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The Swannanoa Journal - Neil Chambers Interview

by Arayah Larson

Audio recording



I was invited to meet with Neil Chambers, an environmental architect touring colleges around the country to talk about his new book, Urban Green: Architecture for the Future. We met early in the morning after his talk. Chambers was energetic; he had to keep pushing the hair out of his face, as he happily went into detail about his work. He’s an emotional guy; in his lecture he began to tear up when talking about the work he began in the aftermath of September 11th. Chambers, a businessman and architect, came to environmentally-driven design through a search for spiritual enlightenment. “I was a buddhist he says, “I would meditate, but there wasn’t any action into the world”. When Chambers began studying environmental building, back in college, his professors told him it was impossible. As a successful environmental architect today he says “I’m not interested in building buildings for buildings.”

Chambers founded his non-profit, Green Ground Zero, because he felt strongly about the memorial he knew would take the tower’s place in Manhattan. Living in New York at the time, he saw that a lot of the damage from the attack was done by the remnants of the products used to build the towers. Green Ground Zero began to host educational events, teaching about energy innovation and water conservation in 2001 when “it wasn’t being talked about”. Thanks to his and other efforts, Tower 7 is a certified LEED Gold building, the Freedom Tower is being designed to be LEED certified, and New York City is making public efforts to be the greenest city in the world.

But Chambers’ work in the non-profit sector wasn’t working, because there were other projects to be done. Projects that needed more funding and that needed to work with larger corporations. Influenced at the time by the invigorated discussion about globalization and the free market, Chambers started his second business, this time, a for-profit green-building design company called Chambers Design, Inc. It was a gamble, and one Chambers admits freely. He quotes Hillary Clinton who said “the most important test of any idea is to see if it can survive in the market.” The question is, did it? Chambers laughs that it has. “The first couple of years I was just learning how to run a business” he says, “but since then its getting better and better.”

Chambers’ new book, Urban Green: Architecture for the Future, discusses the history of green building, as well as his vision of what cities can and should look like in the future.