An Interview with Amanda Sturgeon

For For more than a decade Amanda Sturgeon has been a leader in the emerging sustainable building field. Working in both the private and public sectors through the course of her career, Sturgeon has been a leader helping convince clients and colleagues to embrace energy-efficient design. This is why Sturgeon received a BetterBricks Award for Architect in 2008.

Sturgeon is an architect and was previously senior associate with the Seattle office of architecture firm , where she served as co-director of sustainable design nationally.  Prior to Perkins + Will, she was a sustainable building specialist at the City of Seattle, and before that, was an architect with the acclaimed Seattle firm . While at Mithun, in 2002 Sturgeon served as project architect for the acclaimed, LEED Gold-rated on Bainbridge Island. 

Over the last five years at Perkins+Will she certified the first LEED platinum project in Washington State and was a winner of the first Living Building Challenge competition for the Department of Ecology, Northwest regional office project.

Sturgeon was educated at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of Sydney. While in Australia in the mid-1990s, Amanda worked on the Newcastle University School of Nursing building, which won the Royal Australia Institute of Architects (RAIA) New South Wales chapter's Environment Award. Sustainable strategies included geo-thermal heat retention/rejection, natural ventilation, shading and lightshelf daylighting strategies.

Amanda was a founding Board member of the Cascadia Region Green Building Council. Last year she has also served as a member of the Greenbuild Program Committee for the U.S. Green Building Council, and she was previously a member of the AIA Seattle board of directors. Sturgeon has taught sustainable design at the University of Washington's School of Architecture and has recently become a Living Building Challenge Ambassador. She is credited with re-starting the AIA Seattle Committee on the Environment in 1999 as well as the annual What Makes It Green? conference.

Recently BetterBricks spoke with Sturgeon to discuss what's changed and what the future looks like.

BetterBricks: What's changed since you won the BetterBricks award in 2008?

Amanda Sturgeon: When I won the award I had just become the co-director for sustainability for Perkins + Will nationally. We have 21 offices worldwide. There's been quite a lot of growth for me personally in terms of working out strategically how you lead that many people from diverse geographic locations toward a sustainable design attitude.
University of Washington Husky Union Building
Also, when the economy took a turn in 2008 there was so much uncertainty. How will the economy affect green building? Will owners be able to afford them now? Luckily, I've seen the opposite turn out to be the case. People are realizing green building is a really sound investment and as construction costs come in below the expected budget more sustainable features are being added to the projects.

What encouraging signs do you see?

I think in this economy people are reassessing their priorities. I've seen a lot of interest in sustainability… the federal tax credits, the new energy policy, grants for geothermal and solar. I think that's going to kick-start use of some new renewable sources we haven't seen before in buildings.

What is the architect's role in the process besides design?

We need to take our role beyond our own projects and offices and toward the green building profession as a whole. We need to be more collaborative and share our resources and research. We released two research tools last year. One is called the 2030 e2 Tool, which helps guide professionals on achieving the 2030 Challenge. At Greenbuild, we also released the Precautionary List - a list of chemicals commonly found in building materials that are scientifically known to be harmful to human health. We identified alternatives to most of these materials. IslandWood School
Our goal is to release two research projects each year that are shared with the public on our website. We want to transform the marketplace, and we want to have shared knowledge. Global climate change is an urgent issue, if we don't share resources we won't succeed in turning it around.

What's the best argument to help clients and the architect profession take that extra step?

Talking about how green building will save on energy costs is still the best argument. We still have some clients that aren't convinced about climate change, and many do not want to take the risk of being a leader in a new technology. So saving money over time is the way to get them to do the right thing. Benchmarking and post-occupancy evaluations are key to making this persuasive, if we track how our building actually performed we have better resources to show future building owners and clients how successful energy efficiency strategies will be.
There's a lot of opportunity to educate building owners. With more of an emphasis on energy audits and evaluations, we might have the opportunity to educate some owners on the benefits. The knowledge is out there, but it's not widespread enough. Some architects are better educators and some are better designers. It's a burden to be the one to bring that to the surface. But there's a huge potential for growth.

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