Sometime in the early 1980s, it became clear to architect Carter J. Warr that something was missing in his profession. Architects weren’t paying attention to several vital aspects of construction, namely context, client, ecology, economy, and site. These five elements were often overlooked in the pursuit of a grand design, he thought—and he wanted to do something about it. Working off his early experiences in construction, Warr gained insight into these missing elements, and he learned how to bridge the gap between overly ambitious solutions and the real-world needs of his customers.

“Architecture should be more about the client,” Warr says. “We engage our clients, and the designs are more powerful and mean more to the client. Each client should be engaged in the process and have influence over it. That way, there is more buy-in. It is so much more fun to do it together.” This is the philosophy upon which Warr founded his firm, CJW Architecture.

For the construction of the California Contemporary residence, CJW not only listened to its client but also paid attention to what the site dictated. The home was meant for a family with disparate hobbies who bought the property for the view, so CJW worked extra hard to negotiate the property’s close proximity to neighboring structures and work around several great oak trees nearby that could not be relocated. In the end, the firm completed the Spanish Colonial-style home with all natural materials, and its backyard, fit with an infinity-edge pool situated on sloped terrain, overlooks a 100,000-acre view of the land below.

The Museum-Inspired Contemporary home inhabits a difficult site overlooking agricultural lands belonging to Stanford University.

The residence accounts for 70% of its own energy, largely thanks to photovoltaic panels, a geothermal cooling system, and a metal roof that harvests rainwater.

Another project CJW designed, a modern sustainable residence, is a recreational home that features a guesthouse with wheelchair access, a pool, a hot tub, and a space for paddle games. “The activity spaces are designed to bring people together,” Warr says. “It’s really cool.” And yet a third CJW-designed property, the Museum-Inspired Contemporary home—set atop a very difficult site overlooking the agricultural lands of Stanford University—is nicely fitted to its location and client and also is highly sustainable. The property has a view of crops and a nearby lake, which inspired a curved fountain at the front entrance of home. And Warr incorporated wider corridors to accommodate the family’s impressive modern art collection, infusing the spaces with traditional elements while maintaining a contemporary feel. At the same time, to conserve energy and resources, Warr incorporated photovoltaic panels, a geothermal cooling system, and a metal roof that harvests rainwater. The interior walls are limestone plaster, which absorbs carbon dioxide, cleans the air, and becomes stronger over time. In all, the home self-accounts for 70 percent of the energy it consumes.

CJW’s expertise extends to more than just high-end residences, however. At a creek-side swimming and tennis club, the firm has been on a mission since 1992 to rehabilitate and modernize the 1950s facility. “We approached the project of rehabilitation and modernization by replacing all the moving parts, much like a mechanic repairs a car,” Warr says.

The project has so far consisted of giving the locker rooms, the ballroom, the dining room, the fitness room, and the pool a facelift—all while improving the overall functionality of the building. Complicating things, the 12,000-square-foot facility must be renovated while staying open to the public. Its sustainable features include interior spaces that are naturally lit and ventilated, cooling achieved through two ice generators, and on-demand water heaters. CJW also moved all the pool-maintenance equipment indoors to prevent chemical leaks from polluting the nearby creek, and this seemingly small change has improved creek conditions to the point that two endangered species have returned to the area, the red-legged frog and the San Francisco leatherback turtle.

“The rehabilitation has set the stage for another 40 to 50 years of use,” Warr says. With every project, Warr and CJW Architecture works toward a “defining difference.” They pursue architecture because they love it, and they engage clients because they love them. “We are facilitators,” Warr says, “not dictators.”