James Meyer is the planner and architect of Pringle Creek Community, owner of Sustainable Development Inc, and co-founder of Portland firm Opsis Architecture in 1999. After a 30 year career pioneering sustainable design and architecture, James now focuses on special projects closer to home and enjoys a slower pace of life that allows him more time to create, be involved with pro bono work, and spend time with his granddaughter.
In early 2015 Winsome Construction completed a LEED Platinum certified Net Zero energy home that James designed in the Pringle Creek Community. Pringle Creek is a project that was awarded a NAHB Green Land Development of the Year Award. In addition, Painters Hall Community Center is one of the few buildings in the country that has been certified by the Living Building Challenge.
Contact James Meyerjameslmeyer.firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 503-329-2154
Interview with James Meyer
We sat down with James to ask him some questions about his vast experience in green building and architectural design.
Winsome: Tell me about your early days. Where did you grow up?
James: I was born and raised in Salem, OR on a farm not far from Pringle Creek Community. I had six siblings, three brothers and two sisters, and we pretty much ran free all over the farm countryside. There was an ease that was wonderful and that I appreciated immensely.
Winsome: What childhood experiences have most influenced what you focus on today?
James: Growing up on the farm cultivated a connectedness to the land, both the natural environment and the built environment. My father was an interior designer so I grew up thinking about how to design spaces. I was fascinated with how the interior world and the exterior world, ours surrounded by llamas and horses, could complement one another.
Winsome: When did you first become interested in architecture as a career? What was it that drew you to the field of architecture?
James: Working for my Father initiated an interest in interior architecture. In the late 70s I left school at 22 and started a business called the Glass Barn with my younger sister, who was 19 years old at the time. I would say this was my way of beginning to translate all of that connectedness into something tangible. Solar energy was a topic of discussion in the 70s because of the energy crisis, but when the crisis ended everyone forgot about it. My sister and I designed and built the Glass Barn building itself, and we provided interior plantscaping and maintenance. This experience naturally evolved my interest in architecture and led to a more formal education in classic core architecture at the University of Oregon.
Following graduation, my wife, Kathleen, and I moved to Miami where I worked for three firms during the 1980s on all kinds of projects: light rail, a substantial coast guard facility, housing ranging from a 30 story downtown tower to various mixed use projects, corporate interiors, historic buildings from Old Town Miami, and classic restorations. With a brother living in Miami at the time, we really enjoyed living there and the different opportunities that were presented at each firm. For me it was perfect, but being away from Oregon for 9 years and then coming back was also perfect. I was at a stage in my career when I was ready to make a long-term commitment to a region. We also had a one year old daughter, which compelled us to return to Portland because it has a lifestyle we liked for raising children.
Back in Portland, I worked with a few large architecture firms. In 1999 two partners and I founded Opsis Architecture with the idea of creating humanistic architecture with core values in sustainability and collaboration. We were passionate about having a firm with these core values embodied in every project. Within a year we had grown from 3 to 10 people; we were a fresh mix between familiar connections and brand new, all trying to become doers and walk the talk of sustainability. The firm grew to more than 35 people and I was a partner there for 15 years, before selling my interest the summer of 2015.
Winsome: What part of the job do you like best and what do you excel at?
James: Working with a variety of type and scale of architecture is complimentary with what I like to do and who I am. I like to work with people and am strong in visioning projects and problem solving. I am able to match the budget with a client’s vision and come up with great solutions to solve issues.
Winsome: What kind of architecture are you most passionate about? What has been your favorite project in your career and why?
James: I am very lucky because sustainability has been a core value of all of my projects for a very long time. In addition, the type and scale of projects has been very diverse with a range from large institutional building to small park shelters. I was involved in the University of Oregon alumni center, which was special to me as an alumni of U of O. The Memorial Union and Student Experience Center on the OSU campus were projects I first began in 1995. I just finished the SEC last year. Visioning and creating a new type of neighborhood at Pringle Creek Community in my hometown, Salem, Oregon also tops the list for meaningful and significant projects for me.
Winsome: You sold your shares in Opsis in 2014 to make a change in your life and your career. Can you explain what inspired this change and your vision for your life and career moving forward?
James: The terminology I have been using to describe this change is recalibration. My plan is to continue doing all of the same things I have been doing, but weighted differently. After years of much travel, this was an opportune time to work closer to home and catch up on special projects, including Pringle Creek Community. The change of pace allows me more time to create and be involved in pro bono work. My granddaughter, Stella, has been a major part of the recalibration process.
Winsome: You started Roof Top LLC shortly after leaving Opsis. What is Roof Top LLC and what will you undertake with this entity in the future?
James: Roof Top LLC is a holding company for a variety of endeavors that offers a range of flexibility regarding overall company management, real estate, and property management. It’s a platform for various activities that Kathleen and I, our daughter and son-in-law are a part of.
Winsome: You are also a partner in Sustainable Development Inc., which is responsible for the development of Pringle Creek Community. Can you describe this project and how you are involved in it?
James: Pringle Creek Community’s origin began with a 275 acre parcel that the folks from Sustainable Development Inc. (SDI) were investors in. We spun off 32 acres to develop Pringle Creek Community with the goal of being the most sustainable community in the country. We began visioning the community’s social and technical qualities on day one. My role as Town Architect is broad. Some houses I design completely and some I have a review role, but I am involved in all the design decisions which is very rewarding. I get to tell the Pringle Creek story in a way that people can understand. I enjoy helping people to discover what makes Pringle Creek Community so unique and become excited about the vision for the community.
Pringle Creek Community is on land that is right around the corner from the farm where I was raised. I played on this land as a kid. Pringle Creek runs through the site and it was clear to us that we should call the community Pringle Creek Community based on the idea that the creek was an asset we respect. We have enhanced the overall health of the creek and designated green space around the creek for all residents to experience and enjoy.
Winsome: You have made some big commitments to ground-breaking LEED projects, like your restoration of the 1910 horse stable on Lovejoy into a LEED gold rated office for Opsis and the Pringle Creek Community, which could arguably be called one of the most innovative green communities in the country today. What have you learned from these projects?
James: Every finished project leaves you with something to take to your next project. Lessons gleaned from decades in architecture, in addition to social equity concerns and the triple bottom line, made it extremely satisfying to take a 1910 building and renovate it for my office while creating one of the most sustainable buildings on the west coast.
When there is opportunity I also invest in projects. I have been working on Pringle Creek Community for years and in 2007 it was honored as the National Green Development of the Year and was named a top 10 community in the country. Every house is LEED certified, most LEED platinum, and some are even Net Zero energy. Painters Hall is one of just a handful of commercial buildings in the nation that is certified as Net Zero energy.
I think a shift is underway in our country where we redefine sustainability so we can push past the boundaries of “good enough” building. Healthy buildings are going to be a key part of the shift; we have to more thoroughly understand how buildings affect the environment. Now is a great time to be an architect because the idea of sustainable building is really fresh and there is exciting work that we all get to do now. There isn’t just one way to make this happen either. We can take the specific criteria of our projects and come up with fabulous, innovative solutions to meet the needs of our time.