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TRENDER: Architect Christine West

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

 

Christine West and KITE Architects are thinking ahead to architecture that utilizes sustainable design.

Who are the Rhode Islanders leading in arts, fashion, food, and style? They're Trenders, and GoLocalProv offers glimpses of the people you most want to know on the scene. Today's Trender is Christine West, co-owner of KITE Architects and current Chair of the Providence City Planning Commission. An advocate of green, people-friendly architecture, her company designs everything from sustainable buildings, to community buildings (like the Girl Scouts of RI hall), to learning environments (such as the Carter Center for Music Education at the RI Philharmonic).

1. How did you become interested in architecture and design?

The moment I realized that architecture is about people I was hooked. For me architecture is not just about the bricks and mortar of buildings–it's about the people inside and how design can enhance their lives.

2. Are there any design trends you are particularly interested in at the moment?

I'm excited by the increasing amount of interest in urban, mixed-use projects that blend residential, office, retail uses to create more vibrant cities. Buildings that figure out how to have fresh and distinct personalities (yet respect their surroundings) pique my interest.

3. What projects are you currently working on that you are most excited about?

A lot of our work involves transformations. KITE is thrilled to be involved with the creation of a new, stylish and affordable hotel in a historic building in Downtown Providence that until recently suffered a rather seedy past as the Sportsman's Inn. The developers have a strong vision for a youthful approach to a hotel and includes work by many local craftspeople–I think it will reflect Providence's creative energy to visitors. At KITE we are also looking forward to completion of the new Wellness and Fitness Center at URI. We're turning around a neglected 1960's building into a re-energized hub for students to develop healthy lifestyles.

4. Your company is an advocate of green architecture and sustainable design. Where do you think Rhode Island sits in relation to other states in terms of sustainable design? Do we have a long way to go?

We are ahead of the curve in some respects–as a state we routinely tie with Vermont as using the least energy per capita thanks to our density and short commutes. We have a strong awareness of the health of the Bay and are growing efforts to reduce the damage that unmitigated drainage from buildings and surface parking lots can do, we're starting to tap our enormous potential for wind energy, and have some great programs to encourage energy retrofits of homes and businesses. Where we lag is the number of overtly branded "green" buildings, but every single one of KITE Architects' clients cares deeply about energy and sustainability and we work with them to be green in a very sensible and achievable way.

5. People might wonder whether homes can be both sustainable and beautiful. Do you think they can be? How so? Is your own home sustainably designed?

Of course! The best design comes from addressing a number wide-ranging goals, and finding balance so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The sense of light and comfort of a well designed green building is hard to photograph but it adds to that broader experience of beauty.

Our own home is a 1879 Victorian that is part of the very walkable Armory District so I live close enough bike to KITE Architects' office in Olneyville. We have a shady garden instead of a paved yard, we have insulated with blown-in recycled newspaper, and we repair and weatherstrip our original wood windows instead of replacing them with vinyl. We've replaced our inefficient appliances and recently put LED lights everywhere. It's a question of sensible updates and maintenance, which anyone can do affordably.

6. What is the best thing about working in Rhode Island? The most challenging aspect?

I love the sense of community and friendliness of Rhode Island. Among the people I know that have moved here from other places, there is a thriving undercurrent of optimism and opportunity mixed with creative energy, and a genuine appreciation for our sense of place. A challenge can be people's underdog mentality that believes if something is from here, it can't be first rate, but the tremendous talent and success stories in the state prove otherwise.

 

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