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It’s Not Sustainable; It’s Just Design

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ANGELA BROOKS AND LARRY SCARPA EXPLAIN WHY GREEN DESIGN ISN’T YET THE NORM

os Angeles firm Brooks + Scarpa is known for its inventive, eco-conscious architecture work, including the partners’ very own Solar Umbrella House, a high-end home built to be a fortress of sustainability. But the husband-and-wife team doesn’t like to talk about sustainable design. To them, it is simply design. “We’ve always designed for the environment,” Brooks says. Here, Brooks and Scarpa discuss the present and future of sustainable luxury design. WHY DO SOME PEOPLE THINK THAT LUXURY DESIGN CANNOT BE SUSTAINABLE?

BROOKS: The mindsets of people who only look at the first cost, not the long-term costs, and building inspectors or o cials who do no understand the technology, or want to embrace it. To be truly green, you want to have a net-zero carbon footprint, and on the energy side, you need to look at renewables (solar or wind) to o set the power your building will use. We have encountered regulatory and cost constraints with this process, but have come to understand that when the regulatory part of it gets resolved, the cost side will automatically get better.

BROOKS: Because sustainability was not in fashion and therefore not seen as luxurious. It had a connotation of being hand-built—no frills. That perception is changing. Luxury has meant ‘larger’ in the past, and I think now people are equating luxury with quality of life issues. For instance, living within a smaller footprint allows you to ride your bike or walk to everything you need; it creates a sense of community and is a lifestyle more people are yearning for.

YOU'RE KNOWN FOR USING MATERIALS IN UNIQUE WAYS. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE INVENTIVE THINGS YOU'VE USED ON LUXURY PROJECTS?
BROOKS: We’ve used recycled aluminum cans that we obtained from the recycling center as an exterior wall finish on an apartment building in Santa Monica. When you’re on the other side of the street, you don’t know what the material is—it is just a beautiful pattern—and when you get close, you see that they are crushed beer and soda cans. We’ve also used colored plastic Dixie cups and ping-pong balls sandwiched between two pieces of glass. We try to raise people’s awareness with the materials and forms we use as a way to educate, make a statement, or just create an experience as you move through a space. SCARPA: We have a lab where we experiment. It’s fascinating for people to walk into a room and recognize

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CONSTRAINTS YOU'VE EXPERIENCED WHILE DESIGNING GREEN LUXURY PROJECTS?
SCARPA: Some people lose sight of making a project green, and they have to be reminded.

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Left: Solar Umbrella House Above: Redelco Residence

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"WE TRY TO RAISE PEOPLE’S AWARENESS WITH THE MATERIALS AND FORMS WE USE AS A WAY TO EDUCATE, MAKE A STATEMENT, OR JUST CREATE AN EXPERIENCE AS YOU MOVE THROUGH A SPACE." —ANGELA BROOKS

the materials. It really heightens the experience. WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR RECENT LUXURY SUSTAINABLE PROJECTS ASIDE FROM YOUR OWN SOLAR UMBRELLA HOUSE?
BROOKS: We just finished a very sustainable 1.7-million-dollar house in a dense neighborhood in Venice, California, that incorporates solar panels and a green roof. The house is a continuous flowing space and is very open to the garden; it is hard to tell where the interior stops and the exterior begins.

make it more di cult. If we were to subsidize the solar panel industry at the same rate as the oil and gas industry, we would see a lot more sustainability. We should look to other countries that have done it and learn from them. Germany is comparable to Alaska in terms of the amount of sun they get, and they are light years ahead of us in renewable solar power. At the highest political levels, we need to take a hard look at our long-term future and health. We need to make the hard decisions now, to create a better world for our future. HOW LONG BEFORE WE’RE SAYING “DESIGN” RATHER THAN “SUSTAINABLE DESIGN?”
SCARPA: Decades. BROOKS: Political inertia is causing us to move at a snail’s pace—a lot of what we are doing in California should just be mandated throughout our country. When sustainability becomes as common as the building code, no one will have to discuss it! —LINDSAY OBERST / PORTRAIT BY BRYAN SHEFFIELD

ON WORKING WITH BROOKS + SCARPA:
“It’s really enjoyable working with Scarpa. He has a terrific ability to work in the field, and he has a keen eye for opportunities for subtle revisions, which is important on sustainable projects. He’s much more active on site than other architects. We’re brought in earlier, and with more communication, the whole process becomes easier, and it helps educate the client. He likes to be upfront, that way the client has fewer surprises,”—John Codic, president of RJC Builders, who has worked with Scarpa on many projects

We’re also doing a 60,000-square-foot building in Monterrey, Mexico that will be the first LEED-Platinum building there. It has natural day lighting and high-energy systems.
SCARPA:

IN YOUR OPINIONS, HOW CAN WE INCREASE SUSTAINABILITY IN THE UNITED STATES?
BROOKS: We need to create incentives, rather than

Above: Architects Larry Scarpa and Angela Brooks