B+H: An Integrated + Sustainable Design Approach
Understanding and responding to the changing landscape of their clients’ needs, B+H has always been focused on an integrated approach to design. A global, award-winning design and consulting firm, B+H has a 60+ year legacy of building creative solutions for clients through the delivery of architecture, interior design, landscape, planning, and other consulting services. Eddie Wu and Tom Hook lead their in-house planning and landscape design team. While their division is relatively new to the practice, it reflects the firm’s ever-growing emphasis on sustainability and environmental concerns.
Through their work, Eddie and Tom can see a growing desire on behalf of city planners to focus more on the public realm – the streetscape and ground level implications of development. Using their work in Vancouver at 601 West Hastings as a current example, they demonstrate how cities are transforming by renewing existing outdoor urban spaces. Working in tandem with B+H’s architecture team, the firm is working holistically to create an engaging public space that is bordered by a private commercial building. Finding a way to improve livability through constrained outdoor spaces, explains Eddie, is the “intangible side” of landscape and design.
A more tangible side of the work they do is to increase sustainability through strategic selections of design elements including plant varieties and irrigation systems. Using 601 West Hastings as an example – as is typically the case in urban environments – it is especially important for the design to promote effective and efficient irrigation. To increase sustainability and ensure water is being used efficiently, the selection of plants for this outdoor space is dictated by the amount of water different species require. Eddie and Tom describe their work at the site as a holistic approach that takes into account the needs of the client, the needs of the public, and sustainability of the environment.
A Global Perspective
The international reach of B+H includes countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the Middle East. In this part of the world, there is a distinct cultural need for gender privacy that informs design work. The firm’s ability to build in regions around the globe is possible because they see everything through the lens of local cultural requirements.
In the case of the Middle East, this cultural aspect is coupled with the environmental needs of their hot climate – one that is arid inland and humid along coastal areas. Other considerations include understanding how people can enjoy outdoor spaces in the sun, while allowing for the fact that most outdoor areas are also used during more moderate evening temperatures. B+H’s landscape designs include a thoughtful selection of plant species that can best survive the heat, lack of water, and are able to grow in shady areas.
The firm has been working in the Middle East for over a decade now and as a result, has a keen understanding of the cultural and environmental needs of the built form within the region. Currently, they are undertaking a large project designing the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Doha, Qatar. B+H also continues to obtain repeat work from clients because of their expertise and flexibility in adapting to cultural needs. Citing B+H’s flexible approach to design, a local Saudi Arabian engineering practice had been working with another architectural firm and switched to B+H and now continues to call on them for design collaboration.
The global presence of B+H also helps them to adapt to the time sensitive needs of their clients. Eddie refers to this ability as, “chasing the sun.” With offices across Canada, Asia, and the Middle East, staff in one studio can leave for the day and transfer a project to another whose workday is just beginning. They can have a project worked on literally around the clock and finished on a tight deadline. Weekends are different depending on the region, with some offices having Friday and Saturday off instead of the West’s Saturday and Sunday. B+H gains an edge from their global presence in many ways, and their continued success proves it.
B+H is not only focused on the present, but also on the future of their firm. To ensure its continued success and a growing crop of talented designers and strategists, they emphasize ongoing accreditation and supporting students and interns throughout the process. Both Eddie and Tom mentor young hires, as well as contribute to the field in other ways. Eddie sites on the Roster of Visiting Evaluators with the Landscape Architecture Accreditation Council of the CSLA and Tom lectures at the University of Guelph about landscape architecture.
Looking to the Future
So, you may ask, what do these two luminaries of their field see as the future of their industry? Both agree that environmental concerns are not going away, and tied to that, are the strong relationships that designers and developers must create through trusted collaboration with government entities.
Eddie and Tom cite the growing concern about the removal of trees as an example of the growing importance of understanding local ordinances, government processes, and sustainability needs. One of their most recent projects included the renewal of landscape design on an existing site where a large mature tree was in the middle of the property. Working with B+H’s architectural arm and local officials, the landscape team came up with an optimized solution – one that kept the tree on site and ensured it was protected during construction.
Being a fully integrated design and consulting firm that includes everything from initial planning to architecture and interior and landscape design, all the way to the measurement of results in occupancy makes B+H highly adaptable. Their adaptability and flexibility is crucial to not only addressing the needs of their clients, but also the needs of the people who will be inspired by the spaces they design.