The partners at Behnisch Architects, in Los Angeles, and its parent office, Behnisch Architekten, in Stuttgart, Germany, do not define their work as green architecture. “Making a building green doesn't mean it's going to be good architecture,” says partner Christof Jantzen. “There's nothing predetermined about how we incorporate sustainability into a new project. We just try to ask the right questions, and the answers usually turn out to involve things like daylighting, natural ventilation, and healthy environmental and mechanical systems.”
Similarly, in opening the firm's American office, which Jantzen heads, there was no preformulated plan to tap into a burgeoning market for sustainable design. It just happens that sustainable design ends up being the answer to a wide variety of clients' needs here. “It's a phenomenon that's been very strong in the last few years,” he says.
The difference between the markets for sustainability in Europe and the United States, Jantzen explains, is that in Europe the cost of energy is so prohibitively high that “nobody can get around it, so it's a pressured topic that comes to affect every new building.” In the United States, environmental sustainability involves a broader set of requirements and often finds its way to market as a commodity, not as an invisible cost-saving measure.
“One of our clients, a residential developer, pushed back against our initial proposal for his condo project,” Jantzen says. “But then he did his own research and realized that the green measures we were proposing would, in fact, capture more from clients looking for a healthy place to live. Suddenly, he was interested in paying to tap into natural resources and sustainability with his project.” All architects dream that a client will come around to seeing things their way. When it comes to sustainability, Behnisch Architects finds that in America, dreams sometimes come true.