INTERVIEW by JESSICA PANDZIC | PHOTOGRAPHY courtesy of JAMES ANDREWS
A British native, James Andrews has been a refreshing voice in American architecture, participating in projects like Haven for Hope, a homeless shelter in San Antonio meant to shift the societal paradigm surrounding homelessness, and the U.S. Green Building Council, an organization meant to educate and empower citizens to choose sustainable building options. He was lucky to find a firm that aligns with his values and priorities while encouraging his professional growth; Overland Partners has been the foundation for James’ recent projects.
You are described as having a passion for serving the community and believing in environmental, economic, and cultural challenges as opportunities for ingenuity. Where does the inspiration for your passion and beliefs come from?
Growing up in the National Park in West Wales and having a father as an architect, I quickly learned that we need to look after the environment to prosper. The county in which I lived relied on its natural beauty for its economy. Everything that was built or modified needed to be very respectful of the natural architecture and the local craftsmanship and really utilize materials and products that were harvested or built locally to be sure that the economy itself was sustainable. That didn’t necessarily mean that we couldn’t innovate, especially when we had very challenging problems — environmental contamination or even natural disasters.
From an early age I was encouraged to try to solve problems in a built environment, and I’ve found that very intriguing over the last twenty-plus years. Using architecture as an outlet for problem solving, you have the opportunity to look at the whole project, not necessarily just the final building itself.
What brought you to Overland, a firm that promises to “model how we should live and influence the world through the practice of architecture”?
It was a really a wonderful gift to find Overland — a place that has such a profound outlook on their business and such core values that precede style or architectural types. I believe they are almost eternal in their approach to what they do.
[For me] it wasn’t about a firm that did cool residential or a firm that built certain types of buildings. It was about a firm that really wanted to influence the world, that really wanted to problem-solve and was very passionate about sustainability. It wasn’t just about sustainability — it was about looking at things like beauty, which is one of our design philosophies that is not always a fashionable thing to talk about. As an architect, when you exclude beauty or systems or sustainability or contextualism — as soon as you exclude one of those items, I don’t think that the whole picture is as compelling or long-lasting. Overland really wants to create places where we work that we really find inspiring, places where we live where there is community. That was something that I found absolutely compelling, and nine years later, here I am still.
Beauty and sustainability at Haven for Hope
Haven for Hope has been referred to as the “new national model for homeless shelters.” What is so unique about it?
The most significant thing about Haven for Hope is that it is really a wonderful collaboration between public and private sectors. Mr. Bill Greehey, a wonderful leader who had a vision to solve the problem of homelessness in San Antonio, contacted the Mayor and said, “This is something we need to do.” He set about creating a team of advocates and people who were researching the problems, visiting the homeless shelters, and gathering the support of local not-for-profits and city organizations.
Then we were brought on board. We worked very closely with the programming consultant and the executive director and actually had a whole series of interviews with the organizations that were going to be involved in the operation of Haven for Hope to understand their aspirations and their needs. To me, the public-private collaboration, which we hadn’t seen at many of the shelters that we’d been to, was the most unique aspect of Haven for Hope.
And how is the structure unique, sustainability-wise?
To start with, the whole area of the site was really a redundant portion of the city. It was an incredibly challenging and disconnected piece of the city. We felt it was very important to look at how the site itself could knit portions of the city together. We looked at what services we could provide that could be used by the surrounding communities. Our goal was to figure out how to encourage the community to come in and share the facility. The initial site planning was the most critical from a sustainable perspective.
The design of the Haven for Hope campus
The Bridge Homeless Assistance Center in Dallas
What fruits have you seen from those projects for the community?
The wonderful thing about these projects is that there’s lots of statistics. The success is not as easy to measure with many of our projects. In Dallas, some of the statistics are pretty incredible. At the second year The Bridge in Dallas was open there was a report that downtown crime had dropped over twenty percent. The police could not figure out anything that had changed other than that the homeless shelter was operating and able to accommodate people that otherwise may be committing petty crimes or misdemeanors. Those issues were no longer there, so the police were able to focus on other crimes and not have to spend their time dealing with the mentally handicapped or inebriated population of the downtown area. Instead, there was somewhere that they could go to be directed and taken care of, where they could have help and opportunities — Bridge changed their lives. The other statistics include over 2.5 million meals served, more than 1,400 people placed in housing, and over 900 jobs secured for the homeless. Some of these issues can be small; some can be life-changing. Those statistics have been very rewarding and encouraging.
You’ve been involved with the U.S. Green Building Council as a founding leader. How has the USGBC influenced the cities you build in?
Since joining Overland, I was encouraged to participate in the founding of the local USGBC Chapter. Since then, I’ve held various positions in supporting the organization grow; a couple of years ago I was the chairman of the organization. What we are looking to do is help educate people in central Texas on the benefits and costs of green building — it doesn’t necessarily have to cost more money. We’ve encouraged people to look and the cost in use over the lifespan of the project and to consider how it would truly impact the environment. We worked with various organizations including the City of San Antonio and the City of Austin as well as private sector developers to encourage them to “think green.” We give them tools and materials to do that. We believe it is very important to not just advocate, but to be able to support organizations with information that could help them make important decisions on building green.
How can Daily BR!NK contribute the your success and the success of Overland Partners?
Encourage people to think a little differently about how architects work; their training encourages them to think creatively, deeply, and holistically about problems. Engage them in problem-solving activities that your businesses or organizations may be having.
support for architects