Botanical Research Institute of Texas

Architype Dialogue presents

Hugh Hardy & Daria Pizzetta

What was the most difficult issue about working on this building or the most unexpected challenge that may have influenced new thought in your project?

This is a building that had to reflect BRIT’s mission to support the natural environment. In designing this premier botanical research center, H3 had to determine how to meld together architecture and landscape into a seamless composition. We had to think about the building and the landscape simultaneously, not as separate entities.

We also wanted the users to be aware of the landscape from inside the building. Providing carefully framed views, unexpected window placements, and windows in all staff offices became an important aspect of the project.

We also wanted the plants used in the landscape to be drought resistant. The team worked closely with the botany faculty and students at Texas Christian University to develop and test planted roof tiles that are used in the green roof. It was exciting to witness the trials of coming up with a soil and plant combination to mimic the Texas prairie.

Did this project expand or evolve your role as an architect in any way? In general, do you feel that the role of the architect is changing on current projects?

Yes, the more sustainable the project, the more the architect has to collaborate with the engineers. You can’t just be the gate keeper who hands out assignments and sets deadlines, you really do have to be involved in the selection and development of all the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and even structural systems to create a truly sustainable building. On current projects, we find ourselves working with more specialists such as sustainability consultants and commissioning agents, so the number of contributors to any one project has definitely increased. Our role in directing the design and construction process hasn’t changed drastically, but it has become more complex.

How is your building possible today in a way that it may not have been before and how have trends in sustainability and technology inspired new thought and solutions?

We were fortunate to have a client with a mission that supports sustainability, so we did not have to educate or sell the concept of creating a green building to BRIT. In fact, BRIT sought out a grant to hold an eco-charette that established the sustainable goals and features of the building. Having a client deeply concerned with the environment made the building possible.

Advancement in building materials also make this building possible. With advanced insulation materials, thermal glass and reflective roofing membranes, we can all design buildings that control the indoor environment and take less energy to heat and cool.

What advice or lessons learned would you give to another designer or client pursuing a similar type of sustainable project?

Early on in the design phases, you should hold an eco-charette attended by your client and all the building design consultants. The goals and desired sustainable characteristics of the project can then be developed and vetted during this time, so that everyone working on the design has this knowledge of these expectations. Each member of the design team should sign a pledge to uphold these goals.

You also need to have one person—a green champion so to speak—who keeps track of the progress of each goal and documents design and implementation. Also, seek input from manufacturers. There is a vast amount of information available related to advancements in building technology and many manufacturers are willing to share and inform you on what works and what doesn’t.

In the context of this project, how is your office and design process being influenced by current trends in academic curricula and young architects? In turn, how are current projects and processes guiding the ongoing reformulation and development of academic curricula?

H3 has no formal connection with academic curricula, although two members of our staff are adjunct faculty of urban design at NYU’s Wagner School. Nonetheless it is clear that environmental issues are of great concern for students and young architects who have the virtues of sustainability in planning and architecture engrained in their consciences. Theirs is the generation that is pursing innovation in construction, energy use, and site orientation to produce architecture that becomes part of nature rather than attempt to ignore it.

What unique or different sustainable practices or sustainable materials played a key roll in this building and in your firm’s overall body of work?

We believe that sustainability is also reflected in a building’s longevity, so we like to select materials and finishes that will endure and are easy to maintain. It was clear to us during the design process that a portion of this building would be covered in plants. The logical material behind this wall of plants is concrete, which in a few years will not be visible. It made sense to use tilt up concrete walls for this area, in that the panels could be efficiently manufactured on site. It saves fuel cost and time in their fabrication.

The wall in BRIT’s lobby is made from reclaimed sinker cypress. It now has a new life and will be beautiful well into the next century.

We also consider building operations and ongoing operational budgets, so using both a geothermal system to heat and cool the building and using rooftop photovoltaics to produce electricity at BRIT were important.

The Texas climate also had a huge influence on the landscape. This past summer saw record setting heat and a drought, so including both a rain garden to collect and distribute water year-round to drought resistant plants has proven essential to maintain the landscape.

What books are you currently reading….or would like to be reading?

One of the most challenging books about environmental design is Diana Balmori’s MANIFESTO, an outline of design approaches that change how we think of landscape. Exploring such ideas as Accommodating Natural Processes in Cities, and Making Temporary Landscapes, or From Green Corridor to Thick Edge: The Linear Park, Balmori challenges conventional wisdom. She also pursues graphic representation of her ideas that brings refreshing explorations of new forms of visual representation. Anyone interested in contemporary thinking about landscape design should be familiar with this book.

Architype Review thanks Hugh Hardy and Daria Pizzetta for their interview and for contributing to this collection of Architype Dialogue.

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