Jason McLennan is considered one of the world’s most influential individuals in the fields of architecture and green building today.
McLennan is the head of McLennan Design, his own architecture and planning firm, and is the founder of the International Living Future Institute, whose mission is to promote a society that is socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative.
McLennan was the keynote speaker at this year’s MoonShot 5×5 event, presented by Jackson Hole Public Art, which featured pitches from seven local creatives in a fast-paced round of ideas aimed at provoking thoughts of wide-ranging public art possibilities. He joined us in advance of the event here in the KHOL studios.
Listen above for more and check out a transcript of the interview below. This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
KHOL/JACK CATLIN: What initially got you interested in sustainability and how did it shape your career from that point on?
JASON McLENNAN: I’ve been involved in this movement from the very beginning. I grew up in a mining town in northern Canada that was heavily impacted by mining. I saw firsthand the impact on the planet that we can have when we don’t think about how we get things from the earth. And I basically, from that point on, dedicated my life to trying to understand how we can do better with the design of our cities and towns, our buildings, our homes. And I’ve been on a bit of a personal journey for for many years now.
It started when I was young. I fell in love with nature, spent a lot of time outdoors. I think people here can relate to that. You know, it’s upsetting when development happens that harms these places we love. And I saw firsthand, as so many people do, people developing things without thought, without consideration, and there’s better ways. And that’s what we’re all about … showing people that there’s a better way of doing things.
KHOL: So you are the founder and creator of the Living Building Challenge, widely considered the world’s most progressive and stringent green building program. Can you walk us through the living building philosophy, how you came up with the challenge and how it all works?
McLENNAN: Absolutely. And it really is a philosophy. Ultimately, we take inspiration from nature itself. I want people to think about a tree or … a plant in their yard, which is really nature’s architecture. Like a building, nature’s architecture, a tree is rooted [in] place. It has a foundation, has roots, goes into the ground and holds it firm, has structure. It’s actually habitat for other species, just like our buildings are habitat for us. And it generates energy from the sun and has to be evolved very specifically to the place that it’s at. It builds soil and creates fresh air and again, is creating habitat for insects and microorganisms and so many other things. Now, imagine if our buildings could do all those things as well. Imagine if our buildings were not just places that housed us [and] had this sort of negative environmental legacy behind them, but in fact, did everything that a tree can do. And in essence, that’s what a living building is trying to do. It’s trying to get all of its energy from the sun. It’s trying to live within the water balance of the place that it’s in. It is nontoxic and infinitely recyclable, and it’s a tall order. But we do have living building projects now around the world and we’re showing that these ideas are not just theory but very possible.
Listen above for KHOL’s full conversation with architect and visionary Jason McLennan.
This coverage is funded in part with an Arts For All grant provided by the Town of Jackson and Teton County.