Question: What are some recent, exciting sustainable projects that have inspired you?
Yann: Something that excites me a lot right now in the sustainable design area is daylight harvesting. Currently, we are working on the design of the University of Miami Frost School of Music. Our masterplan includes four new and three repurposed buildings. Working with Arup Lighting and Nysan Solar Control, we are developing a way to harvest light while shading direct sun.
Florida is blessed with ample sunlight. The tourist comes to our beaches for it. Our citrus trees and sugarcane thrive because of it. Our challenge as architects has always been how to optimize the light while minimizing the heat.
If we cut the sun's heat, we cut our air-conditioning need. But if we use its light, we may cut the electric lighting load by half, which will further economize on the AC. Our window design is strongly affected by what we need to do to accomplish this, and so the science of light gathering becomes part of the exterior and interior aesthetic of the studios.
This is not to say this only has meaning for Florida projects. Our residential/mixed use tower at 77 West Charles Street in Toronto, now nearing completion, is in a different climate, with wholly different uses. It is a teaching facility with luxury apartments above it. It looks totally different from the School of Music, but the apartments will be flooded with light and views, using glass adapted to the climate, shaded from low sun angles and glare. Its "style" comes straight from how it works.
I am seeing that our architecture is increasingly being shaped naturally by how we mold its performance, and this is refreshing. The most beautiful things we know in nature, the most handsome tools we make, and the most striking artifacts made by man, are all a result of the physics of their particular needs and intentions.
Question: How is sustainable design different today than it was just five years ago?
Yann: There has been a sea change over the past five years. Sustainable design has become the norm. Far more than merely acknowledged, it is now demanded by a majority of our clients.
We are also more sophisticated in our design approach. We rely more upon metrics of projected performance, and we have better tools at our disposal. BIM, or Building Information Management software, now allows us to do energy modeling of design options, and to track potential performance throughout the design process. We are becoming more scientific in our design process, and allowing performance to drive form.
Question: What has propelled sustainable design to move from the margins to the mainstream?
Yann: Sustainable design is now perceived to be good for business, rather than something adopted for purely altruistic reasons. The triple bottom line paradigm of "people, planet, and profit" has taken hold. Governmental, institutional, and private enterprises now understand that the capital cost of a building is a fraction of its cost over its lifetime, and that reducing maintenance, saving energy, and creating healthy places is an important business strategy.
Question: How do you get past apparent green washing, and start to analyze the true environmental impact of the products and systems you're putting in place?
Yann: One cannot be naïve: it is critical to question the unsubstantiated claims of any product, and of course that is also true with regard to "green" products.
We look for evidence of independent testing criteria, talk with our colleagues, and trust our common sense and experience.
Question: How do you see this relationship between manufacturer and designer changing in the future?
Yann: Designers and manufacturers are becoming more involved earlier in design. We are learning how the manufacturers think, and they are learning how to refine, and tune their products to our needs. The development of BIM tools is a part of this. As we designers are involving the people who make the products sooner, manufacturers are becoming receptive to our input, as we are to theirs.
Question: Tell us something interesting about yourself.
Yann: I grew up always near the sea and on sailboats. I think that has shaped my appreciation of the beauty and force of nature. There is in sailing technology a constant drive toward economy of energy and material and simplicity of method, because to go fast you have to work with the wind, currents and waves. The aesthetic of a racing yacht comes about because of its performance. I think the same thing is true of great architecture.