As “green” becomes an all-encompassing buzz word, many architecture firms are jumping on the sustainable bandwagon, but the name of EDG Architects says it all: Environmental Design Group. Since its inception in 1972, the Bethesda, Maryland-based firm has focused on sustainability, and when principal Don Tucker joined EDG in 1974, the firm was well on its way to differentiating itself from competitors by focusing on something many firms still fail to incorporate into their plans: engaging tenants.

“Since we started in the 1970s our focus has always been multifamily and affordable housing communities that were sustainable and energy efficient, but we always understood the importance of including the residents in the process,” Tucker says. “Those who live there have to sustain it.”

In 2008, EDG Architects completed Eastern Village Cohousing, in Silver Spring, Maryland, a challenging adaptive-reuse project that converted an abandoned office building into residential housing and artist lofts. EDG engaged the local community and conducted focus groups with future owners participating directly in the process. Eastern Village would prove to be EDG’s first LEED Silver, multifamily project. According to Tucker, LEED wasn’t very “friendly” when it came to multifamily units at the time, so the project required a lot of creativity, including one feature that EDG is becoming known for.

3Tree Flats, a LEED Gold development on Georgia Avenue in Washington, DC, has a community health facility and features a large green roof and several screens.

Both Eastern Village and 3Tree Flats, a LEED Gold-certified, mixed-income development in Washington, DC, feature green screens. Essentially living architecture, these green-wall systems utilize climbing plants, such as deciduous vines, and cascading groundcovers. They not only filter indoor air but also control runoff and provide thermal protection. Eastern Village in particular was built with the intention of prioritizing a lush, eco-friendly landscape to create an urban garden for residents. Besides a green screen, the existing parking lot was transformed into a garden over geothermal wells, and a covered walkway along the courtyard’s perimeter features planters for individual owners to maintain, giving the courtyard the appearance of a hanging garden.

From its community roots—Three Tree Flats also houses Mary’s Center, a community health center that provides social services and healthcare to families in the area—to cutting-edge technology such as BIM, EDG is as progressive as architects come. Tucker is quick to point out, however, that much of the firm’s efforts involve going “back to basics.”

“A lot of what we do is just common sense,” Tucker says. “They’re things the industry seems to have forgotten about: building orientation, passive solar, natural ventilation, and daylighting. These are sustainable principles that have been around a very long time. I’m not saying energy-modeling tools aren’t helpful. They’re more useful now than they’ve ever been. We can now study the building envelope in a way that lets our clients get more bang for their buck.” In the end, such tools are just that: tools. The knowledge and values have to come first.

Tucker says the EDG team is incredibly proud of the work it does. “Eastern Village Cohousing is representative of our best practices,” Tucker says. “Not only did it win the National Association of Home Builders’ 2005 Green Project of the Year award for luxury multifamily homes, but it also won first place from the Affordable Housing Conference for affordable rehab projects. In the same project you have luxury and affordable coexisting. I don’t know of many other firms that could incorporate both of those things into one project.”