Our High-Performance Design Philosophy

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
5 min readFeb 24, 2022

Today, buildings account for 45% of the overall energy consumption worldwide and 39% of our global greenhouse gas emissions. They use 60% of our electricity globally, and 40% of that electricity is generated from coal, producing 70% of the energy sector’s carbon emissions worldwide. If these figures don’t startle you, they should.

As design professionals, we have a responsibility to reduce the impact buildings have on their environments and the people who use them. We are passionate about designing buildings that fit thoughtfully within the landscape, responding to their local conditions and reducing natural resource consumption.

High Meadow cabins and studio at Fallingwater © Nic Lehoux, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

Sustainable design has been an integral part of our firm’s core values for nearly four decades. From the 1972 Shelly Ridge Girl Scouts Center — which incorporated a Trombe wall for passive solar heating — and the 1997 Intelligent Workplace at Carnegie Mellon University — a living laboratory for building performance and diagnostics — to the Living Building-certified Frick Environmental Center today, we continue to innovate at the forefront of efficient, healthy, and resilient design.

Clockwise from top left: Shelly Ridge Girl Scouts Center, Carnegie Mellon Intelligent Workplace, Frick Environmental Center, Ballard Library

“The siting of [Frick Environmental Center] is extraordinary, enhancing the views by the thoughtful way it fits into the topography.”

— 2019 COTE Top 10 Jury statement

At Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, we approach each project as an opportunity to reduce energy and materials consumption, promote occupant wellbeing, and design for a more just world, informing our clients and empowering our partners to make regenerative choices. We are committed to the idea that exceptional architecture and sustainable architecture are one and the same, and that the role of the design team includes stewardship for future generations. We optimize passive and active design strategies in an integrated, holistic approach, using early energy modeling and lifecycle cost analysis to understand and validate the environmental, social, and economic impacts of design alternates.

Carnegie Mellon University, ANSYS Hall © Nic Lehoux

Setting new standards in sustainability requires not only reducing natural resource consumption, but also designing the built environment to be regenerative by lowering our carbon footprint and replenishing our precious natural resources, such as feeding power back to the grid or restoring native hydrology and ecosystems. It requires a holistic understanding of sustainable design based on global sustainability measures including promoting equality, education, activism, and aiding economic prosperity.

Meaningful architecture begins with an understanding of the lives of its inhabitants and the nature of its surroundings. This is the first step in the implementation of an integrated holistic design concept, which is essential to the success of a high-performance facility.

Responsible energy use and resource management must begin at the inception of the design process by focusing on “first principles,” those passive design strategies that look to optimize a building’s site orientation and configuration to take advantage of natural forces such as passive solar heat, natural ventilation, and daylighting while minimizing the negative impacts of glare and solar heat gain. We approach this through a combination of applied knowledge to identify the most appropriate design alternatives and energy simulation modeling to test those intuitions. By designing with these principles in mind, our work also addresses resilience by reducing its dependence on mechanical systems.

Frick Environmental Center energy data, collected during first two years of project use.

Building on those first principles, we next look to both right-size the building and optimize its exterior envelope, thereby developing a high-performance building that minimizes energy consumption. This process is tested through continued energy simulation modeling and life-cycle analysis to quantify our design decisions and maximize building performance.

As the design team optimizes the building’s passive performance features, we work with our engineers using an integrative design process that develops building system solutions that are high efficiency and maintainable. This process assures that the building envelope, not the mechanical systems, does the heavy lifting related to overall performance.

The LEED Platinum Sumers Recreation Center at Washington University © Peter Aaron

“‘The design of the Sumers Recreation Center has brought back to life one of the most historic sites on the Washington University campus, creating a new campus hub of activity, wellness, and recreation that looks back on over 100 years of the site’s history, and leads the way in fostering community for the next hundred years.”— James Kolker, Associate Vice Chancellor, University Architect

Whenever possible, we work with our clients to develop renewable energy solutions to further reduce our collective dependence on fossil fuels protect our fragile environment. When incorporating renewable energy on day one is not attainable, our work is often designed to accept these advanced technologies in the future. We have found that many sustainable design strategies add little to no cost to construction if implemented as part of an integrated, holistic design concept.



Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

Designing buildings that inspire connection and wonder in every person who experiences them.