A conversation with Neal Angrisano – June 14, 2005

Our next conversation follows the connection from Katrina Gerber to a man who is on the Owner's side of the Sunset Office Complex, Mr. Neal Angrisano, AIA, the Deputy Director of Facilities Management for Johnson County. Neal is a graduate of KU (Bachelor and Masters degrees in Architecture), a father of five, a licensed architect, an environmental advocate, and an educator. His career has taken him across the table and back several times from the architect's side to the owner's side. He is a long time advocate of sustainability.

Note: At the end of the article are web links to many items mentioned.

1 – What person influenced you most regarding environmental issues?

  • I had the great fortune of working with Bob Berkebile early in my career and there is no question that he has inspired untold thousands of people with his passion for the environment. Other than him, perhaps Amory Lovins and Hunter Lovins from the Rocky Mountains Institute. I have heard Amory them speak several times, and his writings on Natural Capitalism resonated immensely with me.
  • 2 – What event opened your eyes to environmental issues?

  • There was no single event. As a young architect in the eighties environmental concern was little more than a special interest issue. I can recall walking project job sites as a youngster and seeing the tremendous amount of construction waste that is generated. I remember being in newly carpeted offices and getting a buzz from the overpowering off-gassing of the old carpet adhesives.
  • 3 – Name one habit or convenience you gave up for environmental reasons.

    4 – Name something you wish more people realized is harmful to the environment.

  • Designing and constructing buildings for the short term. It is one thing, however unfortunate, when a commercial developer does this to realize short term profits but when public entities build on the cheap to save on first-costs, they are doing a financial disservice to their constituency. Quality buildings designed to function and last for the long term [is the right approach].
  • 5 – What is the most important thing you do personally to conserve natural resources?

  • Through words and actions, advancing knowledge of and helping others understand environmental issues. Education is the key; of one’s own organization, of the general public, of our children. .I recently spent a day at Notre Dame de Sion High School speaking to students in an environmental studies course. Passing on understanding and concern for the environment, that is how to make a big impact.
  • 6 – What alternative do you feel more people need to learn?

  • To speak with our pocket books and our votes to demand that corporations, institutions and governments do the right thing.
  • 7 – What contribution are you uniquely able to make toward environmental causes?

  • Working on the issue from the inside out, within a government organization. Sometimes it is more difficult for an architect to convince a client to do certain things that they had no special interest in originally. From within an organization such as ours, someone like me with hopefully a certain amount of credibility and trust, can often, although not without a fair level of tenacity and conviction, have better success getting the organization to adopt the right courses of action. When our County Commissioners proudly start talking to their constituency about the environmental stewardship being applied to County buildings and programs, I consider this the highest measure of success.
  • 8 – What do you think is the next step for Kansas City as a community at the present time?

  • Mandating environmental responsiveness for all development, especially in the private sector. Governmental entities can and should lead by example, but the time is at hand to go beyond just leading to requiring.
  • 9 – What change to your lifestyle or behavior was the hardest to adopt or maintain?

  • Just slowing down every now and then and thinking about what you are doing instead of blowing through life at high speed. Carpooling to soccer practice. Making one trip for errands rather than three. Keeping the lights turned off with five kids is a constant effort. In our bathrooms we still have some of those crummy spec home round bulb vanity lights over the mirrors, which equals about 500 watts burning away almost constantly at times. I finally just took every other bulb out of the sockets. But my wife makes me put them back in when company comes.
  • 10 – What do you think Kansas City has done well?

  • Kansas City Missouri has adopted significant green building programs. Jackson County has many initiatives. We are developing a very aggressive program in Johnson County. With some impressive private sector exceptions, the public sector is leading the way in Kansas City.
  • 11 – What is your most successful green building project?

  • The Johnson County Sunset Drive Office Building. It was the first thoroughly integrated, complete approach we've done. And when you do a cost comparison to other similar county buildings--it's maybe a 3-5% premium in cost; the majority of which gets paid back quickly in lifecycle savings. Most 'high quality' buildings are not far from 'green' without even trying to be green. Quality is the essence of being environmentally responsible - when you design a building to last for 50 or 100 years. We are going back to materials like terrazzo, to integral finish materials rather than painted surfaces. We went to great lengths to design flexibility in the spaces, for example, with nearly all the partitions being demountable. In 50 years this building will have probably undergone numerous reconfigurations and contributed almost zero gypsum and steel waste to landfills. Green buildings do not have to be different to be green, though we did go out of our way to some extent to make it look green.
  • 12 – What is a good example of environmental design in Kansas City?

  • The EPA Lab in KCK was the first LEED Gold project in the Metro. Sunset will be the second. Eco Works was a great experiment, perhaps a concept that was a bit ahead of it's time when it was built.
  • 13 – What is the biggest change you hope to see in society within your lifetime?

  • To see environmental institutions like the USGBC and LEED go away entirely because they are not needed anymore; when it all becomes just a part of standard practice. LEED is a vital tool at the present time for building awareness and spreading knowledge. But even a LEED Platinum building is just 'less bad.' We will eventually need to move on to restorative architecture, buildings and urban design that repair the environment by their very existence. One change I’ve noticed is that Ford Motor Company not only installed a green roof on one of its assembly plants but has gone out of its way to publicize the fact to consumers in the mass media. What does this mean? It means that the average Joe Taurus Buyer now might care about such things. I think this says a lot about how pervasive environmental issues finally are to the general American public.
  • Weblinks:

    Johnson County Sunset Offices (webcam link on page!): http://facilities.jocogov.org/projects/proj_sunsetoffice.htm

    Johnson County Sustainability Guide: http://facilities.jocogov.org/pdfs/SustainaibilityGuide.pdf

    Amory Lovins' Rocky Mountains Institute: http://www.rmi.org/

    A transcript of Amory Lovins' lecture on Natural Capitalism: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/bbing/stories/s231834.htm

    L. Hunter Lovins' company, Natural Capitalism, Inc.: http://www.natcapinc.com/core_hunter.htm

    Kansas City's Notre Dame de Sion school: http://www.ndsion.edu/

    Greenroofs.org profile of the Ford Dearborn Truck Plant green roof: http://www.greenroofs.org/portland/grhc2004_ford.htm

    Ford Motor Company's "Environment" website: http://www.ford.com/en/goodWorks/environment/default.htm

    Environmental Protection Agency Science and Technology Center: http://www.epa.gov/oaintrnt/facilities/kansascity-lab.htm

    EcoWorks: http://www.southlaketechpark.com

    ("Green Thirteen" is a series of questions intended to explore the journey of environmental thinking, from inspiration to education to action--with a dual-focus on both individual and community perspectives. Interviewer: Scott Kevin Jones, AIA, LEED AP)

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