Can you please describe your current position?
JA: I’m an architect, but I’m also the owner and operator of Bright Common, a company that provides a full array of sustainable architectural services in Philadelphia. Our particular focus is decarbonization of housing, which can range from single-family and multifamily housing to commercial mixed-use projects. My team and I want to figure out how to help the built environment. We consider ourselves first responders in climate change.
What are some green building projects and/or initiatives you are currently working on and how do you feel they will contribute to the Greater Philadelphia region's sustainability efforts?
JA: We have several replicable single-family homes and multifamily projects that are in construction or recently completed, which I consider experimental prototypes. We also are developing a passive house to see how it can infill in Philadelphia’s numerous empty lots as a super low energy duplex. We’re trying to learn how owners can still buy a house and rent out the ground floor to zero out their bill and retrofit them in a way to make them truly low carbon. I think these projects contribute to the regions sustainability efforts because of our passion - not just with operational carbon, but about low carbon materials as well. We’re working on a few projects now that are exploring low embodied carbon panelized construction systems to simplify and speed up the process to build a passive house at small and large scales.
Why is green building and sustainability important to you?
JA: It’s essential for everyone to learn about climate change, understand the basic science, and talk about it in casual conversation relentlessly. Keep bringing it up, be persistent, expect awkwardness, and be ok with it. It’s important to normalize that kind of dialogue. You can design your newsfeed to teach you about it or watch documentaries with friends and family. When we're constantly thinking about climate change, it will bushwhack new neural pathways in our psyches and re-train our brains to consider not just how we personally live, but how we collectively dwell as a species in our neighborhoods, in our towns and cities, in our country, and on this planet. Until our hearts, minds, and guts are moved, we won’t move the "powers that be" to do anything.
Which sustainability topics do you feel are most pressing at this time?
JA: I believe that great changes will continue to occur, but they are likely to continue benefiting only the ultra-resourced, rather than all people if we continue to accept the status quo of how we organize societies. We would do well to reject this mainstream approach and treat the underlying disease of our unsustainable modern lifestyles, rather than just the symptoms. It’s a group project that ascends beyond any personal behavior changes alone. We need to seek a just transition and help all people not only ride out the current and coming challenges of these massive societal shifts but ensure that the near future decarbonized global economy will be about true redistribution and sharing of the limited natural capital the earth has to offer. In a word, imagine plant-based everything. Passive Houses won’t matter if we all continue eating massive amount of meat, after all.
What resources or advice have you found most helpful in your green building profession?
JA: I have found Green Building United [and their] New Gravity Housing conference [and] Sustainability Symposium to be really helpful and educational. Along with that, I also think books, documentaries, and podcasts are amazing. I’m reading two new books, one called The New Carbon Architecture by Bruce King and Drawdown by Paul Hawken. As for the documentaries, anything by Josh Fox is really animating – he talks about and organizes around climate change in a beautiful way. I also like the Ask Science Mike podcast and just got turned onto the Strong Towns podcast.
What are you doing to advance green building and a sustainable built environment?
JA: I speak at schools like Temple University and Jefferson University and I love talking about this kind of thing with students. I’ve taught at Jefferson and I just signed on to co-teach The Science of Sustainable Design at Temple this semester. So, essentially, spreading the word and knowledge I have of climate change and what I’m passionate about regarding drawdown.
What made you want to get involved with Green Building United?
JA: Well, I decided that I should be a joiner in my second half of life. I was never much of a one before, but then I realized how much I was missing out on. Also, the people of Green Building United are amazing. I think there’s a level of involvement we all need to take – just as long as we don’t get overwhelmed.
founded Bright Common to continue an explorative collaboration of beauty, truth, and regeneration in the natural and built environments. He also holds a B.A in Architecture from Philadelphia University.
With a deep green ethic, his experience in both traditional architecture and design-build outfits helped me work in residential, commercial, non-profit, and institutional sectors.
As a Registered Architect, LEED-AP, and Certified Passive House Designer his main work is fostering a trusting, mutually beneficial relationship between Partners (clients), Builders (makers), and the earth we inhabit.