For what I thought would
be my final interview in Kansas City I arranged to meet with
Phaedra Svec of BNIM Elements. Phaedra was a classmate of mine
from Iowa State University and has her Architect's license in
Kansas. She has been working with Bob Berkebile since 2000 and
has been working in Kansas City since 1997. Phaedra's profile can
be found on the BNIM-Elements website: http://elements.bnim.com/people1.html
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
currently with KKE architects in Minneapolis.
1 What person
influenced you most regarding environmental issues?
We had some great professors at the
Design College at Iowa State such as David Block and
James Patterson. But I would have to give credit to the
whole combination of people who taught me to think for
myself, my parents among other people. Observing nature,
growing up in Iowa, thinking of the fields and the
topsoil, ...and the pesticides... Environmental awareness
for me comes from observing and thinking and questioning
what you see.
2 What event
opened your eyes to environmental issues?
I must give kind of the same answer as
the first question. Some people are hit on the back of
the head one day with an epiphany, but for others the
glasses slip off slowly revealing the world as it is
rather than what we are taught to see. I've always been a
round peg in a square hole. The moment you question the
system is the moment you start to seek and learn other
ways of living.
3 Name one habit
or convenience you gave up for environmental reasons.
When I was a kid, going to the grocery
store, my family really 'stocked up.' For me food has
become the big challenge of my life. We go to stores such
as Wild Oats, paying way too much for organic and bulk
(reduced/un-packaged) foods. We tried working with local
farmers with a CSA subscription for 3-4 years. I also
have a small garden. I worry that my children will have
real food in the future. Agriculture is important to me.
When we pay to much, I figure we are voting with our
4 Name something
you wish more people realized is harmful to the environment.
Not voting. Driving too much. Mowing
our lawns. The things we are doing to our air and water
quality are dangerous. Lately I've been looking at the
statistics about the contaminants in breast milk and it
is really frightening.
5 What is the
most important thing you do personally to conserve natural
Probably the agriculture I support,
buying local and buying organic. These sources use less
fossil fuels in their production and preserve the land's
ability to grow food in future seasons. Second, perhaps
in keeping my lifestyle within a sphere around my house,
limiting how much I have to drive and where I shop.
alternative do you feel more people need to learn?
When you can shift from the mentality
that everything you have has to be 'new' or the 'best,'
there is a lot of freedom that comes from this.
contribution are you uniquely able to make toward environmental
Education, through collaboration. I
like to help people through the process. At ISU in group
projects I was always the one who wasn't afraid to be the
spokesperson. Sometimes I think I can effect people most
one on one, or in a team setting, sometimes it is by
standing up in a crowd. There has always been an element
helping people to communicate and learn that is central
to my contribution.
8 What do you
think is the next step for Kansas City as a community at the
Air and Water are the urgent
imperatives, but also downtown we have such a boon right
now, with the construction waste management forum, the
BPS, these efforts will have an important impact on
improving our use of resources.
9 What change to
your lifestyle or behavior was the hardest to adopt or maintain?
The food. The second hardest is things
that cost more money for the sustainable option. We've
done as much as we can with our house and our cars -
without buying a new expensive hybrid vehicle. We did
live for a year in a co-housing residence in Squire Park.
That was fun and I learned a lot.
10 What do you
think Kansas City has done well?
The LEED Ordinance. The green building
efforts in Johnson County. And Kathryn Shields'
educational and environmental programs.
11 What is your
most successful green building project?
Lots of projects in little ways,
influencing team members. But Bartle Hall, even though it
is not a real high performer. It was an opportunity to
work with a great number of real bright people. If
everyone left with just one new thing in their bag of
tricks, then it was successful. What survives in the
design is not my measure of success but rather what all
those professionals might do the next time they have a
12 What is a good
example of environmental design in Kansas City?
My favorite building is the Discovery
Center. It's just a great space to see, especially within
the landscape. And to demonstrate and explain all of
those technologies in one location, it is a great
resource for the community.
13 What is the
biggest change you hope to see in society within your lifetime?
That we all learn to think and observe
for ourselves... and to talk to each other.