I spent a weekend in Sequoia National Park recently, experiencing a broad spectrum of weather in 48 hours. The first day transitioned from hiking in deep snow to dry sunshine, followed by an afternoon hailstorm. The second day we hiked in dense fog. The majestic wildness affected me deeply.
Yet I saw something disturbing: hundreds of healthy redwoods had fallen down. I learned that years of drought had weakened the roots, followed by a very rainy winter which softened the forest floor. Heavy snows then piled high against the trees and shrubs, pushing many of them over.
Witnessing such a poignant landscape, I started thinking about the past:
In the 1980s, I made several trips to Alaska’s Glacier Bay and was awed by the many glaciers present. But in 1888, the naturalist John Muir experienced a single wall – 48 miles wide and 44 miles from the sea. Now, that wall has retreated to 65 miles from sea, a remnant of its past self, broken down into 16 major tidewater glaciers.
In the 1990s, I spent gorgeous autumns at our project in Lake Arrowhead, hiking the dense pine forests. Yet the turn of the century brought above-average temperatures and minimal rainfall, creating increasingly favorable conditions for bark beetle outbreaks. By 2003, in the vicinity of Lake Arrowhead's north shore, 80% of the forest had withered and died – drastically altering the lush environment I had explored.
I’ve been to St. Mark’s Square in Venice when the entire square was under water. This coastal city continues to experience historic flooding due to sea-level rise from melting polar ice.
These are just some of the climate changes I have seen in my lifetime. Brooding over this when I returned to work, I took inventory of the ways Tim Barber Ltd. Architecture (TBL) designs have treated this earth.
In our first 25 years, we’ve made some good efforts. A few of us have earned LEED credentials, which we used to design a USGBC LEED Gold-rated residence in Studio City, California. We recycle the buildings we dismantle, with help from Habitat for Humanity and The ReUse People of America. We insist upon zero VOC (volatile outgassing compounds) in our cabinets, paint and other materials. We’ve introduced solar collectors, greywater systems and Laundry-to-Landscape systems into many of our projects. We haven’t harvested wind yet or used straw bale, hempcrete or geothermal technology – but we might. That’s my point: we can all do more.
As architects, we’re embracing new technology quickly – while studying history to build homes that endure – and use less energy to maintain. We’re learning waterproofing, insulating and stonecraft from masters of these arts. We’ve also studied Bau Biologie (Building Biology).
As we look to the future, we will continue to learn. With each and every home, we strive to uniquely tailor our work to our clients’ stories and their surroundings, and also allow our planet, and its resources, to thrive.