TNEP Profile: Charlie Yohe, Yohe Architecture + Design

Is a LEED certified architect an environmental professional? To get some insight on this I met with LEED AP+ certified architect, Charlie Yohe of Yohe Architecture + Design. Charlie lives and works in Lancaster, PA, but was in Denver for the 2013 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Convention, so we went to the Cruise Room in downtown to talk architecture, the environment, and passion about one’s work. Based on the opening sentence of his firm’s About Us page, I was hoping for good conversation. “Yohe Architecture + Design (YAD) provides high value, low impact, sustainable design that reflects each client’s vision, generates conversation and incorporates local and global environmental factors.”

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Charlie in the YAD studio.

TNEP: As a LEED certified architect, do you consider yourself doing environmental work?

Charlie: I would say that it’s more of a responsibility of an architect to design responsibly. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself an environmentalist.

TNEP: You said, “design responsibly.” Do you get requests from your clients to meet LEED standards?

Charlie: It varies across the architect profession. For me personally the only time I’ve seen those requests, unfortunately, is when the project is for a government project or it’s for a marketing edge from a private business. But you’re not seeing as much as I’d like to see from people just looking to do the right thing from a building perspective.

A lot of the problem is what drives the construction industry is the first cost and you have all these people racing to the bottom line and unfortunately that’s all they’re getting, a cheap building. And they’re paying for it in the long run.

It generally comes from the owners. If it comes from the architect, it’s generally deemed an agenda item, that the architect is pushing an agenda. At the risk of sound negative of the community that I live in, I would say that they don’t push for it.

What’s really cool about where I’m from is people are very pragmatic, with the Amish and Mennonites. So their whole livelihood is based on being sustainable. They understand the importance of it without us having to preach to them. It’s more the private side, the private business owners and for-profit developers.

TNEP: You said, “marketing”, and what I think you’re saying is a business is designing a building to say, “Hey come look at our building.”

Charlie: Yeah, it can portray a company in a good light as stewards of the environment to put their money where their mouth is.

TNEP: Do most architects get the LEED certification or feel obligated to get it?

Charlie: It comes down to marketability from a professional standpoint. There is definitely an edge when you’re applying for a job as an architect and a lot of firms are starting to market the LEED accreditation as part of their mission, so they might list the percentage of LEED accredited architects they have on staff.

It’s a little over a year ago that I started my own office and at the time I was one of the only owner LEED accredited professionals in the area.

TNEP: Do some firms or architects solely focus on LEED buildings?

Charlie: Because of the LEED process being as technical as it is, there’s a lot of architects that are specializing in LEED certification. Some firms are just hiring people with LEED experience because it is so specialized.

There’s a lot of documentation and basically the LEED process makes you prove that your building is a green building or a sustainable building. That proof takes a lot of documentation. Even though you go through the process of becoming a LEED accredited professional, until you’ve gone through the process it’s still kind of a mystery how it all gets done.

TNEP: What I’m picking up is that you have that environmental attitude.

Charlie: I do. Even when the owner is not looking for a higher level of design, it’s important for architects and building professionals to take the attitude of, ” It’s my responsibility to provide it whether they’re looking for it or not.” There are simple things you can do when designing a building that can work to save energy.

TNEP: Are you passionate about the LEED process?

Charlie: I wouldn’t say I’m passionate about the LEED process. I’m passionate about my responsibility to improving the efficiency of buildings.

Every 3 years the building codes are becoming more in line with sustainable building practices, so it makes it easier for us to make our argument to owners to step it up.

TNEP: When a building is designed to a LEED standard, it does so much more that what an “environmentalist” might do.

Charlie: It’s huge. When you consider that buildings use 40% of the energy produced and you can prove through the LEED process that your building is saving 40, 50, 60% over baseline building codes. That’s huge! That’s a big movement.

TNEP: Thanks, Charlie. Although you don’t consider yourself an environmental professional, I think architects designing LEED certified buildings are doing significant environmental work. Your work fits right in to this website. Go ahead, call yourself an environmentalist.

From there, our conversation veered off into passion, convention speakers, and cocktails, as any good conversation at the Cruise Room should.

To contact Charlie and Yohe Architecture + Design, go to http://yohearchdesign.com/.

For information about the LEED certification, check out the US Green Building Council.

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