Designing for the Future For award-winning San Francisco architect Olle Lundberg ’75, sustainability is no trend — it is intrinsic to his profession.
Q: You are an architect, and your brother, Peter Lundberg, is a sculptor. Did you inherit that building gene, or did you pick it up through childhood experiences?
A: I think being what I call “handy” alternates generations, because our father was so bad at it that my brother and I always had to fix things. My father was a chemical engineer, so certainly there is an engineering background, but it was definitely not something we inherited from him. My grandmother was a painter and sculptor, so there was a history of art in our family. As a kid, I worked as a carpenter’s helper and on road crews. Those were good summer jobs — they kept me outside and in shape, and the money was better than working in a fast food restaurant, so I enjoyed it. I have always enjoyed building things, and seeing things going from idea to reality.
Q: What is your philosophy in terms of sustainability in architecture?
A: We have always had sustainability at the heart of our practice. We don’t make a big deal out of it, because we kind of take it for granted. As architects, I think we have an enormous responsibility to build with care, and that extends to the sites and lands that we deal with. We have a metal fabrication shop that’s part of our process, and we’ve always incorporated recycled materials and found objects into our work. I like to use them not only as a statement of sustainability, but also because I just find them really beautiful. Sustainability has become more and more important in the world, but it has always been something we’ve done.
Q: How does your firm incorporate sustainability into architectural designs?
A: The goal, generally, of our buildings these days is to have them produce as much energy as they use. We aim for net zero on almost all of our projects using a variety of methods, including solar and geothermal. We try to go net zero on water wherever possible, as well, so we reclaim and treat gray and black water on some of our commercial projects that we are involved in now. We are also involved in a rating system called the Living Building Challenge to try and make a building completely sustainable on its own. I think that is the future, and it’s where we need to go on this, so we are heavily involved in it and excited about it.
Q: Has sustainability become more of a concern to your clients over the years?
A: Yes, it is becoming more and more a part of the discussion. We’ve seen it for a long time with our residential clients, but it is new on the corporate level, and it’s really great to see, because that’s a fundamental change in building philosophy.
Q: What is their motivation for doing it?
It is not cost savings, because a lot of this is a long-term payback, so it’s still a big investment initially. We are not at a point in the economics of sustainability that all of these systems pay for themselves quickly. Unfortunately, with the current administration in Washington, there are fewer incentives, which is too bad, because one of the ways we get corporate clients to embrace it is because there are incentives. It requires more of an ethical stance, which happily some of them do have.
Q: What are some of the most unusual found objects you’ve incorporated into your designs?
A: We’ve done a series of light fixtures called buoy lights, made from old, abandoned steel ship buoys. At the San Francisco restaurant Mourad, we used a root ball from a tree to create a screen wall between a staircase and the main entry. It’s kind
of a sculpture, but it also functions as a handrail and separation wall. I bought a whole bowling alley’s worth of lanes on Craigslist and did all the tables at a restaurant with that, as well as the reception desk at Twitter’s headquarters.
Q: How do you feel about your work?
I’m very fortunate. I get to design these really beautiful buildings for people who love them, and
I happen to be good at it. I also have a 20-person firm, and it is very much a large family. I love the people I work with; they are enormously talented. It’s what I always wanted — to have my own practice, do my own designs, and work with talented people who could help me do that and have the same passion for the work I do. It’s very rewarding to provide employment for those people and see their lives mature.
More about Lundberg:
B.A., English, Washington and Lee
M.A., architecture, University of Virginia
Owner, Lundberg Designs, San Francisco, founded in 1987
Projects: Residences, bars, restaurants, hotels, corporate headquarters and more
Family: Wife, Mary Breuer, president of Breuer Consulting Group; their dogs, Carney and Curly, appear on the Lundberg Design staff webpage
Quirky W&L fact: As a sophomore, Lundbers and a friend, William Smith ’75, invested in a deserted, deconsecrated chapel 10 miles north of Lexington. They fixed it up and rented out the extra rooms to other students. Profits from the sale of the chapel paid for Lundberg’s graduate school. Smith is now a real estate attorney.
To see more photos of the company’s projects, go to the Lundberg Design website.