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This innovation is concerned with developing and constructing environmentally-conscious buildings. Through their mission of “Climate Action through Design Excellence,” Architerra demonstrates a commitment to the eleventh sustainability goal while naturally including other goals related to climate action. By intentionally emphasizing collaboration and spreading awareness of their mission, Architerra looks forward to a future of increased action against climate change.
As an architecture, design, and development advisory firm based in Boston MA, Architerra uses its place in society to promote sustainable community development. The emerging business model developed in terms of sustainable and energy-efficient criteria staged Architerra’s innovation. Simply put, this innovation centers on building and architectural designs intentionally dedicated to smart growth and green design solutions. While Architerra has been committed to their mission of “climate action through design excellence” since its founding in 2004, it also acknowledges the necessity of design evolution as technology and their own expertise progresses. Their Architerrans are continuously learning from past projects in order to better address environmental concerns of future designs. 100% of their full-time staff are LEED accredited and are committed to cost-efficient and energy-efficient solutions to building design. Though the passion of their employees, Architerra fully embraces the 9th, 11th, 12th, and 13th Sustainability Goals.
Architerra also sees itself as an activist for the necessity of a more sustainable community. Ellen Watts, the founder of Architerra, believes that “architects have an ethical obligation to be advocates for sustainability and to speak out over environmental concerns.” Architerra deliberately engages in partnerships in order to spread awareness of the impact of buildings on the environment. Watts hopes to inspire a rethinking of how the project design team works and sees Architerra as the “master architect,” or one who synthesizes the ideas of others along a common goal. Rather than specialize in one area, Architerra offers climate-conscious designs for any project in the built environment. Their architerrans begin a project with the ideas of clients and the expertise of outside consultants. In this way, Architerra also embodies the 17th Sustainable Development Goal. Architerra’s innovation is more than simply designing sustainable and environment-conscious buildings; it is in championing and providing concrete ways in which we can directly address climate change.
For Ellen Watts, there were three main catalysts which inspired her to find a mission-driven architecture firm centered around sustainable design strategy and environmental stewardship. First and foremost, Watts was one of the first accredited LEED professionals in the state of Massachusetts and led to a newfound awareness in her professional life. She recalled a specific instance while trying to get an office development approved when a town conservation commissioner had tears rolling down her face talking about the loss of the watershed and the drying up of a river that would occur as a result. When people on her team laughed at the woman, Watts said she was struck by their disregard and said to them “I think we better pay attention to this.” In another instance, Ellen described her love for hiking and spoke of her experience hiking to the top of Blue Hills in Milton Massachusetts where the oldest recording weather equipment in the United States is located. While studying the records there, she was struck by the fact that, in the past 20 years, record high temperatures had been recorded in 19 of them. From this point forward, Watts made sure all of the projects she worked on had "not just cost estimates but also energy models that effectively took into consideration the recent historical changes in the earth’s climate and weather patterns." Lastly, on a personal note, Ellen shared with us that around the same time in her career three of her immediate family members were diagnosed with cancer at that time with no exposure and no family history. This experience made her think that "there must be something in the built environment where we as humans spend most of our time that could be the cause." As a result of this, she decided that she would utilize the rest of her career and any self-determination she had to make a difference and create a robust business plan for a new firm that would encompass environmental consciousness and design sustainability into the very fabric of its mission.
Ellen Watts tells us how her vision for innovation has drastically evolved since the beginning stages of her company. Initially, she felt her mission was to debunk the myth that sustainably efficient buildings cost “too much money.” She had heard this phrase being said by many architects and contractors, but knew through her expertise in energy and environmental design that this was not true. Her initial goal, then, was to “change the world one building at a time.” If she could show a counterexample to these thoughts and then build a portfolio of cost-efficient and energy-efficient completed designs, then she could inspire thousands more. This was a great short-term goal at the time, but she realized her vision needed to be much bigger.
Her work began 20 years after the recognition of global climate change in which she comments, as a society, “we have basically squandered 20 years.” Through this realization, Watts knew that the impact had to touch more than just contractors and architects. This inspired Architerra to be a knowledge-driven practice where they “want to be known for what we know.” Architerra has put a major focus on education projects for public and private colleges. In these projects, their scope expands beyond just architects and designers because they are able to “shape the audiences and world-views of the next generation of students” through their innovative designs. Watts takes every opportunity for advocacy and knowledge-sharing, truly utilizing the platform she has built for Architerra. This includes speaking to giant rooms of lawyers, financial analysts, and taking phone calls from students (like us!) to help people realize the serious problems our globe is facing when it comes to carbon admission and dramatic sea level rise. The long-term goal: to be an informant to everyone by helping people “connect the dots more than news does” when it comes to environmental impact and climate action.
Architerra is unique in the way they do business. They include all parties including clients, designers, contractors, and engineers in their planning process. This way there is an aligned vision across all parties. Through their practices, they have found that “clients are willing to spend money on these services if they can be convinced that the final building will be better quality and delivered in a more cost-effective manner.” By spending more money on the front end through brainstorming sessions and “at the drawing board,” their projects are able to run smoothly and in the most cost-effective and energy-efficient manner.
For example, they won over one of their most successful clients, The Cambridge School of Weston, by staging a workshop. They knew they were underdogs in the selection process so they created a brainstorming session that brought together the building committee and consultants to reach the most desirable building design that satisfied all parties. This is just one example of how Architerra retains employees, partnerships, and clients. They put so much energy in the planning process and give each player a voice, making everyone feel like they are contributing to the larger goal. Although Architerra has typically employed a staff of 15 full-time employees, their expansive partnerships and innovative edge within the industry enables for a widespread impact. Their business relies solely on referrals, which requires that Architerra to prioritize and maintain lasting professional relationships in order to inspire design for the betterment of the global climate situation. Architerra recreates the role of architecture to be one that encompasses a community-centric and mission-driven approach.
Architerra’s benefit to society and the environment exists not only in the projects they have completed, but also in the mission focused precedent they set for the business models of future architectural companies. For example, with the Boston Public Market project, Architerra was able to use its design creativity to transform the ground floor of a vacant office building into a vibrant destination located at the center of Boston’s growing market district. The new market prioritizes local vendors with over ninety percent of all food being “grown, caught, or produced in Massachusetts.” The legacy of this market place will show that it is possible to minimize energy and water use while also providing a unique space that stimulates the local economy.
Another major project that benefited society was the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. This project was important for Architerra because it gave them an opportunity to “define the gateway to SUNY ESF’s campus.” Architerra was asked to create a space for interdisciplinary courses and senior capstone projects for the college. Architerra took the project a step further by transforming this space into a cutting edge green facility that saves energy for the surrounding community. Using the most cutting edge technology, Architerra was able to create a sustainable campus design to highlight the progressive curriculum and innovative teaching/learning styles of the university. Education projects such as this compose a large portion of Architerra’s portfolio because they enable the firm to use architectural design to directly influence the lives and experiences of the next generation. The projects of Boston Public Market and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry are examples of Achiterra’s scalability.
Ellen Watts, Founder
Architerra is a Boston-based architecture company focused on climate action through design excellence. Founded in 2004, Architerra works to transform the minds of clients, architects, designers by inspiring a more collaborative approach to sustainable design. They acknowledge their role as visionary leaders within the industry and are committed to providing an example of how climate responsibility can be integrated into a for-profit business model.