Designers of the Year Photo Credit: Portrait by Carlo Ricci

Eco Designer of the Year 2015: JWT Architecture

A landscape designer-turned- architect brings a green perspective to every space.

James Tuer is a bit of a mash-up artist. “There’s a connection between inside and out,” says Western Living’s 2015 Eco Designer of the Year. It’s no surprise he thinks this way: Tuer started off his career as a landscape architect before studying architecture proper, and he still finds himself looking at the world through the lens of a garden designer. “I study the site like a landscape architect,” he says. “I look at the winds, the views, the sun.”

James Tuer eco designer of the year 2015

To Tuer—who designs LEED-certified homes, modern, passive-energy cottages and smart, sustainable mixed-use spaces up and down the West Coast—architecture and landscape are inseparable. Tuer runs a one-man show, JWT Architecture, doing everything from drawing up his own plans to overseeing construction, all with a naturally green element. His own home on Bowen Island, built as a calling card after getting his master’s degree from the green-minded University of Oregon, exemplifies his smart design sensibilities clearly: think locally sourced materials, passive energy-saving techniques, native plantings and plenty of natural light. From it sprang opportunities for more sustainable residential spaces, published projects and awards. He’s lauded for his environmental perspective, but at this point, it’s just second nature to Tuer. “It’s just my training,” he laughs. “I can’t help it.”

The  technologies Tuer uses are surprisingly simple. “Insulation is the first order of defence. Thicker walls are cheap, easy and look good,” he explains. “Every dollar you spend on the building envelope is worth three dollars spent on the bells and whistles of green architecture. You don’t need solar panels or a ground air heat pump.” (This attitude impressed Designers of the Year judge Oliver Lang. “Less with more is an important ambition,” he writes, “and Tuer has rigorously pursued and achieved this, not only in remote contexts but in urban ones, too.”) Rainwater harvesting is also incorporated into most of Tuer’s projects—he even successfully lobbied against a Vancouver bylaw prohibiting the practice.

The Evergreen House may feature an abundance of glass, but it still was registered as Built Green Gold—Tuer reached out to an energy modelling consultant to help confirm the energy flow of the design so he could further fine-tune the building envelope.
The Evergreen House may feature an abundance of glass, but it still was registered as Built Green Gold—Tuer reached out to an energy modelling consultant to help confirm the energy flow of the design so he could further fine-tune the building envelope. Photo by Deb Stringfellow.

But his spaces are also designed with beauty in mind, with angular lines and oversized windows aplenty. A tilted roof on one home embraces the energy of the bustling streetscape; a curved roof on another echoes the curve of the floor plan. In the works right now: a 5,000-square-foot dream home for a linguist expert, who spends much of his time in Borneo documenting the last nomadic people, and a reimagining of Bowen’s Snug Cove, complete with a new glass-and-timber infill grocery store and mixed-use developments. Tuer credits a sculpture course for affecting the way he views the aesthetics of his work. “It’s about looking at buildings as functional art objects and thinking about all four elevations. It’s about thinking holistically—how it’s going to look from all the views, how each side will react to its environment.”

And it’s about the give-and-take between physical structure and the natural elements, too: “You give birth to gardens but don’t raise them, while buildings are very concrete. It’s exciting to think about the two together.”

james tuer architecture
The curved roof here echoes the curve of the home’s floor plan. Photo by Deb Stringfellow.
james tuer eco designer 2015
Five passive environmental control systems—like radiant cooling concrete walls and rainwater harvesting tools—give the sleek, modern Garden House a small eco-footprint. Photo by Deb Stringfellow.
james tuer eco designer
The landscape utilizes elements of historic garden design, like a shift in foundation near the rear of the house, which creates a forced perspective (an Italian Renaissance trick). Photo by Rob Yagid.

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