Global Green Room Interview: Paul Hutton

bl_interview_paul_huttonPaul Hutton, the founder of Hutton Architecture Studio, has worked for more than 30 years on sustainable building, including a commitment to green schools. We met him when he sat on a green schools panel with us and have since learned a lot more about his impressive body of  LEED-certified work. Below, his answers to our questions for our Global Green Room Interview. What would surprise us about your work?

I think you'd be surprised to learn that so much of our work is now done in collaboration with other firms. Even though we have incredible depth in sustainable design, we have found that collaborating brings out the best in all of us and leads to new insights. We’ve learned something and formed some lasting relationships with some terrific firms we’ve partnered with in the last few years, including Studio B, RB+B, klipp, Lantz Boggio, Selby, and Cuningham.

Who is your hero?

I began this sustainability journey in 1972, after reading an amazing little book titled "The Limits to Growth." That one book changed my view of what I wanted to do in life, because it laid out so clearly the challenges we face, as a society and as designers of the built environment. For the first time, I understood that the consequences of our actions have truly global and unavoidable impact. There are two primary reasons for this: there are so many billions of us, and our technology has increased exponentially in power. So, my heroes would be the authors of that book: Dennis Meadows, Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and William Behrens. I believe the environmental movement owes far more to "The Limits to Growth" than is generally recognized.

What has been your greatest success?

We've been at this long enough to understand that a great project always starts with a great client who has clearly defined goals. A few of my favorite projects, where clients enabled us to pursue sustainable objectives whole-heartedly, are:

Aspen Middle School, Colorado’s first LEED Gold Public School (completed 2007)

Douglas County Elementary Prototypes, which steadily decreases energy use with each new version (six completed between 2007 and 2010)

Institute for Science and Technology,  a school building that itself becomes the teacher (completed 2011)

Sangre de Cristo PK-12 School, our first project to pursue Net Zero Energy (completed in 2011)

What about a failure or challenge?

Some of my building designs have not performed up to expectations, and I am not alone as a sustainable architect in this regard. I am starting to understand this differently than I did years ago. Back then I assumed, as many of my colleagues still do, that the problem is simply that the occupants and operators of our high-performance buildings do not share our passion for energy efficiency and therefore do not make the effort to operate them optimally. As I have dug deeper into the field of Human Factors, I have changed my mind. I believe that there is a deep disconnect between design intent and human behavior. As designers, we have the obligation to understand the needs and expectations of those who inhabit our buildings. Those inhabitants do NOT have an obligation to understand our design intent and to make us look good by behaving as we think they should. We will not achieve truly sustainable and energy efficient buildings until we pay more attention to human behavior.

If you had the power to make one global and green change, what would it be?

Level the playing field for renewable energy. With the recent media attention on the failure of Solyndra and other DOE investments, the huge government subsidies for non-renewable energy sources are easily overlooked. I don't think you could find an energy source more heavily subsidized than nuclear, and we still don't have a clear solution for long-term storage of nuclear power plant waste products. If we look at oil, shouldn’t we consider our military involvement in oil-rich regions of the world as the subsidies they are? If it weren't for oil, would we really be so concerned with maintaining open shipping lanes through the Strait of Hormuz? I’m not advocating that we should only use renewable energy now. But we need to evaluate governmental and societal subsidies for all energy sources relative to return on investment as well as their potential to provide clean and efficient energy production well into the future. All I'm saying is... Give Renewable a Chance!