Mazria’s early insights into vernacular architecture and historical use of local materials, and the relationship between architecture and the natural world, are deeply embedded in today’s definition of sustainability. And his belief that buildings could escape the bonds of energy-intensive mechanical systems and fossil fuels was an early wake-up call to an industry that 35 years later includes production builders promoting “zero-energy” homes.
With a clear vision comes a strong voice, and over the years he’s never lost sight of his mission to improve the environmental performance of buildings through increased environmental awareness and innovations in design and construction. These crucial concerns motivated Mazria in 2002 to create Architecture 2030, a non-profit environmental research and education organization based in Santa Fe, N.M., to which he now devotes full-time attention. The organization gets its name from its goal—leading the building sector to reach net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2030—and it is through this outlet that Mazria has placed the building sector at the center of the global warming dialogue.
Some career choices are a slam dunk. In Mazria’s case, his entry into architecture was made possible by one after the basketball coach for Pratt Institute in New York City watched the high school stand-out take control of an all-city showcase game and offered him a scholarship on the spot. The institute’s renowned and progressive School of Architecture became Mazria’s launchpad into the world of design and the place he earned his architecture degree. It was also where he honed his basketball skills and attracted the attention of the NBA’s New York Knicks, who drafted Mazria in 1962, a year before graduation. But when another draft notice—from the U.S. Army—arrived after graduation, it diverted his professional sports career. Mazria arranged to complete alternative service in the Peace Corps and was off to Peru for two years where he practiced architecture, inoculated children against polio, and helped the city basketball team as a player-coach.
After the Peace Corps, Mazria’s path led him back to New York, where he practiced architecture for a number of firms. From there he moved on to Albuquerque and taught architecture as a visiting lecturer at the University of New Mexico.
But it was his subsequent appointment as an assistant professor at the University of Oregon that would prove most fateful, when his first assignment was to teach a course in solar energy. “There was a small group of very bright students there who had caught the solar fever and were building and testing some passive and active models at the university,” Mazria recalls. “They wanted a professor who could lead the effort, and they figured that since I had come from New Mexico I already knew the subject.”