Green Guru Is New Head of Perkins + Will

By Sharon Simonson

Peter Busby, a “rock star” in the constellation of the green architecture movement, has been named managing director of the San Francisco office of Perkins + Will.

Busby comes to the Bay Area as former managing director for Perkins + Will in Vancouver, where he led the firm’s Sustainable Design Initiative across all of its 23 offices. He has served on the company’s board of directors since 2004, when his firm joined with Perkins + Will Inc.

He is a cofounder of the Canada Green Building Council, a proponent of the Living Building Challenge and a member of the Governor General’s Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian recognition for a lifetime of achievement and dedication to community.

Though he is but 59-years-old, he already merits a complete and sizable biography chronicling his achievements in The Canadian Encyclopedia, a reference guide that bills itself as a “comprehensive, objective and accurate source” on the “complex” Canadian national identity.

Busby led the master planning and first phases of development for the Dockside Green project in Victoria, British Columbia. It is among 18 projects worldwide where the William J. Clinton Foundation’s Climate Positive Development Program is currently engaged.

The 15 acres of formerly industrial waterfront property is conceived as a high-performance sustainable community achieving dramatic energy and water savings with no carbon emissions while treating all storm water and sewage onsite. It has 1.3 million square feet of housing, office, retail and commercial space planned, and nearly 300 homes are built, as are office and retail space, a wastewater treatment plant and a biomass plant.

All five of the currently constructed buildings have achieved LEED Platinum ratings—the highest possible under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

“He is just a rock star in the green-building world, and everyone looks to Peter’s work for inspiration and to know what is next,” said Richard Graves, executive director of the International Living Future Institute in Portland, Ore., which administers the Living Building Challenge. To be fully certified as a “living” building, campus or community, all energy must be created onsite without combustion of any kind and all water captured and treated onsite, for starters. Projects must operate for at least a year and sometimes longer before they earn certification to illustrate “that they are really net-zero energy and net-zero on water,” he said.

So far, worldwide, six buildings have earned Living Building Certification; three have received full certification, others have received “petals,” such as the Ideas Z2 Design facility in San Jose, which is a certified net-zero energy building.

Two of Busby’s most recent high-profile projects both in Vancouver—the VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre and the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability at the University of British Columbia—are candidates for Living Building certification. Busby’s willingness to subject himself to the possibility of public failure is another part of his person, Graves said: “Peter is never short of courage. It is another example of leadership.”

Graves worked at Perkins + Will in its Minneapolis office from 2008 to 2010. “He is going to shake up the industry” in the San Francisco Bay Area, Graves said. “I see it as a real win to have Peter there. San Francisco has an incredibly strong green-design community—one of the strongest in the country—and this is another world-class player.”

The shaking may already have begun. In a 75-minute interview with The Registry at the Perkins + Will offices in the China Basin district near Mission Bay in San Francisco, Busby said Apple Inc.’s new headquarters in Cupertino is going to upend the corporate facilities game in the Bay Area. “It is as big a game changer in terms of premises as the iPhone was in terms of communications. It has been designed by a world-class architect (Norman Foster); it is very large and physically different, and it is a responsible workplace environmentally. It is going to wake everyone up as to what you will need in the future to compete for employees,” he said.

Older-generation buildings constructed for a different purpose will no longer suffice for companies competing to attract and retain educated engineers in their 20s and 30s “who are all environmentalists and want to work for a company that shares their values,” he said. In that transition, he sees business opportunity.

He also sees work to be done in what he describes as the woefully inadequate state of development on and near stops on the Caltrain line and BART system. “As an outsider it is a glaring mistake and opportunity,” he said. “I have ridden Caltrain to Palo Alto and back, and there are endless opportunities. Large areas of the world get it—Asia, New York, Chicago.”

As a general matter, the Bay Area including San Francisco needs to become more densely developed; to devote less land to roads, parking lots and other auto-related uses; and to reduce everyone’s carbon output by cutting car trips to school and the grocery store because both are within walking distance, he said.

“I’ve worked with many great architects and a couple of dozen really great ones—incredibly talented people—and Peter is on that list,” said Kevin Hydes, chief executive of Oakland’s Integral Group and a cofounder with Busby of the Canada Green Building Council.

The men have known one another for more than 20 years, and their careers have crossed repeatedly at the intersection of sustainable building and development. Their first project was a 48-story Vancouver Sheraton in the mid-1990s, “pre-LEED,” whose developers sought “an iconic green tower,” Hydes said.

From there, they have pursued separate careers but have found themselves “repeatedly working on these ever more challenging projects, with one, then the other of them reaching higher levels of performance and lower levels of consumption,” Hydes said.

Keen Engineering, where he was formerly president, was the mechanical and electrical consultant on the Dockside Green master plan, completed in 2005. Integral is a global network with 10 offices of mechanical, engineering and plumbing design professionals that specialize in green-building systems design and delivery and energy analysis.

Perkins + Will has 66 employees at its San Francisco office now, Busby said. That should grow much larger in the next several years. Among its current projects is San Francisco’s 140 New Montgomery St., the former Pacific Telephone Co. building in the South of Market district. The firm is overseeing the modernization and transformation of the 340,000 square-foot building, including modification of the building cores, seismic upgrades and new sustainable mechanical systems.

“There will be significant expansion in the future if I am successful in convincing clients that their values and my values are aligned,” Busby said. “I think I will be disappointed in myself if I don’t double the practice in the next three to five years.”

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