Jerry Cooper's love affair with the land began in Rome. Cooper — now a LEED accredited professional, fellow of the American Institute of Architects and co-founder of renowned design firm Cooper Carry — studied there on a Fulbright scholarship after college.
"It was as if a curtain went up and I could see the flow of history through the architecture that was created to serve the societies of the various ages, beginning with the Greeks and continuing down to modern times," he says. "Though I had studied these various architectural styles in school and knew what they were, I did not know why they were. It was this understanding that changed much of what I had been taught in school."
Upon returning home, Cooper carried with him this reverence for buildings that could celebrate their land. In turn, it became one of the guiding principles of Cooper Carry, which he founded with partner Walter Carry in 1960. "In looking at Roman and Greek architecture I saw that there is not much difference between that which is architecture and that which is landscape," Cooper says. "I came back with an understanding of the relationship between architecture and landscape architecture, that they were really hand-in-glove as opposed to separated, as we'd been taught in school."
Cooper elaborates on his own uniquely developed approach: "Listening to the land is crucial, and I have found that as architects we don't know as much about the land as landscape architects do. And it's important for us to let them tell us about the land before we start." Criteria that might influence the architect's design process include tree cover, prevailing breezes, and where the sun will rise and set in summer and winter.
Becoming a LEED AP when the option became available in the late 1990s was a natural step for Cooper. "Believing as I do, there was no alternative," he says. A LEED accredited professional is an individual who has extensive knowledge and understanding of green building practices and principles along with the LEED rating system, and can administer the LEED certification process.
For those unfamiliar with LEED in general, the acronym stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and was first piloted in 1998 by the U.S. Green Building Council as a way to promote sustainable building. The program consists of different categories such as new construction, core and shell, existing buildings, multiple buildings, commercial interiors and residential. Through the rating system, both exterior and interior building projects can achieve different degrees of LEED certification, such as silver and gold.
Cooper Carry's overall culture reflects Cooper's personal philosophy: "Don't waste the land — it's in short supply," he says, adding, "It's not hard to see that unless we are careful we will run out of land. And so when I say don't waste the land, I mean don't build stuff on it that does not fulfill the promise of the land."
Cooper Carry has more than 60 LEED APs, which is high compared with other design firms of similar size. Appropriately, the firm's connective design philosophy can be summed up in one word: sustainability. Its professional staff incorporates all five key architecture disciplines: planners, architects, landscape architects, interior designers and environmental graphics designers. These teams all work interactively — this way they can address all projects within the firm.
Sustainability is not just a marketing word but a continuous conversation at Cooper Carry, which is evidenced by the in-house education programs meant to encourage and support team members' LEED accreditation. The firm incorporates ongoing programs offering employees the opportunity to learn and increase their command of sustainable design techniques.
So far, Cooper Carry has completed a variety of LEED-certified projects in the Northeast and Southeast United States, including its own Alexandria, Va., office. Others include the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Emory University's Mathematics and Science Center, and the office component of the Metropolitan in Charlotte, N.C. Many other projects are currently undergoing the certification process.