Duncan McPherson, AIA, LEED AP Architect, is a principal and vice president at Samsel Architects in Asheville. Samsel Architects has produced award-winning design in Western North Carolina. The firm specializes in custom residential architecture, inns, galleries, retail, medical and educational facilities. NCSEA spoke with McPherson about the firm's commitment to green building.
What sets Samsel Architects part from other firms?
The architecture profession strives to achieve the delicate balance of artistic beauty and technical precision. Our studio has struck that balance of design vision and technical expertise to create exceptional projects that are attractive, functional, durable and efficient. We believe in leaving only beautiful marks on the Earth and hold ourselves to this standard on every project.
Why did the firm choose to focus part of its mission on green building?
Our commitment to green building and sustainability comes directly from our personal values and beliefs. Jim Samsel founded the firm in 1985 with a focus on passive solar and energy efficient design. Since then, as the firm has grown, the core values of the firm have evolved. Each of us in the studio has the desire to take our personal values and apply them to our projects every day. It’s one of the most rewarding aspects of our work.
Why are green homes and buildings growing in popularity?
The economics of green building has finally reached the point where we can’t afford not to build green. Technologies and products have advanced to where the return on investment is relatively short and energy costs continue to increase. When you frame the discussion in economic terms and not just environmental terms, there’s really no argument left to have. It has become a question of how do we achieve sustainable buildings, not a question of why.
What are some of the benefits of green building?
How and where we build are two of the most important factors in our future and the sustainability of our natural environment. There are the common benefits that are easy to measure: energy use, water use and resource efficiency. The benefits that are harder to measure maybe the most important: green building can improve comfort in our homes, schools and businesses, our health and wellness, and our lifestyles as a whole. Green buildings should be efficient and minimize what they take from the planet, but it’s also critical to consider the quality of what we are adding to our planet and our lives.
How does green building compliment clean energy?
Our buildings consume 48 percent of the energy used in the US — that’s nearly two times the energy we use for transportation. So the key to a clean energy industry is our building industry. The most important step to clean energy is reducing our overall demand, so we start with efficiency, and then we layer in clean energy sources.
Why is it important to build to LEED standards?
Having a collective and standardized measuring stick for green building is a valuable tool. We need to be able to compare buildings and understand how to answer the question “how green is it?” This allows the industry to keep pushing forward and encourages innovation of products and building techniques. It also taps into an important piece of human nature: competition.
Tell us about a project you are proud of and why?
We have had a lot of great opportunities and great clients over the years, but one of my favorite projects is a small house we designed next to an organic farm. There were many green building features that minimized the home’s impact, but the small size required a high level of attention to space planning and functionality. Our designs strive to be a blend of beauty, comfort and efficiency, but more than anything else a building needs to function well for the owners.
What’s been the secret to the firm’s success?
A core principle of our studio has been to create timeless designs that can endure Mother Nature as well as the evolutions of style and aesthetics. People tend to take care of things that are beautiful. Maintaining, protecting and preserving good design is perhaps the biggest component of green building that often goes unrecognized.
Is there something we didn’t ask that you’d like to mention?
We are often asked what style of architecture do we design? Our firm has been working in the Asheville area for over 25 years now and with each of our projects, whether set in the heart of an urban center or a rugged, rural landscape, we try to reflect the special character of its setting and our clients’ tastes. Our diversity of architectural styles reflects the unique response each project, site and client deserves. We draw inspiration from historic architectural influences as well as creative modern interpretations that respect the simplicity and beauty of the materials with which we build.