You could say that architect Nancy Malone is a product of amazing luck. Now a LEED Fellow and principal at Siegel & Strain Architects in Emeryville, California, the young Malone happened to study under green design pioneer Sim Van der Ryn at the University of California–Berkeley as she was earning her master’s of architecture degree. Before that, while a design studies undergraduate at UC–Davis in the late 1980s, Malone had the opportunity to visit Village Homes, one of America’s first environmentally sensitive residential developments, constructed in the ’70s and ’80s.
But saying that Malone is simply the product of fortunate circumstances is not an accurate statement—a better analogy would be to liken her story to good seeds falling on fertile ground. Although a majority of 1980s architecture was caught up in the aesthetics of postmodernism, Malone’s innate sensibilities pulled her toward sustainable practices, a decade before green became truly popular.
“In my undergraduate years, there was almost no discussion of the environment in the design community,” Malone says, noting the exception of a single professor who brought it to her attention. Then while taking an interior design class, she took her first step toward energy-efficient design by choosing to shade a west-facing storefront, even though energy costs were less than half of what they are today.
Malone stayed on course, took an early job with Van der Ryn, and is now widely recognized for both her own contributions to the profession—including AIA Research and Top 10 Green Building awards—and her instruction of a new generation of architects. She has taught resource-efficient design classes at both alma maters, where she observes today’s students “genuinely looking for careers that can favorably impact the planet.”
She also considers the building to be the teacher. That happens in active ways, such as at the Yosemite Environmental Education Center where the structure’s main purpose is experiential learning, but also passively. “When people visit a green building, they might notice the benefits over time,” Malone says. “For example, natural daylighting adds to the comfort of a building. Or visitors start to notice things like cisterns for collecting rainwater, or dual-flush toilets, or the PV arrays on roofs. People learn from just being there.”
More active features of buildings might include informational dashboards either in lobbies or online, which provide real-time data on such things as energy use and photovoltaic activity. But Malone also understands LEED’s critics, who are uncomfortable with using gizmos to enhance the LEED scorecard. “Criticism naturally makes the LEED system better,” she says. “It’s hard to devise something that works universally.
“But gaming LEED most often happens when they start the process late, tacking on technology to add points. When you set your goals early, when picking the site and determining the building orientation, you can incorporate many passive strategies that are important to sustainability.” Although the technologies of 2013 are far ahead of what we had two decades ago, Malone understands that the best answers are the ones that people have been using for years.