Lori Bork Newcomer

Though the architectural practice of Lori Bork Newcomer has become synonymous with environmental consciousness, the sustainability seed was originally planted in Newcomer by her husband, who holds a doctorate in environmental management from Yale University. The principal of Bork Architectural Design worked with former Yale architecture dean Cesar Pelli before starting her own firm when she headed south to the Athens, Georgia—a move that has allowed her to diversify her practice. Newcomer spoke to gb&d about her own LEED Platinum residence—the first in Athens—and how it was her small decisions that earned it its green title.

I relocated to Athens when my husband accepted a faculty position at the University of Georgia, and I saw the move as an opportunity to expand my horizons. Although I had focused primarily on commercial work until that point, I wanted to explore the residential realm when I started my own firm.

Up Close and Personal

What was your first job? I worked in the produce department at a local grocery store.

If you weren’t an architect, what would you be? When I was a child, I wanted to be a Disney animator or a watercolor artist.

What inspires you? Being involved in academia and teaching. I find that environment to be very stimulating. It’s one of the things I love about being in a college town.

Describe yourself in three words. Inquisitive. Creative. Mediator.

What is your hidden talent? I play competitive ultimate frisbee, traveling the country to participate in tournaments. Although having just had a baby this year, I’m working to get myself back into shape.

One disadvantage of a solo practice is that you lose the team environment. You have fewer people to exchange ideas with. Fortunately, LEED construction requires a certain level of collaboration that helps to fulfill that need when you don’t have traditional coworkers. I had been exposed to some LEED projects while working with Pelli Clarke Pelli, but my husband probably was the biggest influence on my interest in sustainable design. He has helped me become much more aware of the severity of the climate crisis.

Sustainable construction is more than an option—it’s my responsibility as a designer. Certain design decisions are based on our climate. Passive solar design and natural ventilation are particularly important in our region to keep homes from overheating. Heat gain during the summer months is a major concern. LEED also forces you to consider durability. In Georgia, we have to worry about heat and humidity, along with air infiltration. Guarding against climate factors isn’t just sustainable—it’s … good construction.

Designing the first LEED Platinum home in Athens—my own—gave me an opportunity to demonstrate how that goal can be achieved. My practice is based in my home studio, so it also serves as a marketing and demonstration tool for me. Most LEED Platinum construction seems to use geothermal or solar, but our house has neither. Solar hot water was the only renewable option we could afford. Although renewable energy systems give a big boost to the LEED scorecard, our project is an example that you can focus on a lot of little things and still reach the Platinum level. Other programs can also supplement LEED and make green design more accessible. EarthCraft is a regional program that is similar to LEED in its goals, but it comes with lower costs and slightly less paperwork. I introduce the idea of LEED and EarthCraft certifications to my clients in most cases. I do encourage people to take advantage of it, if only for the value of inspections, to be sure that all of the systems are functioning as expected.

Being in a university town offers a lot of resources and opportunities. Between [University of] Georgia students and faculty and practitioners in the area, we had sufficient interest to establish a local chapter of the USGBC. Alfie Vick, a UGA College of Environmental Design faculty member, spearheaded that effort, and a handful of us helped to get things started. Now we’re able to hold events and continuing-education courses and don’t have to travel to Atlanta to participate.

Lori Bork Newcomer’s LEED Platinum home—the first in Athens, GA—serves as a showpiece of her design work and a testament to the sustainability of simplicity.