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'Green' Architect Creates Sustainable Buildings

Architect Blake Jackson turned to “green” design when he started worrying about contributing to urban sprawl. He was helping to create big box retail centers, paving over large slates of land. One project in particular, in Stockton, Calif., bothered him: beautiful pecan orchards and productive farmlands were being torn away for a suburban shopping mall. “It seemed like everything was going in the wrong direction,” he said. “Do I really want to be a part of this?” he asked himself. Jackson returned to school to earn his masters in sustainable environmental design and said that he’s pleased that now his work adds value to society. “Fresh air and a clean environment are important to all of us.”

Today Jackson is sustainable practice leader at Tsoi/Kobus & Associates (TK&A), a Cambridge-based architecture firm. He works to insure that each of the firm's projects meets the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED requirements. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Standards) is a green building certification, validating that a building meets certain energy and environmental standards. The increasingly complicated and bureaucratic maze of requirements is making it more difficult for companies to keep with LEED prerequisites, so specialists like Jackson coordinate continuing education programs for staff, keeping everyone up-to-date on the latest green practices. “Sustainable buildings are highly coveted, yet initiatives are often dropped due to misconceptions that they carry higher initial costs,” said Jackson. “But if you put in green practices at the beginning, the ownership and maintenance costs definitely save you money.”

Q: What drives you crazy about traditional "unsustainable" building design?

A: Architecture can be a bit self-indulgent; one style comes and goes, and then everyone talks about how bad or good it was. But buildings are not clothes or shoes; you can’t just toss them away when you’re done. We are stuck with buildings for a very long time, and they can actually be functional and contribute to the earth as opposed to just being fashionable.

Q: What’s an example of a recent project you’ve worked on?
A: Our team is doing a gothic historic inspired classroom facility, all stone, so it doesn’t lend itself to modern features to make the building green. For example, we have to choose roofing based on style, and not what is best for the environment. But we were able to choose sustainable, beautiful stone and its thick, heavy mass is good for energy conservation. Due to stylistic conventions, it’s difficult to put daylight into the structure because of the window proportions, so there are tradeoffs there as well.

Q: You’ve called many places home, including Norway, Germany, and England. How have travels inspired your architecture?

A: When I study from books, it’s only black and white pictures, but seeing the architecture in person allows the scale, color, texture, and smell come to life, as well as the way it fits into the city.

Q: How green are you in your daily life?

A: In every way I can be. I walk to work every day, buy local and organic food, and I don’t use air conditioning at home. I’m big on plugging and unplugging appliances that I’m not using. I try to practice what I preach.

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