The Advancing Leadership Blog

Building for the Future: An Interview with TEC Member Teresa Coady (Part 2)

Teresa Coady is the President and Founding Partner of the highly acclaimed Vancouver-based sustainable design practice B+H Bunting Coady Architects. She was recently elected to the United Nations Energy Programme’s Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative (UNEP-SBCI), and spoke to TEC Canada’s communications team about her new role, her architectural practice, and her experience as a TEC member.

Part 1 of Teresa’s interview can be read here.

What brought you to architecture, and what do you love most about the practice of architecture?

When I was in university and studying, I was avoiding architecture because my father was an architect and, as most architects would say, he told me “whatever you do, don’t do it.” It’s a very tough career. So I studied everything else. I studied engineering, I studied cosmology, I studied mostly physics, math, and I also did a little bit of pre-med, because I thought I wanted to go into that. So I ended up with this very broad background, and I ended up graduating in fine art. So I basically did all the sciences, and then in my last year or two just decided, “Now I want to do all the arts”. In the end, there was really nothing I could do but architecture, but my schooling was a great background, because once I got into architecture, I was able to translate quite easily what the engineers were saying, and to integrate them.

My big contribution to my profession, from where I’m sitting, is developing something called the Integrated Design Process, which is a way in which architects and engineers collaborate from the beginning and create a building that is what we’ve termed the “living breathing building”. It’s a very natural system of building, and the only way you get there is by integrating the engineering into it right up front. What happened was, a long time ago, we used to be able to build buildings without electricity. Now, if the power goes off, you can’t see, you can’t breathe, you can’t get out – the elevator’s gone, you have no water… You have to leave the building. The reason for that is we were able before at a smaller scale to work with the sun and the wind and the natural forces. But once we got to larger buildings, we were not able to do that, so we needed computer modelling and simulation to help us scale up.

That’s what we brought into our practice – we started our practice all computerized, and we have been modelling since the beginning. Because of that, we were able to figure out ways to have the buildings daylit all days of the year, to have the building ventilating naturally using the wind and the shade, to have the building not too hot or not too cold in any part of it by just looking at the model and seeing where it showed up. In the end we were able to actually create these passive buildings that use much less energy.

It’s really interesting that you use technology to make buildings that basically need less technology.

That’s right. What we’ve got right now are buildings that are machines. They take a lot of energy, and machines break down. So, we end up building our buildings the same way we’re building cars, and all kinds of things. We put a whole bunch of effort into them and then expect them to last us 30 years. That’s completely wrong. We’ve been using digital age technology to build industrial age buildings. So our company uses digital age technology to build digital age buildings. We build smart buildings.

What do you think makes IDP such a successful process? It’s a very different than the traditionally individualistic style of architectural design where the designer goes off on his own, and then passes it on to someone else to actually build it.

When you look at what teams can produce, there are two ways a team can go. Without direction, a team can compromise and produce something that’s pretty mediocre. Your typical designer who’s focused on excellence understands that and says, “I’m not going to be part of team group think. I’m going to bring excellence to the table, and I’m going to do something that’s amazing and uses all of my creative energies and it’s going to be the very best that I can put out there.” That takes the creative opportunity away from the engineers and all the other people at the table.

So we have a system where we approach the generation of the form in a logical way that requires everyone to come up with these brilliant and creative solutions so we don’t lose any of that excellence and that originality, but we get these sparks going off. It’s supportive and there’s a lot of trust built up, and that way what I’ve seen is the very best results. You get the generative power of the creative mind, but you also get the advantage of collaboration.

How has your involvement in TEC has affected the way you practice architecture, and vice versa? How has being in such a collaborative environment affected your TEC experience?

I have to say that before I started TEC I had no idea how to run a business. I was just doing it kind of intuitively. But the advantage of TEC was that I was able to sit with a group of people who knew nothing about architecture and each of them had a completely different area of business, and so the thing that was common between us was we were all trying to employ people, keep the economy going and deal with the 1,001 issues that you have to when you’re running a business. So I learned the language of business in a way I never would have in any other environment – at a real level.

I’ve also had coaching support from CEOs of companies – when you’re in the position that you’re in as a CEO, you really can’t share some of your concerns with the people that are your employees, and you can share your concerns with your partners, but at some point you don’t have the resources between you to solve the problem, so what I found was that TEC is a great resource on so many levels to just get you through the challenging times as well as go to the next level.

Is that what keeps you involved in TEC? Continually learning more about the business side of things?

I would say it’s a few things: It’s finding out what’s going on in other businesses – I find that really interesting. Finding out what’s going on in the world – the lectures that we have – I find those really interesting. And just the camaraderie; I feel very close to the people in my group. I’ve been there now for 7 years. I think that we’ve all had a lot of benefit out of it. I also really like my mentor, Bob Sinclair. You go through a lot in any extended period, and when you’re running a business it becomes a big part of your life. To have the sort of coaching you get with the one-on-one mentoring is very valuable. Sometimes I’m travelling a lot, and that puts a big strain on my family, and having a coach who gets that and can help me communicate… There’s just so many intangibles. You make a lot of small but good decisions and you end up in a good place, and I think that’s what TEC is all about.

B+H Bunting Coady Architects: http://www.bhbuntingcoady.com/en/B+H_BuntingCoady

United Nations Energy Programme Sustainable Buildings & Climate Initiative: http://www.unep.org/sbci/

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