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Idea Generation

Ask the Experts (and their Children): How do you Design a Green Building?

The answers included using waste artichoke and bio resin, carpentry made out of waste teak root, rainbow buildings, and more.


We’re no strangers to tackling big questions at 99U, and this new series aims to ask some of the biggest names in the biz to weigh in on them. But because good ideas can come from everywhere, we’re posing the same questions to the children of the subjects to get their perspective.

Up first is Garrett Ricciardi, one-half of FormlessFinder, a New York City architecture firm which thinks outside the box, most notably with its new type of building idea, the Tent Pile introduced at Art Basel. His son, Luca, on the other hand, tends to favor reenacting Indiana Jones moves with his dad on Sundays.

The two of them recently sat down to answer questions about sustainable architecture. 

 What makes a building green to you?

Garrett: For our firm we think of a green building as the new normal. It’s the basic standard, the basic fundamental. What we are after is how do you go beyond that basis.

Luca: I would  draw and then color it in. The top and the bottom would be green and the middle would be all blue.

If the new norm is green, what is going beyond just that basis? How do you add to it?

Garrett: For us looking at materials outside of traditional architecture that can be brought into it, is the next step. Often it’s taking things that are thought of as nuisances. For example, we did a building a few years ago that the foundation was 100% made out of sand. That sand was then a play structure for kids and had benefits like being a reusable material that assisted in cooling the building. And this was all done in Miami, where usually you’re trying to get rid of sand, not bring it in.

Luca: I might spray paint some drawings (to take it to the next level). Maybe a person walking down the stairs, and he’s walking his dog.

With so much being done in the field of sustainable architecture, what makes something stand out to you?

Garrett: The last 10-15 years have been quite interesting by the growth of the horizontal. For example, New York, a city that has been architecturally defined vertically, even here there’s a new focus on building horizontally. New York thought it ran out of park spaces but they’re squeezing it in and around the edges, on the waterfronts, everywhere.

Luca: The color makes it cool. I like tall buildings like the Chrysler building and Empire State Building, and short buildings like my home. But maybe if they painted the Chrysler Building rainbow and violet that would be cool.

Architecture is often seen as just the outsides, but what about green architecture can be done on the interiors?

Garrett: “Greenness” is often thought of through the envelope, or the exterior, of the building, but it shouldn’t stop there. When you get inside there’s progressive ways you can be environmentally positive with your materials. We recently did two restaurants where you wouldn’t find a single material you wouldn’t find in other scenarios. We made the tables out of waste artichoke and bio resin. We make the carpentry out of waste teak root. New materials that are redefining how we think we can use them brings a lot to the interior “greenness.”

Luca: I  really like the furniture and the paintings. Desks are most fun.

Garrett: He just got a desk to play at.

As important as the interiors seem to be, the architecture still boils down to the bones of the building. What do you like the most that you’ve seen buildings constructed out of recently?

Garrett: New materials! We are just starting to scratch the surface out of wood and timber for the first time in a real long time. We saw a limit to green materials and reached an end to recycling and upcycling. Our firm, through our own work and a number of collaborations, mined waste material in a new way. Instead of building a structure out of recycled water bottles, we were looking at ways of dealing with waste rather than reuse. On a recent project that was 50 percent carpentry, we worked with this guy who travels around the world looking for wasted tree roots. These roots are some of the hardiest parts of the tree, but usually just ends up as woods chips. This guy had been doing just countertops before but now we’re having him go for interior scale to architectural scale.

Luca: Glass, because it never breaks. [Editor’s note: We need to double check this.]

Patrick Cain

Patrick Cain is a contributor at 99U who, by day, runs the LA-based furniture design firm Patrick Cain Designs.


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