Q&A with Sam Young, Architect and Designer Focused on Sustainability

Over the last three and a half years, I’ve had the opportunity to work at Amicus Green Building Center with Sam Young, a talented architect, designer and educator focused on sustainable design, energy and water efficiency.  Since meeting Sam, we quickly became friends and he has served as a sounding board for a lot of my crazy ideas. As a LEED-accredited professional who served as Manager and Chief Designer for Amicus, the Mid-Atlantic's first fully dedicated green building store, Sam has gained an interesting perspective on green building and design.  I wanted to capture some of his thoughts in this interview before he set off on his trip to hike to the Appalachian Trail.

To give a little insight about what a generously caring person Sam is, I will preface the interview with a short story about a recent experience I shared with Sam on a trip to San Francisco. In mid-December, I decided that I wanted to go to San Francisco to attend the 2011 Compostmodern conference, so I emailed a bunch of friends to see if they might have room in their place or know of people I could stay with while in California. Immediately, Sam wrote back...and this is his email:

“ha. aH. Ha. HAha HAHa

first of all. its your birthday! happy birthday!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

second. i already have plans that weekend. I'LL  BE IN SAN FRANCISCO!! fact. i have many friends there. so, buy your ticket! i bought direct flight, roundtrip tickets for approx $260. is this a joke? amazing!

whats up!?!”

From the moment I received that email, I knew my trip with Sam was going to be a blast, and it was! Sam took it upon himself to find me a place to stay for free and shared amazing experiences, his friends, and his family time with me while there. As one of the most laid-back, easy-to-get-along-with people, he is a passionate designer who is always thinking about the environment and how to create efficiency using “good” design.

Photographer Sam Young: http://www.flickr.com/photos/12233715@N05/5429614005/in/set-72157626008875612

Monika Kerdeman:  What’s your story in 100 words?

Sam Young: Born in Georgia to parents working in biology and land conservation, I was raised around talk of the natural world or simply out in it. "Making things" was also a part of growing up. The synthesis of this upbringing emerged as a pursuit of the profession of architecture, starting at Virginia Tech. Sustainability was integral to the curriculum, and since then, my interpretation of sustainability has continued to evolve. After a formal apprenticeship at an architecture firm outside of D.C., I began work at Amicus Green Building Center, as Chief Designer. These experiences confirm that quality design listens to and addresses needs, wants and problems in the context of both the inhabited and global environment.

MK: If you could solve one problem in the world through storytelling or design, what would it be?

SY: It would have to be storytelling, and the story would be that of the new average American family that walks to the grocery store. So the problem to be solved is the driving paradigm of America. New suburban development should be restricted to amenities infilled into existing housing developments, or new housing infilled into locations of existing amenities.

MK: What would you characterize as your biggest professional success?

SY: For each project, the client has always said something along the lines of "wow, I never would have thought of that" when we are reviewing my proposed design for the first time.

MK:  What is your biggest failure and what lessons have you learned from this experience?

SY: Every completed project features a couple of things I should have done differently. My take-away from this is that mistakes are a fundamental part of the learning process.

MK:  What inspires you?

SY: All forms of indigenous architecture, the Fibonacci spiral / heliotropic nature of the sunflower, the energy of a dense city, and the various inspirations and passions of my friends and family.

MK: Do you have any requests for collaboration for current or future work?

SY: To make a building that sits at the intersection of food, music, design, art and architecture. It would take no less and no more than everyone important in my life to make that happen.

MK:  What is the most important thing(s) for you in design?

SY: Form definitely follows function, and the look of that form must involve healthy (regionally produced when possible and non-toxic), durable materials. And of course all of this must keep the end user happy.

MK: Do you think your education inspired your work or your life experiences?

SY: A proper balance of both.

MK:  Who were your mentors as you began designing sustainable buidlings?

SY: I have several mentors which include professors from Virginia Tech: Susan Molesky, Michael Ermann and Jack Davis, and colleagues at Amicus Green Building Center, Jason Holstine and Brian Uher.

MK:  How is the creative process of design limited or enhanced by having to sell the end product to a customer?

SY: I would say the creative process is enhanced. Each client is different and accordingly will have different needs. Some need to be involved in the design process, some are very hands off. In other cases, the needs of the projects will differ greatly. In all cases, it is the job of the designer to take this set of variables and convert it to a solution. Thus, every project is a new opportunity to interpret data and evolve as a designer.

MK:  If you could go to one place in the world where would it be and why?

SY: Macchu Picchu. I really want to witness the scale and spirituality of these Pre-Columbian works of architecture, as well as the motions of the sun and moon relative to the temples.

MK: Who are your favorite designers today, in any medium?

SY: Paolo Soleri, Glenn Murcutt and Travis Price.