As one half of the founding partnership of San Antonio’s Lake|Flato Architects, Ted Flato has created buildings lauded for both beauty and sustainability. Along with partner David Lake, Ted Flato strives to design structures that are natural partners with the environment. The pursuit of that goal has garnered the firm impressive accolades: 155 state and regional and national American Institute of Architect awards and in 2004, the industry’s most prestigious prize—the AIA Firm of the Year award. In 2006, Lake|Flato was the only firm honored with two Top Ten Green Projects by the AIA Committee on the Environment. As a longtime member of The Nature Conservancy, Ted is helping to ensure that the land surrounding the beautiful structures he has created will remain unchanged by time
“I grew up in Texas and the outdoors were a really important part of my childhood. When I started out in architecture, my first jobs were small projects out in the country. The goal was to make a connection to the outdoors—to work with the climate, work with the place, work with the landscape. That goal was a natural outgrowth of my early love of the outdoors. In striving for that connection with nature, it’s natural to make projects that are highly sustainable and environmentally sensitive; to create buildings that are specific to their place. To this day, that has been our driving consideration behind the way we design.
“When our forefathers came and built buildings here they had no choice but to work with the landscape, but there was also a ‘man against nature’ attitude about the outdoors. Structures tended to be protected from the elements rather than connected to them. With the advent of technology, and in particular air conditioning, connecting with a place and respecting the climate became less of a necessity. So we started designing buildings that reached back and borrowed from old ideas that had been around for generations—things like large, breezy porches and shady eaves—but then adding new, energy-conscious technology.
“When it comes to energy, the stakes are as high as they’ve ever been. Buildings that aren’t designed to be sustainable and efficient are irresponsible and will be more expensive in the long run. Every job we take, we build smartly with respect to energy, using healthy materials, and carefully considering sites, neighbors and natural features. That’s our conservation ethic.
“When we design buildings, we are always thinking about the larger context. One of the most recent building we’re designing now has photovoltaic cells on top and is an energy producer instead of just a full consumer. It’s the largest solar array in the state, although hopefully it won’t be for long. Water is obviously an enormous issue here in South Texas, so we have designed cisterns to capture and collect the rainwater off of the roofs. But the largest sustainable effort has been recycling existing buildings; taking advantage of what’s already been built and thus using less energy to build. We’re also trying to cut energy by putting our efforts into projects that are closer to downtown, rather than on city outskirts. We are encouraging companies and people to move closer to downtown. Once they do, they’ll be less reliant on their cars and more likely to walk, or bicycle or take public transportation.
“We need to consider the problems we’re facing with sprawl in urban settings. We need denser, more livable cities that are more efficient for residents. We need thoughtful development on the edges of urban areas and abundant natural protected areas. That’s what The Nature Conservancy does so well, and it’s why I’m a member and supporter.
“Building green already makes great business sense. We need the business community because we have real issues, real challenges ahead of us. The environment will be critically important to that community.”