From Basketball to Buildings, Ed Mazria Earns a Slam Dunk With Architecture 2030

November 6, 2019 Redshift Video

At the end of high school, Ed Mazria had no idea what architecture was about and had never even considered a career in the field. After all, he was a gifted basketball player whose talent on the court earned him a full-ride scholarship (and eventually the attention of the New York Knicks) to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY—which happens to have a renowned architecture program. It was there that Mazria decided to become an architect.

After years of practicing architecture and becoming a leader in passive solar energy, Mazria made a massive discovery about the impact the building sector had on climate change that ultimately altered the course of his career—and shifted an entire industry. Watch the video to learn about Mazria’s incredible story.

[Video Transcript]

Ed Mazria: If you want to stab an architect in the heart, tell him that his projects are destroying not only the place but the planet.

Ed Mazria was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1940.

I’m a native of Brooklyn, New York. I was born there. I spent my childhood and through my college days, actually, in Brooklyn, New York. My father and mother were a first-generation immigrant family. Our grandparents all came from the Middle East. We essentially lived in the park with our friends, and we spent three quarters of our lives growing up on the basketball court. So at the end of the high school career, I was one of the best ball players in the city. 

Mazria was spotted by the basketball coach from Pratt Institute at an all-star game and offered a full ride on the spot.

The only problem was, he had no idea what he wanted to study.

I had no idea what architecture school was all about or what architecture was all about. When we first went into our first class, the instructor said: “Most of you probably will not make it through the first year. We’re going to eliminate about a hundred of you.” And we’re going, “Oh, gee.”

My first year, I squeaked by with a C minus. By my sophomore year and junior year, I moved from C, up to B minus, to B, and then by my senior year, I was an A student. But it wasn’t easy, I’ll tell you.

There’s always an edge in New York. When you’re 5 or 6 years old, you start to develop that edge, and so I had that edge big time and always wanted to be the best.

For his age, Mazria became one of the highest scorers and rebounders in the country.

I was drafted by the New York Knicks, and that was quite an honor. To be drafted in the pros was a big deal in New York. From there, I come out with a degree, and I’m ready to go to the summer camp with the Knicks, and I get a draft notice for the Army.

Mazria went into the Peace Corps in lieu of serving in the Vietnam War and spent two years practicing architecture in Peru.

It was really eye-opening to know that there were other worlds outside of Brooklyn, New York, where I spent all that time.

When his service was over, Mazria took a job with the architecture firm Edward Larrabee Barnes Associates.

I’m working at Barnes’s office, playing ball on the weekends, and a group of my friends said: “We’re going West. We’re leaving. We’re going to be leaving New York, and we’re going out to California to make our fortunes and everything else.” So I said: “Okay, I’ll go with you guys. Let’s just do an exploratory trip.”

On the trip, Mazria fell in love with the landscape of the Southwest and determined the easiest way to move would be to apply for a teaching position at a university.

So I wrote to the University of New Mexico, UCLA, and Berkeley. I sent out a letter, and, instantly, as soon as they get the letter, I get a call from the University of New Mexico: “Can you come teach tomorrow?”

The University of New Mexico hired him to teach at its architectural school, where he taught for three years.

It’s the middle ’70s. You know what’s going on in the middle—there’s a whole cultural shift in the US, like, seismic shift. And the epicenter of the shift was Berkeley, California. Everybody wanted to teach at Berkeley.

Mazria interviewed for a position at the University of California, Berkeley after his three-year stint at the University of New Mexico.

Unfortunately, he didn’t get the job but landed a teaching gig at the University of Oregon instead.

I said, “What will I teach?” Just like, “What course would I take,” I say, “What would I teach?” So he says, “Solar energy.” I said: “Look, I don’t know anything about solar energy. I know zero.”

Mazria went back to New Mexico and spent six months studying solar energy with Ray Harrigan, an engineer with Sandia National Laboratories, to prepare for his new position at the University of Oregon.

At the University of Oregon, Mazria worked with Steve Baker, a brilliant graduate student, to research and develop a complete design and sizing procedure for passive solar energy.

After two years, we had figured out how to really apply solar energy to architecture.

After a two-year collaboration, they developed a complete process for designing passive-solar heated, cooled, and daylit buildings.

Armed with over two years of work, Mazria and Baker wrote three papers and presented them at the Passive Solar Conference in Philadelphia.

And at the end, you could hear a pin drop. There’s complete silence.

Building on the positive reception of his work, Mazria developed a passive-solar design language and turned it into a book that became the seminal text on the subject: The Passive Solar Energy Book.

Mazria and Baker’s research was a revelation in the field of solar technology, and many builders and architects immediately began to implement the new findings.

So I was giving talks here, giving a conference there. I figured, from my experience at Barnes’s office in New York and everything else, it was time to open a practice. I wanted to now practice architecture.

And so I opened the practice, and because of the book and the reputation that we had, the people who wanted to do that really progressive solar architecture came to us, and so we immediately got work.

With thriving offices in Albuquerque and then Santa Fe, NM, Mazria’s architecture firm flourished.

By this time, optimizing designs for passive solar energy had become second nature for Mazria.

He started holding weekly seminars to share this knowledge with the young architects in his practice.

Friday afternoon after lunch, the rest of the afternoon was a seminar on what I did for the solar stuff in architecture and everything else. This was really early on when we started the seminars, and the second, third day into the seminars, all of a sudden, there were headlines that were coming up that the architects in the office were reading about. An SUV dealership in Denver was burned down. People are starting to get a little radical on this climate-change stuff.

Amid rising environmental concerns of the time, Mazria decided to further research the building sector’s impact on the environment.

While vacationing with his family in Disneyland in 2000, he brought some books along to learn more. His findings were shocking.

I’m reading The Limits to Growth. I remember this page that we discussed in my seminar, which is population growth and exponential growth. So what took from the beginning of time to do to 1970—so, thousands and thousands of years—it took us to get to 3 billion, and it was on an exponential curve like this [gestures]. So here’s 3 billion. And they projected it up going like this, and they said in the next 30 years, if we keep on this exponential curve, we will double the population. It’ll go to 6 billion people by the year 2000. What took us from the beginning of time to do to 1970, we will do the same thing in 30 years. I said, “That’s not possible.” And I get on my little computer, type in “population year 2000”—6 billion people. And I almost fell off my chair.

This realization led Mazria to examine the impact that the architecture and building industries could be having on climate change. 

We specify every material that goes into a building. Nobody tells us, “Should we make it out of steel or concrete?” We determine if it’s concrete or steel. We determine the spans—the client doesn’t get involved in that. We determine pretty much everything. So I go in the industrial sector—it’s a little sketchy, but I can figure out roughly. I pop that in the building sector, and I come out with this building sector that’s half of the pie.

Never before had anyone calculated how much buildings and construction contributed to energy consumption and global warming.

There was no building sector. Everybody was focused on SUVs and burning down dealerships. So I go, “Ohhhhhhh.” I do it in the seminar, and everybody is like: “Wow. How are we gonna get the word out?” I said, “Well, we’ll write an article.”

Metropolis publishes a cover story about Mazria’s findings that turns the architecture field on its head.

We put out the targets, and within 30 days, the American Institute of Architects—it’s a huge organization; there were 60,000 then; there are 90,000 members now; they don’t move very fast because you’ve got a huge membership—within a month, they adopt the targets, and energy consumption in the building sector in the US is going like this [gestures]. The targets are issued in 2006; on a dime, it turns like this [gestures] and levels out. Unbelievable that the community responded so quickly.

This led to Mazria founding Architecture 2030, an organization devoted to advancing the development of sustainable, resilient, equitable, and carbon-neutral buildings and communities.

Today, Mazria is committed to the global adoption of Architecture 2030’s emissions targets and programs.

He travels the world to educate professionals in the building sector and work with national and local governments.

Mazria attributes much of his success to the love and support of his wife, Asenath, and his daughter, Demetra.

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