CaGBC Ask the Expert: John Crace

Architect and CaGBC Atlantic Chapter co-founder John Crace discusses the his passion for protecting the natural environment through sound building

As a Principal and Director of Sustainability at WHW Architects in Halifax, a co-founder of the CaGBC Atlantic Chapter, and the recent winner of the CaGBC Chapter Leadership Award, architect John Crace certainly puts his passion for green building and sustainability into practice on a daily basis.

We spoke to John about why belonging to a regional Chapter and having the designation of a LEED AP can be so valuable, where he sees the industry heading, and why policy shifts are necessary to affect further change.

1. Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background as it pertains to green building/sustainability, how you got involved.

Beginning with a degree in Biology back in the early 1970’s, without any intention of going on to study architecture, I was always interested in natural, living systems and their elegant complexity.  Studying and then working as an architect really inspired me towards the intersection of the natural and built environments. Over the last 10-15 years the urgency of better understanding the relationship between building design and “nature” has been highly motivating.

2. Congratulations on winning the 2012 CaGBC Chapter Leadership Award. What does it mean to you to win something like this for Chapter involvement? Why do you think it is worth it for people to join a CaGBC Chapter?

The Atlantic Chapter was in formation very soon after the CaGBC materialized in 2002. Suddenly there was a critical mass of like-minded people with all kinds of passion and ideas for making better, more interesting, more environmentally responsible buildings.

It was, and remains, an important network to share ideas and knowledge, experience, successes and failures. It was exciting and idealistic but very real in the early days and in many ways that excitement for green buildings and sustainable development lives on at the Chapter level.

Chapters are where the action is and where real progress is being made.

3. You are also a LEED AP. What do you think the value of being a LEED AP is to someone considering it?

In a word – credibility.

Just as LEED certification for buildings continues to transform the marketplace, LEED AP credentialing for individuals demonstrates, at a glance, that someone has taken the initiative and made the effort to improve their working knowledge of green building design, construction and operation in a broad cultural context. With stringent continuing education requirements now in place the value of that accreditation is maintained and the skills more widely deployed.

4. How did the Joggins Fossil Centre come about and what has the feedback been from visitors/others?

The Joggins Fossil Centre was a remarkable project for us at WHW Architects. The client and project manager were very focused on developing a building that captured the coal mining history and resourceful spirit of the town, to proudly display the famous Joggins fossils and tell the incredible story of their formation and discovery. Of course the building could not rely on fossil fuels for its energy! We worked very hard to achieve all these things and the building has won design awards and been published many times.

Recently it was awarded LEED Gold by the CaGBC. Attendance at the Centre has gone way up and to our not-so- secret delight; people are coming for the fossils but staying to find out more about the beautiful green building.

5. At the recent CaGBC Conference the focus was going beyond buildings and thinking on a broader, community and city scale. How do you think this can be accomplished?

We need to tell our story more often and in a more compelling way. The built environment has an enormous impact on the natural environment and, of course, vice versa. That we describe them as two such distinct and separate worlds is an indication of our challenge. Broad policy shifts will help but much change is needed in both political will and regulatory deployment and for that to happen we need to be relentless in our storytelling.

For example, in Halifax, I am a member of a Chamber of Commerce Energy Advisory Committee which is chaired by one of our Atlantic Chapter board members, Dr. Alex Pavlovski. We are currently writing a new chapter on Energy for the Halifax Regional Municipality’s(HRM) Regional Plan five year review. HRM’s regional plan has never had such a chapter and scarcely references “energy” at all. The inclusion of energy considerations in the urban planning process will help raise awareness and bring about significant and positive changes to the sustainability of the entire region.

6. Where do you think the future of green building and sustainability is headed as you see it?

Our planet is looking more and more like an unfolding environmental disaster even as it retains a kind of tragic, diminishing beauty. Global treaties and national governments don’t seem to be getting us anywhere. With our collective knowledge, skill and increasing sense of urgency we can make a meaningful difference - in our houses, on our streets, and woven into the ecosystems of our neighborhoods and cities. We are on the right track, we just need to scale it up. Predict the future? Ha! I don’t think so.