Sim Van der Ryn

He’s widely considered to be the grandfather of green architecture and sustainable design. Architect and UC Berkeley professor emeritus Sim Van der Ryn was championing innovations like solar roof panels and rainwater catchment systems before most people had even heard of them. The former state architect of California joins us to reflect on his career and his new book, “Design for an Empathic World: Reconnecting to People, Nature and Self.”

Sim Van der Ryn, former California state architect for Governor Jerry Brown in the 1970s, professor emeritus of architecture at UC Berkeley and author of eight books

  • Bill_Woods

    “What was the first thing [Reagan] did? He tore the solar panels off the White House.”

    Uh, no. The panels were removed in 1986, because the roof under them needed repair.

  • Robert Thomas

    Berkeley Architects Propose, Roofers Dispose.

    My neighbors and I had to figure out how to replace the thirty-year-old roofs of three multi-dwelling buildings with elaborate roof collectors serving potable-water heat-exchanger preheaters. The premium for removing, storing and replacing the collectors exceeded $300,000 on top of the roof replacement, doubling the total cost of the project.

    The collectors are gone.

    • George Schevon

      hmm…sounds like an antiquated system from the 1970s. I’m sure it worked great when it was put up originally. Why would you have even considered removing, storing and replacing them when there is much better (and cheaper) technology today such as Solar panels and instant gas fired HWHs? Sounds like you are throwing the baby out with the bath water…

  • Fyza Parviz

    Why is it that being in wilderness or the woods we feel more happy than we feel when we are around buildings, sky scrapers, concrete etc? How do you tackle this issue as an architect. What does nature provides us that man made design doesn’t?

    • Beth Grant DeRoos

      Great observation Fyza Parviz!!! Makes me so mad when communities suck any open natural area and slap together buildings that only cause more heat to be absorbed, rain water to not be absorbed into the ground and thus more warming of the earths surface.

  • Clifford Ham

    It’s quite likely that a building’s use will change over time (see Stuart Brand: “How Buildings Learn”). New buildings need to be designed more generically, more simply, to be more open to changing patterns of needs and use.

  • John Wichmann

    Would love to know what Sim knows or thinks about vertical farming, and or Aquaponics. John

  • Mrs. Eccentric

    I sew my own clothing and have for decades, and i’m loving the concepts you’re discussing here. I am continually baffled and amazed at the utter lack of wearable, durable, aesthetically pleasing (let along captivating!) clothing out there for women ‘of a certain age’. Or even young gorgeous things!

    I am a housewife and spend a lot of my time doing moderately dirty tasks, but enjoy the style and fun of getting dressed. As much as i enjoy the wit and creativity expressed high fashion, it has nought to do with doing a bit of gardening, vaccuuming, and then going for a coffee and a stroll down Solano whilst remaining comfortable, retaining full range of motion, and looking a bit like myself.

    Thus i sew my own duds and take inspiration from other similarly placed people who generously share their thoughts on their own blogs, and a few people who make a living designing and teaching in this area (such as Diane Ericson and Marcy and Katherine Tilton). Here’s to more do it yourselfing and more Sim Van der Rym! steph

    • Mrs. Eccentric

      or, to sum up: good design principles are good design principles, no matter the medium. (re: toilets! no civilization has survived without recapturing the nutrients lost to poop!) steph

    • Beth Grant DeRoos

      House wife? You married a house? Kidding you. You are a home maker.
      I also sew my own clothes and I also repurpose used clothing that I buy at awesome thrift stores. 100% wool, cotton, linen only.

  • AIA East Bay

    A caller asked about architects who design small, really green, passiv homes. Swatt I Miershas a green, pre-fab house, Arkin Tilt are also known for their sustsustainable houses…contact AIA East Bay for a more complete list of Architects. We can also point you to the resource books you referenced.

  • Monique Crowley

    We are a young family of 3. This year we purchased a small 3 bedroom home. It needs a lot of updating (log style home in South Lake Tahoe area (Ex: wood panels, cathedral ceiling, etc).

    We have been slowly updating and remodeling the home. My question/comment: How does a single family with a moderately average income update a home to be more green? In every other aspect of our life, we try to live an environmentally friendly, green, sustainable lifestyle. However, when it comes to remodeling our home, it seems like you have to be a millionaire a achieve these goals.

    Do you have any suggestions or can you offer any guidance for people who are in our current position?

    • George Schevon

      1. Invest in Solar Panels. You’ll get your money back.
      2. Hire an architect to design your remodel that understands how passive solar techniques can be used to minimize your energy use and make your home more comfortable.
      3. Request from your architect and contractor to give you alternate prices for greener products (Low VOC paint and stain, adhesive, etc.) and FSC certified lumber and manage/recycle your construction waste.
      …in that order. Hope that helps.
      Happy Remodeling!

  • Stuart

    It would be great to hear Mr. Van der Ryn talk about the difference between good site design that naturally provides passive energy conservation versus the tacked on technology systems that everyone thinks are the hallmarks of so called sustainable design. I agree that the LEED systems does little but pay lip service to resource conservation.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    I worked at LucasFilm in the Presidio. Despite being a LEED certified bunch of buildings, every day I arrived at work, the sprinklers were watering the lawns even if it was raining. The lawns were so overwatered that your shoes would sink in the sopping grass clear over your shoe tops. Is there follow-up to measure what’s done after the bldgs are built?

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