An interview with LHB CEO Rick Carter, FAIA, on ways to reduce the energy footprint of building projects and move the buildings toward the regenerative end of the of the 21st Century Development matrix

By Sheri Hansen

The 21st Century Development model (May/June 2019 issue), a new framework for architects, developers, funders, policymakers, and other community stakeholders, is all about radical incrementalism: How can we make strides in key areas of building performance to provide a healthy environment for all people and living systems today and into the future? How can we move, step by step, toward a regenerative reality in architecture?

The energy category in the 21CD matrix focuses on moving development from the standard model of drawing energy from the grid, regardless of source, to setting and exceeding energy-efficiency and renewable-energy standards. From there, it seeks to create more renewable, nonpolluting energy than a project uses, and finally to attain energy resilience through onsite storage of energy from nonpolluting sources—the highest level of achievement.

Architecture MN talked to LHB CEO Rick Carter, FAIA, a national leader in sustainable design, about the levels of energy performance in the 21CD matrix and where Minnesota is making its biggest energy strides.

Where do most of your clients fall when it comes to energy efficiency as a priority?
At LHB, we have many clients who are eager to find ways to save energy. We’re designing more buildings with the intention of providing enough photovoltaic capacity to meet the building’s energy needs. We designed Hook & Ladder, a multifamily project in Northeast Minneapolis that marries affordable housing and top-tier energy-savings strategies, including the use of Passive House design for the first time at this scale in Minnesota. We would love to work with clients who are so far ahead of standard practice that we would have to hustle to keep up with them, but most of our clients need a roadmap for how to do better on energy.

What do owners, developers, and architects still need in order to make the leap to regenerative energy design? When will we start to see real progress?
In many areas, it doesn’t feel like we’re that far away from solutions that would enable the highest levels of energy performance. In Minnesota, we already have one net-zero-energy project—the Science House at the Science Museum of Minnesota—and more than 200 buildings that were designed using Minnesota’s Sustainable Building 2030 Energy Standard.

To reach regenerative design, our biggest leap will likely be to remove natural gas from our projects. This is a large undertaking in Minnesota’s climate, but solutions exist in the form of district energy systems and cold-climate heat pumps. This topic is gaining momentum both locally and nationally; it was discussed as part of the Ford Site redevelopment in St. Paul, and Berkeley, California, recently became the first city to ban natural gas in new homes.

How are you helping your clients move toward regenerative energy practices?
By signing on to the AIA 2030 Commitment and tracking how the predicted—and actual—energy use of our projects compares to the 2030 standards, we are helping our clients achieve greater levels of efficiency and renewable-energy generation. To help with this, we are leveraging emerging energy-modeling tools that help us move toward our vision of seeing the energy impacts of each design decision in real time as the design progresses.

In addition to our work at the building scale, we’re working on these issues at the community scale through the Regional Indicators Initiative. With community-wide energy data now available for more than 60 Minnesota cities, we are helping start conversations about how local regulation, education, incentives, and leadership can promote energy-efficient buildings, renewable-energy systems, thermal-energy grids, electric-vehicle-charging infrastructure, and statewide policy change.

Are there any new projects that are moving the needle in creative ways?
We’re working on several research projects that explore creative ways to improve energy outcomes. One strategy we are studying involves providing power to lights and devices through ethernet connections. This approach enables highly refined controls that can be used for both centralized power management (e.g., to cut power when not needed) and individualized controls to optimize occupant comfort (e.g., adjusting lighting brightness or color temperature).

How can 21CD tools help advance the cause of regenerative energy in building projects?
The 21CD framework presents a shared vision for owners and developers who are looking to go beyond efficiency in their projects. The matrix helps define the terms, while the case studies make them tangible by providing examples of built projects. By focusing on the opportunity to create resilient and regenerative energy systems, 21CD can excite all stakeholders about the future they can create.

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Launched in 2018, 21st Century Development is a model for the creation of regenerative communities—communities that strive to provide a healthy environment for all people and living systems now and in a dynamic future.
Learn more about the 21CD performance areas, development matrix, and case studies at