conversation with Bob Berkebile April 15, 2005
To premier our newsletter
interview series, we contacted one of the founding advocates of
environmental design, Bob Berkebile, FAIA. He is a founding
principal of BNIM, was the founding Chairman of the AIA Committee
on the Environment (COTE), and has served on the board of the
U.S. Green Building Council. More information about Bob and his
practice can be found on the BNIM-Elements website: http://elements.bnim.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, is
with HOK Sport Venue Event.
1 What person
influenced you most regarding environmental issues?
Buckminster Fuller and his concepts of
"spaceship earth" and holistic, integrated
thinking probably had the greatest impact on my concept
of the environment. But more currently thought leaders
like Duane Elgin (Promise Ahead: A Vision of Hope and
Action for Humanitys Future) and Janine Benyus
2 What event
opened your eyes to environmental issues?
The Hyatt Regency skywalk collapse in
1981 was an epiphany. I began to examine the unintended
consequences of our design decisions more broadly. I and
my colleagues at BNIM continued to seek better answers
and design solutions.
3 Name one habit
or convenience you gave up for environmental reasons.
Driving fast German cars. I love
driving "high performance" cars. As I learned
more about my rate of consumption, waste and pollution I
switched to a Mazda Miata and six years ago I ordered my
Honda Insight before they were available. I am still
driving a "high performance" vehicle, but now I
measure performance by efficiency not acceleration (52
mpg 5-year average, 70 mpg highway, 84.1 mpg, best ever
to Jefferson City).
4 Name something
you wish more people realized is harmful to the environment.
I wish we realized that how we feed,
cloth, house and transport ourselves is the most
consumptive, polluting, wasteful lifestyle on the planet.
And that we have the opportunity to design communities
but improve our quality of life and restore the
5 What is the
most important thing you do personally to conserve natural
We live in the city (Hyde Park), in an
energy-efficient home we designed twenty years ago and we
try continuously to improve our ecological footprint. We
recently replaced our swimming pool with a water garden
and are now planning to replace our major appliances. For
example, our new dishwasher will clean better with less
than one-half of the water, energy and noise.
alternative do you feel more people need to learn?
That we can choose to redesign our
community and lifestyle to spend more time in nature and
community and less time in traffic or in isolation.
contribution are you uniquely able to make toward environmental
I doubt that my contributions are
unique but I have been blessed to work with colleagues at
BNIM and a diverse group of clients who are searching for
restorative design that increase social, economic and
environmental vitality simultaneously.
8 What do you
think is the next step for Kansas City as a community at the
Kansas City has a unique opportunity
to dramatically increase our quality of life by improving
efficiency and diversity during what is probably the
largest construction cycle in our history.
9 What change to
your lifestyle or behavior was the hardest to adopt or maintain?
Air travel is the largest component of
my ecological footprint today. I need to utilize
communication technologies more effectively.
10 What do you
think Kansas City has done well?
The Kessler plan for the park and
boulevard system which extended beautiful green
connective tissue throughout the community was a
wonderful thing. Its time to expand Kesslers
concept and invest in maintaining and improving this
11 What is your
most successful green building project?
The School of Nursing School at the
University of Texas in Houston has been receiving
numerous awards and we hope it will establish new
benchmarks for human health and pedagogy.
12 What is a good
example of environmental design in Kansas City?
The Missouri Department of
Conservations Discovery Center is a remarkable
design and educational resource that includes passive and
active solar systems, water conservation strategies
including a "Living Machine" (biological waste
water treatment/no discharge to the sewer), a ground
source heat pump system and healthy, beautiful landscape
as an alternative to our typical drug dependent rug
(lawn), It is successful in immersing people in an
alternative, healthy living strategy.
13 What is the
biggest change you hope to see in society within your lifetime?
I hope that by 2020 (the year of
perfect vision) we will have transformed our community to
become the jewel of the Heartland and an international
model for quality of life and environmental vitality.