Building for the Future — And for Marine Animals in Need
Interview with Green Architect David Hertz
We are especially excited about designs for the Marine Mammal Center to be built for Marine Animal Rescue, a project of Friends of Animals outside of Los Angeles. This is because the new rescue and care site will feature state-of-the-art green design by David Hertz--an innovative architect, designer, inventor and educator in the field of environmental design.
At an early age, Hertz served as an apprentice to artists and worked in construction. Hertz went on to become founder and president of Syndesis Inc., an architecture, design and manufacturing firm, where he creates ecologically sustainable homes and products. Hertz's work has been widely exhibited and published, and has received numerous national, state and local awards, including the American Institute of Architects Service Award for Craftsmanship and the California Western Home Award in the Sunset-AIA awards program. His work regularly appears in architectural tours and conferences, and has been featured by publications such as Dwell and Global Architecture.
David Hertz is a dynamic participant in the environmental and design communities, serving with the Los Angeles chapter of the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Business for Social Responsibility. He has served on the faculty of the SCI-Arc ( an independent architecture school in Los Angeles) and, for more than 10 ten years, has taught a course on ecology and architecture at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 2004, he was accredited under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, an internationally recognized standard for green building design. Hertz was elected to the American Institute of Architecture Fellows as its youngest member in its 165 year history.
In March, I had the pleasure of catching up with David Hertz for this conversation.
You have said that you want to move beyond the idea of sustainability; you want to create structures that actually enhance and contribute to the natural world.
DH: Sustainability is great, but essentially it means that we maintain our way of living and consuming but that we try not to detract from future generations. But we need to do more than that; we need to move towards restoration. In my area, the built environment, we’re certainly guilty of exploitation of resources. It’s a question of how do we minimize that. Sustainability is “let’s leave something”— which is a difficult task in and of itself. To move beyond that, to the restorative, the idea that buildings contribute more than they take; we need to make up for the damage that’s already been done. In terms of contribution, we might think of a building that creates more electricity than it uses, for instance; that it captures storm water and recharges aquifers; or maybe it restores habitat that has been lost in the process of over development.
Did you go to architecture school with the idea to focus on green design?
DH: I actually went to architecture school during the great energy crisis of the late 1970s. I became very aware of our finite resources, and the need to try to use those resources efficiently. And I stayed with the social and environmental components of architecture, even when that wasn’t a general focus of interest in the profession.
You designed a house out of a retired 747 airplane last year. Can you tell us about that? What are some other unusual materials you’ve used in your work?
DH: That project is about repurposing, and about using some of the infrastructure that was abandoned instead of exploiting virgin resources. I was fascinated by the idea of airplanes, spent airplanes just wasting away in the deserts of California, and then how we can make use of these resources. I was able to buy a $200 million 747 for $30,000, and cut it up into large segments. One of the structures is called the Wing House, and it’s made of the wings and tail stabilizer sections of the aircraft. That is used in a very sculptural way.
We did an automotive museum recently where I used windshields for a large canopy that covers the entrance to the museum. I am working right now on a project that uses boat hulls for the roof structure of a building. I am working to incorporate found objects into structures. I am actually currently teaching a course on repurposing at the University of Southern California School of Architecture. We’re looking at all kinds of innovative materials that can be used.
You did the design for the not-yet-built marine mammal center — a current project here at Friends of Animals. How did this collaboration come about?
DH: I met Peter Wallerstein years ago. I served on the Task Force for the Environment for the city of Santa Monica; Peter had come before our task force because of his work with marine mammals. I was really impressed with him and his commitment to work saving marine mammals. He had followed my work, and had a desire to make a state-of-the-art, green marine mammal center. We share an understanding that we are part of a larger system, a more bio-centric than anthropocentric view of our place on the planet — a view that humans don’t have dominion over all the other species with which we share the planet.
I grew up surfing in Santa Monica bay, and I saw the degradation over the years. Peter and I share a concern for the health of the ocean, and the health of the species who call the ocean home. There’s a certain amount of guilt I feel for the way humans have impacted the planet negatively.
The marine animal rescue building has intriguing design elements: solar panels and water-powered heat; a self-purifying water filtration system...
DH: Yes, we are looking to make a completely restorative building. It will generate more electricity than it uses, and put it back into the grid. We’re looking at a closed-loop recycling system of water collection. The solar power will be used for thermal heating. We looked at the best available technologies to power the new center beyond solar, and we’re going to employ some really advanced, state-of-the-art technologies. The building will take advantage of natural ventilation, energy-efficient lighting, and be constructed from natural materials that are sustainable.
What is it about green design and architecture that you find to be the most satisfying?
DH: There’s a lot of satisfaction in not being dependent on oil to generate your own electricity, for instance; to do things locally, and to be creating habitat. Using really cutting-edge technology, we’re developing a new way to build our buildings. We’re creating healthy buildings that impact those who live and work in them--giving them a sense of health, too.
I enjoy buildings that are inviting, warm, that respond to and incorporate nature into them--including my own house, which is a working laboratory for living those ideas and ideals. Whether it’s an edible green roof or generating my own power…all of those aspects are personally and professionally very rewarding.
The world population is close to 7 billion. What are your thoughts with regard to environmentalism and how we can prevent further degradation to the planet?
DH: There’re so many issues we have to confront: our impact on fish populations, climate change, CO2 emissions, food scarcity. Every facet of society is going to have to change. We are clearly living beyond the carrying capacity of the planet. The biggest problem is that most of the world’s population has yet to become industrialized. And with our mass change from an agrarian to urban society, we are going to face even more problems as people want the refrigerators and air conditioners and electricity that Westerners have enjoyed. We need to change our ways of living drastically. We need to employ green concepts in all areas of our lives.