Sustainable Architect

Sustainable architects oversee the design and construction of buildings with a focus on the role a structure will play in its environment. For example, sustainable architects try to use only construction materials that won’t contribute to landfills, as well as making certain all the building’s systems and equipment have high energy-efficiency ratings. A sustainable architect’s primary goal is to create attractive, affordable, and comfortable buildings that do not harm the environment, either during their construction or their lifetime.

At a glance

Imagine you are standing amid a group of onlookers admiring the magnificent new City Hall building. You are a sustainable architect and this classic structure is your latest creation. Two years ago, members of city council asked you to design a replacement for the old City Hall, which was becoming too small. The council asked you to design not only a larger space but an environmentally friendly building to demonstrate the City's commitment to conserving and protecting the environment. After many revisions to the plans, many meetings with structural engineers and builders, and many months of construction, the building is finished. Based on your innovative design, the new City Hall is a model for sustainable building. As a sustainable architect, you had to fulfill a number of objectives when designing the new City Hall it was a challenging project. To begin, council needed more space but didn't want to build an imposing megastructure that dominated the landscape, so one of your design priorities was a building that had a positive impact on its environment while meeting council's space needs. Next, you focused on resource efficiency: you tried to use only materials produced locally, to reduce dependency on truck transportation and the pollution trucks contribute. You selected durable materials that won't need to be replaced often and avoided anything from non-renewable resources. You also concentrated on improving energy efficiency and providing healthy indoor air. The new building relies primarily on natural ventilation and has huge windows that capitalize on natural light. You incorporated solar energy, water-conserving bathrooms, and the most energy-efficient climate control system on the market. You've used every opportunity to conserve energy and water and reduce emissions with spectacular results.

Job duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as a sustainable architect:
  • Review relevant regulations from authorities having jurisdiction over a particular site or project.
  • Analyze information from project clients regarding soil conditions, site topography, and local weather conditions.
  • Consult with clients to determine functional and spatial requirements for a structure, as well as project budgets.
  • Assemble and lead a project team, including coordinating contributions from different disciplines into a comprehensive project plan.
  • Prepare information regarding design, structure specifications, materials, colour, equipment, estimated costs, and construction design.
  • Prepare scale drawings of projects.
  • Prepare contract documents for building contractors.
  • Prepare operation and maintenance manuals, studies, and reports.
  • Conduct periodic site inspections during construction to monitor compliance with architectural plans.
  • Research new building technology.

Work environment

Sustainable architects work in a variety of locations, including: In the office:
  • Doing paperwork, administering contracts, and preparing reports
  • Developing plans and construction details and coordinating with other disciplines
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, stakeholders, government departments, colleagues, consultants, and suppliers
  • Researching new technology and advancements in building
In the field:
  • Travelling to and conducting field inspections of sites for general conformance with construction documents
  • Making presentations to stakeholders, clients, contractors, and the public
  • Responding to requests from clients

Where to work

There are a number of places sustainable architects can find employment. They include:
  • Architecture firms
  • Colleges and universities
  • Private consulting firms
  • Product development and sales

Education & requirements

If you are a high school student considering a career as a sustainable architect, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
  • Biology
  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • English
  • Art
  • Social Studies
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as a sustainable architect is a university graduate degree. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as a sustainable architect, the following programs are most applicable:
  • Architecture
  • Environmental Design
  • Environmental Planning
  • Sustainable Development
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Environmental Engineering
In addition to the above programs, most sustainable architects go on to graduate programs in architecture or environmental design. In order to work as a sustainable architect, you must be registered with your provincial association. Most sustainable architects are also LEED-accredited professionals. (LEED is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.)


Sustainable architects in an entry level position make an average of $45,000 per year in Canada. A sustainable architect with several years of experience and education can make an average of $80,000 per year.

Role Model

Wanda Dalla Costa

Perhaps one of the main struggles in my life was choosing a career. In high school, I didn’t have any role models in careers I found interesting.  The number of careers available overwhelmed me. There were so many options; I had no idea what I would do after high school. I went directly to university, finished an undergraduate degree in sociology and native studies, followed by a year in law school and decided that a career in this field didn’t suit me. I decided to pursue my dream of backpacking around the world.  Over six years, I traveled to twenty-six different countries, many of which had indigenous cultures. I started to recognize that these places had their own form of architecture, usually influenced by the Indigenous cultures. I wondered what Canadian architecture would look like if it had been guided by Aboriginal culture and knowledge. This question led me to investigating architecture as a career. Growing up, my dad did a lot of home improvement work around the house. I followed his directions and hammered nails whenever I could. I definitely wasn’t afraid of building. Also, time spent drawing and making dreamcatchers showed an interest in art and design, which is an indicator that I would enjoy architecture. So, I put together a portfolio of my art and crafts and applied to graduate school. In university I really felt that I was forging new ground when I realized I was one of very few First Nations women in architecture. There were ONLY three women graduates in my class. There were no other Aboriginal students. As intimidating as this could have been, it is an advantage too. I was head hunted by the Federal Government two months after graduation. Governments and industry want to hire Aboriginal people with education and expertise in science and technology fields. Moreover, any private architectural firm would jump at the opportunity to hire Aboriginal architects, as they would have someone on staff with a knowledge of First Nations culture and tradition. I just became a LEEDTM Accredited Professional. LEEDTM stands for «Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.” It’s a designation offered through the United States Green Building Council designating a specialty in sustainable design or green building. I participate in a number of public speaking engagements and career fairs. My personal goal is to encourage Aboriginal students to continue their scholastic endeavors, and to think about a career in architecture. Our firm receives numerous awards each year for innovative work in sustainability and design. I’m looking forward to an upcoming gallery show for National Aboriginal Awareness Week that will showcase my work.  My work is very rewarding.