Relentless pursuit of sustainability

May 18, 2016

Peter Busby keeps advancing design that contributes to the environmental future of the planet.

Peter Busby

In his now near 40-year career, Peter has been at the forefront of sustainable development. He created the Sustainable Design Initiative, founded and recently chaired the Canada Green Building Council, became a LEED Fellow, a designation of the US Green Building Council recognizing exceptional contributions to the green building community, in 2013, and received the 2014 Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Gold Medal, an honor which recognizes a significant and lasting contribution to Canadian architecture.

Now managing director of Perkins+Will’s San Francisco office, Peter thinks of himself as an editor of design. He guides and critiques over 100 team members working on projects across Canada, the United States, Europe, and the Middle East. It illustrates one half of his read on the future of a changing profession, which he sees either in famous boutique firms or strong international firms working on global projects.

Many of his favourite projects are much closer to home though, including the Chaudière Island Master Plan in Ottawa, the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability at UBC, and the VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre.

The VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre recently received the Living Building Challenge Petal Certification, the latest in a series of accolades for this project. What makes this certification special?

The certification is currently the highest performance standard for sustainable buildings. It is extremely difficult to obtain; only 30 to 40 buildings globally have received it so far. The standard is changing the way the industry works, how construction materials are provided. It widens the spectrum of environmental concern: health, biodiversity, zero net, zero carbon, zero waste.

In your opinion, what is the value of design and how does it contribute to society?

Design is extremely important and more so every year regardless of the object. It matters to be successful, whether environmentally, financially, from a marketing point of view, or others.

Design makes things more beautiful, more functional, and more environmentally successful. It gives pleasure to people.

What impacted you most at SALA?

Ray Cole’s second-year class on sustainability profoundly influenced me. It raised many meaningful issues, presented new ideas, and posed new challenges. It introduced me to architecture that benefitted mankind not only visually but also environmentally.

Outside of architecture, what are you currently interested in and how does it impact your work?

As a hobby, I build structures and facilities, including my summer home. I enjoy the craft of building. It reminds me that architecture is not defined by a piece of computer software but a construction that people put together. A facility that people use.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

[Laughing.] The profession of architecture is difficult. Do not pursue it.

On a more serious note, architecture is not for the faint of heart. You must have the passion for it. You must be possessed to be successful.

What three things can’t you live without?

Access to nature.
Family and friends.
A beautiful environment to live and work in.