Architect Michael Green, en route to deliver a TED Talk in California, on wood buildings and his profession’s obligations
by Pat Richardson
March 25th, 2013
Original Source: Vancouver Magazine
What prompted you to found your own architectural firm?
I formed Michael Green Architecture after splitting from my old partners about a year ago. Our values just didn’t align. I’m personally interested in real diversity, looking specifically at projects that have social conscience to them and an environmental prospective. Twenty-five percent of our projects now are outside Vancouver, and that’s a goal: to work both here and abroad in the developing world. At the moment, we’re building two kindergartens in Tajikistan with the Aga Khan and developing the Turks & Caicos airport.
Did business slow down after 2008?
The recession never really affected us. We’ve grown steadily by establishing an identity; each building tells a bigger story. We just finished the City Hall in North Vancouver to great acclaim, trying to develop innovative wood structures for the roof and main space that would ultimately be transferable to the tall wood buildings we’re interested in.
Tall buildings have become a signature topic for you. How do they work?
Every great shift in architecture has happened because of structure. Steel and concrete gave us the modern movement, and there was no reason to challenge those structures until the present climate-change era. But we’re at the dawn of a new generation that will reconsider what materials we build with and how they impact the bigger picture. Unlike concrete, wood sequesters carbon dioxide, lowers greenhouse gas emissions, and because new woods are rapidly engineered, it’s sustainable.
How important is R&D to your business?
In September, I opened a New York office just for that. There, we’re looking at tall wood buildings, at innovation to push more carbon-neutral approaches, and we’re doing work with disaster recovery. The international community has a tendency to come into urban contexts after major disasters and build temporary suburban-style sprawl. Then we leave, and that community doesn’t have the resources to connect power, sewer, and water. So we’re building slums. I’m meeting with the Southern Command of the U.S. military in charge of disaster response to talk about exactly this. The head is filling a room with five-star generals so I can explain my plan-to rebuild sustainably, with greater density.
How did you become so internationally focused?
I met a woman eight years ago who woke me up. Before, I wanted to get my work into magazines, celebrate how beautiful the work was, support my clients. She really shook my value system dramatically. Now I speak more and more about the duty of the profession to do more.
Including the need for architects to champion aesthetics in their hometown?
I was in Helsinki recently and saw firsthand how the World Design Capital program works: they’ve invested in public space initiatives; they have a website and a smartphone mapping system to connect visitors to all their cultural institutions. For Vancouver, I’d like the same thing. We had Expo, which was one version of what we are. We had the Olympics, which was another. Becoming a cultural capital is the next step in our growth. The duty of architects is to make these arguments relevant to as many people as possible.