ZGF Architects’ Holistic Approach to Design Excellence

ZGF Architects is a design firm with a focus on architecture, interior design, and urban design. In 2016, it was ranked as the Top Firm of the Year by the American Institute of Architects. A long-time partner of EcoDistricts, ZGF has provided office space for our growing organization for several years in their Portland, Oregon office. The firm has sponsored EcoDistricts convenings, and ZGF staff members have lent their expertise as faculty and facilitators to district-scale teams at the annual Incubator and Summit. We caught up with Charles Kelley, a Principal at ZGF Architects and district-scale design leader.


How many employees work at ZGF?

ZGF has 680 employees that comprise a multitude of disciplines, from urban designers, architects and industrial engineers, to aircraft mechanics, art historians, filmmakers and horticulturists. This diversity has been our “secret weapon” in designing innovative responses to today’s architectural, urban, sustainability and resiliency challenges.

How many states/countries do you have offices?

We have five offices in the United States — Portland, OR; Seattle, WA; Los Angeles, CA; Washington, DC; New York, NY. We also recently established an office in Vancouver, BC. Like the diversity of our staff, these wide-ranging locations contribute to our varied practice types and the ability to serve clients and projects across the U.S. and internationally.

zgf-windmillsWhy did ZGF become an EcoDistricts Member?

ZGF Architects, for nearly six decades, has master planned, designed and built a diverse portfolio of projects internationally and across the U.S. ZGF has its roots in the Northwest, a region where respect for and protection of the environment are fundamental to the way people live, work and think.

Our design philosophy is centered on the premise that design excellence should be reflected in every aspect of the built environment. This includes capitalizing on the unique qualities of each place to create environments that respect the existing context and strengthen—or even heal—the fabric of which they are a part. We believe in producing buildings and environments that use minimal energy and material resources and that contribute to their context and provide healthy, inspiring spaces for their occupants. With EcoDistricts we found kindred spirits to combine the sustainability of individual projects at the larger urban scales.

How are our resources and connections influencing ZGF’s work?

Designing and implementing projects that exceed the status quo is a challenge. EcoDistricts has reduced the difficulty of finding like-minded people and firms that are willing to tackle the challenges facing the design profession, civic leaders and the habitats of tomorrow…and today!

What makes ZGF most excited about EcoDistricts?

EcoDistricts is not an echo chamber. The organization has made real connections to other organizations, firms, developers, and community leaders to further sustainability at the urban scale. We’ve been developing these ideas for decades and we’re finally implementing them at the urban scale. This is particularly exciting to me and my colleagues.

How are you planning on utilizing the Member benefits in the coming year?

Recently, ZGF completed work on the Kashiwa-no-ha Smart City development plan, with collaborating members from EcoDistricts. The project is the first LEED Neighborhood Development Plan Platinum project in Japan and the second in Asia. It is also the largest LEED-ND Plan Platinum certified Smart City in the world. This project reflects ZGF’s ongoing commitment to and legacy of designing communities for optimal environmental, health and human performance, and to providing the highest standards of environmental performance in the world. We hope to share the successes and lessons learned with our affiliates and the wider community through the EcoDistricts platform.

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Why is equity, sustainability and resilience important?

Sustainability is not only about conserving energy and resources. It’s also about creating communities where people feel invested in the wellbeing of their neighborhoods. This involves having equity in the community, which creates community leadership and fosters stewardship. This is the foundation of sustainability and resilience.

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