Architecture has an inherent role to the play in the global climate crisis. Buildings and their construction together account for 36 percent of global energy use and 39 percent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions annually. Brad Jacobson is a principal at EHDD and a leader working to implement climate responsive design. Designing for the future, Brad synthesizes diverse perspectives to craft high performance solutions.
Founded in 1946, EHDD seeks to create built environments that enhance culture, honor the natural environment, and respect and delight the people who use them. Headquartered in San Francisco, EHDD serves clients around the world. At the firm, Brad works to bring carbon neutral projects to life. He spearheads mixed-use office developments, including the Net Zero Energy and LEED Platinum certified headquarters for The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, a National American Institute of Architects Top Ten Green Building, to the Teaching & Learning Complex at UC Davis. In an interview with ArchDaily, Brad discusses how design can change our world for the better.
Can you tell us more about EHDD and its mission?
EHDD creates spaces and places where people can live to their highest potential. This could, I suppose, be a mission in itself, but it is done in service of supporting our clients’ core missions. When people are thriving, everything else follows suit. The projects we take on are diverse; what ties them together and what usually attracts us is complexity and challenge. And today we believe the most deeply complex problem facing us is climate change.
EHDD is committed to a Climate Positive Future; can you tell us more about this and what it means for the firm?
Our commitment to a Climate Positive built environment has five tenets: electrify everything; decarbonize materials; reimagine what exists to avoid new construction emissions; resilient design; and advocate for change. Achieving a carbon neutral built environment in the next two decades is not just ambitious: it will be the most significant transformation since the dawn of the industrial revolution.
Debra Roberts, the IPCC Co-Chair, warns us that “the next few years are probably the most important in our history… Limiting global warming to 1.5°C requires rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” We need to search for speed and scale. A few exceptional buildings by elite firms will not get us there. We need strong policies, transformative innovations, and replicability. We need exceptional leadership and collaboration from the entire design and real estate community and our clients to get this done.
What are some recent projects the firm is working on?
Some of our most exciting, recently-opened or soon-to-be-completed projects are transformations of existing buildings in San Francisco that fundamentally reorient sites and institutions towards the 21st century. This includes a transformed headquarters for KQED in the Mission District of San Francisco, a net zero energy historic renovation and expansion for Lick Wilmerding High School, and a LEED Gold renovation of the Clinical Sciences Building on UCSF’s Parnassus campus which breathes new life into a fundamentally sustainable 1930’s art deco high rise.
Our work on the boards highlights the range of our projects, including the Kansas City Zoo Aquarium, a 300,000 SF mass timber high-tech office campus in Silicon Valley, and the “grid optimal” headquarters for Sonoma Clean Power in Santa Rosa, CA.
With changes to climate, technology, and construction techniques, how do you think architects and designers will adapt ways of practicing to advance the profession?
The movement towards collaborative models of project design and delivery will accelerate due to our collective experience of working through shelter-in-place. We will crowdsource design progress to move us to the finish line smarter and faster. We can’t let Innovation wither on the vine as a buzzword that loses its force, but instead we have to invest in it as our lifeline to a more sane, healthy, and vibrant economy and way of building.
It's amazing to see how quickly mass timber construction has gone from a fantasy to a reality. In most of our projects we find it to be cost neutral to steel or concrete buildings. It took some collective suspension of disbelief to get to this point. But it now stands as a beautiful reminder that there are win-win solutions out there.
Recent events with COVID-19 have been swift. What connections do you see between the pandemic and the climate crisis?
Some say it is too early to focus on anything but COVID-19. There is tremendous suffering in our midst, but we can seize the meltdown of much that we thought was solid as an opportunity to refashion our lives and our work towards a vision of a better world. We will pick up the pieces: how we put them back together is up to us.
I am struck by the parallels between COVID-19 and our larger, slower-burning climate crisis, by the consequences of inaction in the face of science, of underfunding vital research, of insufficient and slow response. All of humanity is painfully learning the benefits of collective action guided by science, and this is a lesson that we can hopefully take forward to fight the slower burning climate change crisis.
You’ve worked on a range of iconic projects, including the headquarters for The David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Teaching & Learning Complex at UC Davis. How does local climate and culture shape your work?
We leverage technology and materials from a global economy to achieve high performance, constructability, and cost effectiveness. But local climate and culture are the source of meaning and joy in our work. The Packard Foundation is actually a great example. We mined the warm, climate-appropriate features of the Los Altos residential context to invent a 21st century architectural expression that’s been widely embraced by a town not known for its love of modern architecture. The forty-foot wide office bays open inward to a courtyard carefully-proportioned for outdoor comfort that’s become the most well-loved “room” in the building. The project’s net zero energy performance is attributable to the tuning we did to both the climate and the Foundation’s culture. So there is a great feedback loop between performance, beauty, climate and culture.
As you look to the future, are there any ideas you think should be front and center in the minds of architects and designers?
Renewable energy is not a spigot that you can easily turn on and off. In order for our society to reach 100% renewable energy targets, our buildings need to be reactive to the energy available on site and on the grid. What does building “hibernation mode” look like? Can our buildings not only use batteries but be batteries? Our buildings can support resilience by acting as dynamic partners in managing the flow of energy from sun to circuit. In Santa Cruz, we just completed a headquarters building for a non-profit insurance company that is designed to achieve net zero energy and LEED Platinum but also includes a large battery installation for resilience.
Our firm’s founder Joseph Esherick once said “Beauty is a byproduct of solving problems correctly.” Ultimately, our job as designers is to bring more beauty to everyday life. But now more than ever, beauty is not skin deep.