Seven Springs Speaker Spotlight: Nathan Kipnis, Green Architect

Reader Contribution by Erica Binns
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Get to know Nathan Kipnis of Kipnis Architecture + Planning.

What are you going to speak about at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR?

I have two presentations that I am giving.

The first is a lecture entitled Solutions for Living in the Post Peak Era. It is a subject that I have been interested with for a very long time. The lecture looks at how we used to live prior to to the influence of cheap oil, what happened once we found cheap oil and, most importantly, how are we going to transition to a world with limited, expensive oil. This presentation looks at the impacts of life in a post peak era from the largest community level down to the details of individual homes. I am in the process of writing my first book which is based on the content of this lecture.

The second lecture is about how people go about designing and building a sustainable home. Building a home is very likely the most expensive thing one does in their lifetime, and there is not a good way to undo any problems that arise during the design and construction. It is best to get a good understanding of what is involved and set your expectations realistically. This is especially true when trying to build sustainably, from selecting a site, putting together the design and construction team, dealing with financing of the project, and then actually building the home.

The particular emphasis in this lecture will be how to make the home as sustainable as possible during this process so you end up with the house you really wanted. You might not be able to accomplish every goal, so how do you prioritize these goals?

I will discuss what should one look for when selecting the people that are going to help design and build your house. What are the standards for green building and do they fit within your projects goals? I will also review the ways to visualize the design while it is being conceptualized and how to analyze the energy performance of the house.

I think that there are many people that have never talked to an architect and may be intimidated by the process. I hope to be able to walk people through the various steps in this complex process and help give everyone more confidence with what they are embarking on. There will be plenty of time for questions and answers.

What are you most looking forward to sharing with FAIR attendees?

I’m telling you, I think I have two really great presentations that will inspire people to do great things with the design of their homes. A home doesn’t just have to keep the weather out. It isn’t just a space. It is a place. A spiritual place. In my designs I try to bring the outside in, have the sun’s daily and seasonal movement be a part of that experience, and lots more. I hope that I can give some of that enthusiasm to the people that I meet at the FAIR!

Tell us about your background with your particular topic.

I knew I wanted to be an architect when I was six (that’s a story I can tell over a beer or two). When I was 12, the first oil embargo occurred in 1973. That really had a huge impact on me. I was very confused how literally overnight it seemed everything was in chaos. I started to read about solar homes in Popular Science and Popular Mechanics, and I decided that if I was going to be an architect, then somehow, some way I was going to work on energy efficiency. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it got me interested in how energy design is interconnected to national security issues.

I attended the University of Colorado at Boulder starting in 1979, primarily because of their reputation with solar architecture. I had Amory Lovins and Hunter Lovins from Rocky Mountain Institute in Aspen as instructors one summer. Just being in Boulder taught me quite a bit about living locally in a great, walkable city. For graduate school, I got my Masters of Architecture with a emphasis in Energy Conscious Design from Arizona State University in 1985. I had a wide range of internationally renowned energy efficiency architectural professors who learned their skills by themselves way back in the 1940ss, ’50s and ’60s.

When I got out of school, I was ready to ‘Save the World’, but there was no interest in what I had studied. So when I started working, I would incorporate various energy efficient elements in projects, generally without making a big deal about them. On many projects I would just sneak them into the design and then see how they functioned. After a while, interest built up and since I started my office in 1993, we have focused on not only energy efficient architecture, but how to use energy efficient details as major design elements. We call it ‘High Design/Low Carbon.’ We have expanded into other areas beyond residential work which includes restaurants, retail, commercial and small scale community planning. I see the urban design/community planning aspect as central to living successfully in a Post Peak era.

Why should fairgoers attend your presentation?

I think my presentations are very different from most ‘lectures.’ I think very graphically, so my presentations are loaded with easy to follow, very interesting images. For example, I show a number of solar animations that we created that make it easy to understand how the sun is moving around a building during a particular day of the year.

I also cover a lot of ground in my lectures, but the key points are all logically tied together and presented in an easy to follow format. I am pretty sure my presentations will be the only ones of their kind at the FAIR, and they should not be missed!

How will you get to the FAIR, and how far do you have to travel?

I am coming from Chicago, and will be flying. I use a carbon offset firm that takes care of the very few air flights I do each year, along with the office travel, office computer server, office utilities and car transportation. One of these years I would like to drive from Chicago to Seven Springs. I am sure the route would be more interesting on the ground than in the air!

What are you most looking forward to at the FAIR?

I attend all sorts of very professional architectural fairs during the year, but I always like events like the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR. The wide range of subjects that are not easy for me to see in person are always inspirational. I also like the fact that the people at the FAIR really understand what it takes to live sustainably on a real budget. I like to think of it as my secret professional advantage to be exposed to the real world knowledge that the FAIR showcases.

What advice do you have for attendees?

I think the key to getting the most out of the FAIR is to go outside your knowledge base. Make sure to go to a number of sessions that are on topics you know nothing about. You might find out you are interested in a whole new area of sustainability that you would never have gotten to see.

If you were stranded on a deserted island and could have only one thing, what would you choose?

I love questions like these. There are so many possibilities for this answer. I have recently gotten into vegetable gardening. I am into my third year of it, and am learning quite a bit. I think you would need to be able to grow food to survive, so I would want a wide range of native vegetable and fruit seeds. Frankly, you should be able to grow plants that are your food, as well as your clothing, medicine and shelter. We take so many things for granted, and how everything relates to everything else.

Thanks, Nate. We’ll see you at the FAIR!

Please visit the FAIR website for more information about the Seven Springs, Pa. FAIR September 24-25, and upcoming FAIRs in other locations. Tickets are on sale now.

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