Jason F. McLennan brings buildings to life
By designing 'living buildings' that go beyond LEED certification, Jason F. McLennan is challenging architects to take 'green' building a step farther.
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McLennan’s boss at BNIM, Bob Berkebile, said the young Oregon graduate joined a team designing a green-building prototype at Montana State University. McLennan, Berkebile said, not only put in long hours on the project but sometimes stayed up until 2 or 3 a.m. peppering him with questions and engaging in broader discussions about life.Skip to next paragraph
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“Our talks were about trying to understand the world, trying to develop a strategy for changing the outcome of the human experiment,” Berkebile said. “Jason was then and is now a lifelong learner.”
McLennan went on to become the youngest principal at the firm and grew increasingly focused on expanding the concept of green building, incorporating the biomimicry ideas of Janine Benyus – who advocates replicating natural systems – along with the architectural strategies of Berkebile and other architects.
Push beyond LEED certification – the existing gold-standard for environmental building – McLennan determined, to a design approach that doesn’t just take less but gives back.
“He’s clearly driven by an internal fire that is unique. If I had a chance to clone him, I would be all about doing it,” Berkebile said. “He is a nexus of a lot of important things in human history – the right person for the right time.”
Building as teachable moment
The Bertschi School spreads over a city block, incorporating an old church, vintage homes, and an LEED-certified academic and performance space. Around the time board members and administrators began discussing plans for the science wing, a couple of young architects attended a conference where McLennan gave a speech about living buildings.
The two, Chris Hellstern and Stacy Smedley, approached McLennan afterward and pledged to complete a living building within a year. They eventually connected with Bertschi’s administration and began designing the science wing. Hellstern and Smedley donated their fees; Bertschi students provided input on some of the features.
LEED and other green-building strategies had long appealed to Hellstern, but, he said, until he heard McLennan speak, he wasn’t sure how to do more.
“Jason … really helped to illuminate a path to being a part of something greater than LEED work,” said Hellstern, whose firm, KMD Architects, helped form the Restorative Design Collective. That organization of architects has convinced some manufacturers to offer or switch to healthier, more environmentally friendly products. KMD is rewriting specifications to eliminate toxic materials from its projects.
The permeable concrete on the walkway, the solar panels on the roof, the indoor wall of plants for treating gray water, the structural insulated panels in the lab – every item in Bertschi’s new addition was chosen to meet living building standards and to help the students learn about natural resources. Three times a month, Bertschi administrators lead tours of the buildings – not just for prospective students, but for teachers and students from other schools, and, of course, architects.
The most popular feature on opening day– this is, remember, a school – was the composting toilet.
“We had a line out the door,” said Stan Richardson, Bertschi’s director of technology and campus planning. The longest segment of any tour, Richardson added, is the discussion in the bathroom.
McLennan sees it as simply one element of the larger picture. Living buildings must consume as few resources as possible, and what they produce should be reused, be it water that would otherwise go down the drain or human waste that would be flushed into the sewer. Natural systems reuse and regenerate.