Locations: Stuttgart, Boston, and Munich
Principals: Stefan Behnisch, Robert Hoesle, Matt Noblett, and Stefan Rappold
Founded: 1989
Size: Approximately 100 people across the firm
Little-known fact: Key office movies are Alien and Barbarella.

What was the biggest lesson you learned from your COTE Top Ten winner, the John and Frances Angelos Law Center?

Matt Noblett, Partner:  There are, generally, two premises guiding the project—the first, to fundamentally reconfigure the way the school operates and interacts, and the second, to explore an architectural vocabulary that is a very direct expression, on both the interior and the exterior, of the building’s intentions as it relates to sustainability and performance. Both of these goals require a great deal of faith and dedication on the part of the building owner, and so we could say that this project underscores the importance of having an extraordinary client with whom one can discuss and collaborate on matters of design in the pursuit of a truly innovative building.

What insights from this and other sustainable projects would you share with other professionals?

I think that this project demonstrates that unconventional solutions to typical building design problems can work when they are well thought-through and comprehensively executed. At the outset of the project we were told that a classroom building in a vertical format could not work, that it would be impossible to move students up and down such heights, circulation would be difficult, and orientation compromised. However we felt firmly that the site, the urban condition, and the size of the program demanded a vertical configuration and set out to solve these challenges one by one—how to optimally distribute the program, how to develop automated and pedestrian vertical circulation, how to support navigation of the building with visual connectivity and color.

What is your firm’s philosophy on sustainable design?

Our office views sustainable design in terms of all aspects of the act of designing, building, and inhabiting a building, not solely the quantifiable aspects. While aspects such as daylighting, energy consumption and water management are all quantifiable, and important, we believe it is impossible to ignore other equally important aspects such as urban design, the public realm, cultural context, material responsibility, and the ability for occupants to exercise control over their environments. This means that a truly sustainable building is one that people want to be in, to care for, and to continually use rather than replace.

What kinds of sustainable solutions are non-negotiable for your firm? What are the baseline standards your firm aims to meet with every project?

What we would consider “non-negotiable” are what I would call sustainable principles—daylight, natural ventilation, control of solar gain, proper siting and massing, human comfort and control over their environment. The solutions, i.e. how one addresses the principles in terms of design and technical solutions, are generally negotiable—we don’t believe that there is ever only one solution to any given problem.

What are the tip energy-saving features you put into your projects?

Proper siting and massing of a building is of the utmost importance in maximizing energy savings. Proper shading of the façade against solar gains is probably the next most important consideration. Products and features, while they can serve a purpose in solving the technical challenges associated with achieving the design principles, can vary widely depending on the specifics of the building configuration. We tend not to be wedded to any particular product or feature while addressing what we consider to be the salient sustainable principles.

How do you think these types of solutions and products might become standard?

Proper siting, massing, and building shading as the primary drivers of building comfort and efficiency have always been standard. Unfortunately, industrialized refrigeration and inexpensive energy during much of the twentieth century lured architects and engineers away from these principles and led them to believe that it was possible to build buildings of any shape or material without regard to climate or site. What we are suggesting is a return to these standards as fundamental to building design.