An architect with a full range of commercial and residential projects to her credit, Anne Schopf, AIA, finds herself continually drawn to public institutions such as schools and healthcare facilities.
"Designing buildings for public service is a very rewarding contribution to people's lives," says the Seattle-based architect. After nearly 20 years as a practicing architect, Schopf relishes the challenge of design that "helps nurture people in the greater community."
Schopf's commitment to strengthening communities also extends to the environmental impact of building design. Her philosophy is to create sustainable buildings that connect to their surroundings.
"For me, sustainability is a spiritual rather than mental construct; it's more than a checklist. I want buildings to have a deep commitment to the physical context of their landscape," Schopf explains.
Schopf literally grew up with sustainable design outside Buffalo, New York. Her father, an engineer, designed the family home; a load-bearing stone structure built with limestone salvaged from the first grist mill in Western New York. One of Schopf's earliest memories is drawing houses and she fondly recalls designing and building one for her pet gerbil as a young girl.
"My father had a basic understanding of green dynamics and was constantly trying to leverage natural aspects in our home. We had huge picture windows in our house and he calculated each overhang so that the sun could warm our living space in the winter and be shaded in the summer."
Her father's influence remains strong to this day. She admits that her own home in Seattle - which she designed - is "my father's house reincarnated," noting that "we absorb and become what was seeded in us."
The cultural context of the city of Buffalo, with its abundance of Frank Lloyd Wright homes also provided a backdrop that nurtured Schopf's creative energies. After completing high school in Clarence, Schopf followed in her father's footsteps and enrolled at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to study engineering. However, it was not long before she began to pursue what would become her passion for design. Schopf, with strong support from her mother, added an architecture major soon after matriculating.
Higher Learning, Higher Purpose
After graduating from Rensselaer in 1984, Schopf began to practice in the Saratoga Springs area of upstate New York, becoming licensed in 1987. There she developed an interest in designing educational facilities, and soon became restless for the next phase of her career.
In 1990, she moved west to pursue an opportunity in Seattle and found a visionary community of architects increasingly influenced by the principles of green design. "When I left Saratoga, it was a conservative design community. On the West Coast, people were more open to different ways of thinking," she said of her transition.
While the mindset was different in her new home, Schopf's professional focus continued to be creating design solutions for institutional clients. "When I moved to Seattle, most of my immediate opportunities were in healthcare and education." As a result, Schopf continued to focus even more on public buildings and enriching people's lives through architecture.
Any type of project has its own set of demands, and working in the public domain is no exception. Schopf acknowledges that navigating tight budgets and organizational hierarchies can make working with large institutions challenging. However, she is committed to projects that help to improve the lives of others in enduring ways, be it the healing that occurs at medical facilities, or the pursuit of knowledge that takes place on educational campuses.
This is evidenced in what Schopf considers one of her most memorable professional achievements; a modest K-12 school campus in Culver, Oregon. Schopf had the opportunity to experience first hand the impact that the building had when she traveled to the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
"You could tell the building made a tremendous contribution to this small town - several of the community members told us how much the building meant to them and their families, and some of the school board members were literally crying tears of joy. The best architecture contributes to community."
Concrete is a Natural Choice
When creating healthcare and educational facilities, Schopf opts for buildings that feature sustainable design and extended life cycles to continuously serve communities at a high level over time.
Because of its myriad environmental benefits, especially durability, concrete is a natural fit for Schopf's work. Concrete buildings are highly energy efficient, require minimal maintenance over the life-cycle of a building compared to other major construction materials, and, similarly, do not rust or rot.
Concrete is also appealing to Schopf for aesthetic purposes. By leaving concrete exposed at Nathan Hale High School's new theater and forums , Schopf and her team has limited the materials required to finish out the interior surfaces and therefore, the overall environmental footprint of the building.
At the award-winning Seminar II complex at The Evergreen State College, Schopf was issued a mandate to maximize indoor air quality and again leveraged concrete to limit materials. Schopf chose architectural concrete for many of the finishes in the building for an attractive look and durable surface that did not require carpeting or paint.
"At Mahlum, we try to use concrete as both structure and finish," says Schopf, "because beautiful concrete buildings can last a lifetime."
The sustainable development movement has gained significant momentum over the past decade with the formation of the United States Green Building Council and creation of its LEED building certification system, which assigns value to sustainable features and quantifies the extent to which buildings are green.
While Mahlum has designed buildings that have been recognized by the USGBC, Schopf stresses that sustainable design goes beyond numbers. To ensure that she always looks at the deeper issues when considering a building, Schopf and her colleagues at Mahlum have developed the following questions to be asked during the design process.
- How does the work connect to the greater world?
- Does the work nourish spiritually?
- How does the work allow people to connect?
- Is it beautiful?
- Are we being courageous?
- What is the most resource elegant approach to the problem?
- Are we excited to come to work each day?
To Anne Schopf, architecture needs to serve more than just a functional purpose. A building must fit into its environment. As a durable, versatile building material, concrete meets her objective to build beautiful buildings that can connect with their surroundings.
Schopf's lifelong involvement in architecture and design has taken her across the country, but throughout her career, her philosophy to build structures that enhance and enrich communities through sustainable development has remained steadfast.