Reflections on Green Building and Sustainable Design

author John Guenther

By John C. Guenther, FAIA, LEED AP, John C. Guenther Architect LLC

It’s been a privilege to contribute to sustainability and green building design efforts over my 47 years of architectural practice. My designs are based upon doing the most with the least, and always start with orientation to the sun’s seasonal path, prevailing winds, the site’s topography and context. Adaptive reuse of existing buildings is one of the greenest approaches possible, contributing to the triple bottom line of social, economic, and environmental value.

My first independent project was the design of a passive solar home in 1978-1979 at the Lake of the Ozarks for friends and fellow sailors. The home’s southern orientation receives the winter sun, keeps out the summer sun, and nestles into the earth, buffering itself from the north winds while taking advantage of the earth’s constant temperature. We still visit the family at their home each year.

I had the great privilege to design the Alberici Headquarters (2000-2004) – an adaptive reuse of a 1950’s-era former metal manufacturing facility into a new corporate headquarters building. The design was the highest rated LEED Platinum building in the world upon completion and certification. The team and client demonstrated an exceptional commitment to environmental design and conservation, and set new standards nationally and worldwide, completed while I was a Design Principal and Partner at Mackey Mitchell Architects. The company now enjoys a healthy, comfortable, beautiful environment which fosters teamwork, creativity and collaboration, and a then 50-year-old adaptively reused structure has new life. The design for Alberici Headquarters has been recognized by awards ranging from the 2006 AIA COTE Top Ten to BusinessWeek/Architectural Record’s Good Design is Good Business.

As a citizen architect and environmental designer, I helped found the City of Wildwood in 1995, in order for the community to stop the environmentally-destructive development practices allowed by St. Louis County government. In founding the new city, our efforts led to cutting-edge environmental regulations and a master plan which have protected the new city’s 67 square mile area ─ one larger than the City of St. Louis. The National Building Museum in Washington, DC selected Wildwood as one of ten case studies in an exhibition entitled Reimagining the Suburbs: Smart Growth and Choices for Change.

It was a great honor and recognition to receive the 2023 Sustainability Leadership Award from The Center for Spirituality and Sustainability at the Buckminster Fuller Dome at SIU-Edwardsville, on October 21, 2023.

It’s important that we all do what we can to help make our world a little better. It’s great to be part of this important work and effort!