to show the world that architecture can adapt quickly. They’ve proven that architecture is responsive to changes in our society and reflects the ideals and goals of humankind as a whole. By taking part of the responsibility for our changing climate and actively solving the problem, these architecture firms showcase the best of humankind’s ability to collaborate, problem-solve, and create.

Eric Pham
Author

Eric Pham is a high school senior in the US with a fascination for the built environment. He believes that with more sustainable designs, architects and planners can change the world and create more eco-friendly urban areas.

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