BI architect builds for the future with sustainable design

In 2023, heat waves across the world caused record-breaking temperatures.

Although the reason is obvious to most scientists, climate change has become political—dividing people on crucial issues related to the environment, and how we treat the planet to ensure its health for future generations. To reverse course, environmental awareness is essential in all we do.

Architect Jason McLennan, CEO of McLennan Design on Bainbridge Island and creator of the Living Building Challenge, is clearly environmentally aware.

Growing up in Sudbury, Ontario, once known as the most polluted town in Canada, influenced his work and his initiative to change the course of environmental degradation in his hometown, and worldwide.

Knowing he wanted to create sustainable design, McLennan began a journey in the field of architecture. He earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Oregon, which pushed the envelope of sustainable design. He then went to the University of Glasgow School of Art, where he indulged in the creative process.

Those experiences led him to graduate school at the University of Kansas where his academic work resulted in him becoming a licensed architect.

In one of the seven books McLennan has authored, “The Philosophy of Sustainable Design,” he defined his nature-oriented efforts as “a philosophical approach where we attempt to eliminate the negative impact on the planet through design.”

McLennan’s work reflects his philosophy. From planning to post-production, he and his firm implement earth-focused design principles through material use, energy use and climate-driven styles. The philosophy also drives the relationships he builds with laborers as McLennan Design chooses engineers and builders that use the same philosophy.

McLennan doesn’t limit his calling of sustainability to architecture; it’s forefront in all of his ideas. Although he was not part of the design process, McLennan worked on Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena’s sustainability strategy. That work resulted in the implementation of a living wall, featuring 11 species of western hemlock native to the Northwest; making the ice for hockey play from rainwater; and restricting use of fossil fuels for any process of the building.

Despite his success, McLennan recognizes attitudes are hard to change. “People learn to build one way and don’t like to change,” he said.

So, McLennan Design has proposed a School of Regenerative Design to be housed at Fort Ward Park on BI. Here, according to the school’s website, McLennan plans to transform the practice of architecture, design, planning, landscape and interiors through teaching graduate-level students and returning practitioners in a holistic, interdisciplinary approach that equips them with a new way of thinking—appropriate to deal with the social and ecological challenges of the Anthropocene.

If we are to stop record-breaking heat waves, environmental awareness like sustainable design is necessary for the future of the earth.

McLennan said, “It’s not about trade-offs; it’s about better.”

Caleb Grayson is a senior at Bainbridge High School.