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KMD is an architectural firm originally based in San Francisco. Established in 1963, it has since built projects and won awards all over the world for its innovative design, community impact and use of energy efficient technologies inspired by a concept they call the “Art of Placemaking.” KMD’s Principal, Juan Diego Perez-Vargas, shared his perspective on the latest developments of eco-friendly building technologies and how important the impact on the environment has become in new architectural projects.

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How much does the concept of placemaking take the interaction with the environment and its impact on it into consideration?

Over the last four decades, our practice has covered a uniquely diverse range of building types: retail, healthcare, academic, hotel, government, offices, housing, historic preservation, and renovation.

Placemaking suggests that to be successful a project needs to cast its own spell on its user and community. Placemaking is both a sensitivity to place, sensitivity to the environment and the creation of uniquely useable space. Placemaking realizes in the buildings and, equally important, in the spaces defined by the buildings, a shared sense of community, a connection with the essence of one’s culture in a sustainable, entertaining and joyful way.

What are the latest developments in materials and technologies that KMD uses in its designs that are significantly distinct in regards to their impact on the environment?

The concept of Triple Green Design is in large part the result of KMD research programs on energy efficiency, productivity, and social well-being in office buildings and hospitals. Triple Green Design is an approach to project planning and design, offering solutions that will affect personnel satisfaction and productivity, individual well-being, and reduction of bottom-line operational costs as well as energy conservation.

Triple Green Design begins with the premise that a sustainable building is an economically viable and socially responsible solution that reduces operational costs and creates a place that employees will be proud to call theirs. Through its research efforts, along with the pioneering work of others in the field of environmental design, KMD has found that experiences of the natural world can enhance productivity within a workforce, speed recovery in hospital patients and contribute to the Community at large.

The Triple Green concept combines the best-known Green element, energy conservation, with two other Green strategies of design that affect both the productivity of their users and of the building, and also enhance the enjoyment and sense of community of people who view the building from the outside. The three Greens are:

1. Energy Green – Conservation

2. Productivity Green – The introduction of nature into interior spaces and views, thus, the enhancement of the experiences and productivity of the building’s users.

3. Community Green – Making nature a part of the experience of the building for the community at large.

What follows are thoughts and specific examples of how Triple Green can impact various building types.

Cha Hospital in Seoul, Korea


Research has shown that patients who can look directly out of their rooms at the natural world spend less time in the hospital. The introduction of nature into the healthcare workplace helps staff morale and retention–a big element in hospital efficiency. At Cha Hospital in Seoul, Korea, a children’s hospital and birthing center, the design creates an energizing experience for patients, visitors, and hospital staff. Beginning with the idea that time spent at a hospital can be thought of as a ‘journey,’ KMD designed a series of courtyards and gardens along the hospital’s public and gathering spaces, guiding the visitor or staff member from one restful place to another along day-lit corridors. Patients of the Emergency Department, Critical Care, Labor/Delivery, and Medical/ Surgical Units in the “South Tower Addition” have been assisted in their healing by warm natural environments.

Welcomed to the hospital community by courtyards and guided through peaceful and clearly demarcated hallways, along an atrium, or comforted by a restful and natural waiting room, hospital visitors will come to their experience with a better sense of well-being and calm.

San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.


The new twelve-story headquarters for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is expected to be a leader in demonstrating energy efficiency, water recycling and reduced carbon footprint among major office buildings nationally, according to P.U.C. officials

This project is a pilot Energy Green building for the City. The current goal is to exceed the LEEDTM platinum rating.

The energy Green tactics behind this design are three-fold: rotating the majority of the building mass to achieve a genuine alignment with true north; minimizing the lease depths of the tower to a maximum of 40’-0” for occupied areas to achieve daylight penetration; and implementing renewable energy strategies throughout the building envelope.

Dozens of wind turbines on the roof, solar panels embedded in outer walls, and a natural-cooling “thermal chimney” are among the features enabling the structure to supply forty percent of its own energy needs. On windy, sunlit days, it will go off the power grid completely.


Planned to break ground at 525 Golden Gate Ave. near City Hall and open in 2008, the P.U.C. headquarters also employs advanced water-saving and water-recycling. Faucet sensors, waterless urinals, and on-demand water heaters will cut use to five gallons per occupant per day, compared to average officebuilding use of twenty-five gallons a day. A gray-water wastewater recycling system enables reuse of water from faucets and sinks in the building’s toilets and the cooling system.


Jie Fang Building in Shanghai


The design uses natural elements such as trees, fountains, natural lighting, natural ventilation, and other elements that encourage both worker/users and visitors for meetings and conferences to explore and interact with spontaneity and openness and to stimulate the creative workforce to generate ideas and innovate and, perhaps more importantly, to build community and trust – all of which are vital to increasing productivity and communication in the modern office.

An 18-story atrium filled with bamboo, indigenous trees and ivy curves up the southeast corner of the building. Gardens are set at every third floor so that every worker is close to a sizeable patch of greenery. There is also a sky garden at the building’s penthouse. Fountains and landscaped areas, both on the inside of the public atrium and in the public outdoor spaces, create substantial departure from the relatively rigid streetscape of downtown Shanghai. The Jie Fang Building’s several public plazas will invite and delight the senses of neighborhood residents, passersby and workers with a lively landscape of cascading waterfalls, quiet gardens, and fountains playing a rhythm with sprightly bursts of water.

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