BNIM, which earned top honors in the sustainability category this year, has long been a pioneer of environmentally ambitious design. Founded in Kansas City, Mo., in the 1970s, and now with 86 employees across three offices, the firm was built on a commitment to transform the way buildings serve people and nature. “I went to school during the first energy crises in the 1970s and came out fired up about making buildings more efficient,” says Steve McDowell, FAIA, the firm’s director of design. By 1989, McDowell was among a group of AIA members to present a resolution at that year’s convention called the Critical Climate Rescue, which helped spur the creation of COTE, the USGBC, and LEED. BNIM would go on to develop the Living Building concept of design, and be among the first to earn LEED Platinum for one of its projects.
Last year, the firm, which has signed on to AIA’s 2030 Commitment, demonstrated a robust commitment to energy modeling, using tools that analyze how design decisions influence the life cycle of a building, including outputs such as carbon. After years of tracking performance to see how their models stood up to real-life scenarios, BNIM standardized their measurements in 2018 by incorporating ARC, a digital platform for tracking building performance, and Energy Star Portfolio Manager into some of their post-occupancy services. They also have a research partnership with the Salk Institute to test the effects of daylight on human health. Last year, they coalesced their ambitions for green building into a 2020 Sustainability Action Plan, which includes the goal of identifying strategies for disaster planning when considering a project site.
The Architect 50 sustainability judges were particularly struck by the firm’s Asilong Christian High School in Kenya, a COTE Top Ten winner that they deemed “a wonderful project.” Its triple bottom-line design responded to climate, community, and education needs in a remote area. Harnessing the abundance of solar energy, the building operation requires no carbon-based fuels, and local labor was trained in brickmaking and construction and contributed to the completed project.
The green ethos has become so baked in at BNIM that the word “sustainability” isn’t bandied about as it once was. “It’s so much a part of who we are and how we work, it’s almost redundant to use that word. We are truly focused on outcomes,” McDowell says. “Is our work making people healthier? Is our work contributing to a more vital and regenerative ecological system? Is our work helping organizations to function better? Is our work connecting people to nature? All those things mean sustainability. We don’t have sustainability workshops like we used to 20 years ago because our design workshops are sustainability workshops.”
Top 50 Firms in Sustainability
|2||The Miller Hull Partnership||99.0|
|8||Bruner/Cott & Associates||95.5|
|9||Perkins and Will||95.3|
|13||Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture||93.9|
|17||Hennebery Eddy Architects||89.2|
|18||Skidmore, Owings & Merrill||88.7|
|20||Leddy Maytum Stacy||88.3|
|25||Ayers Saint Gross||86.3|
|30||Kaplan Thompson Architects||85.8|
|33||ELS Architecture and Urban Design||84.6|
|36||Fergus Garber Young Architects||83.8|
|42||Leers Weinzapfel Associates||82.3|
Sustainability Portfolio Judges
Margaret Montgomery, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, Well AP, is a principal and global sustainable practice leader for NBBJ, a global design firm based in Seattle. She leads initiatives and projects that are focused low-energy, high-performance design. She has served on the board of AIA Seattle and co-chaired its What Makes It Green program.
Jean Carroon, FAIA, a LEED Fellow, is principal at Goody Clancy, a Boston-based firm. The 2019 president of the Boston Society of Architects, her practice focuses on the creative reuse of existing places and buildings to shape a resilient world. Her book Sustainable Preservation: Greening Existing Buildings was published by John Wiley & Sons in 2010.
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