INTERVIEW: Paul Kephart of Rana Creek
As far as green roof designers go, you can’t get much more committed or accomplished than the team at Rana Creek. While their name often gets partially eclipsed by the names of their starchitect collaborators, such as William McDonough and Renzo Piano, it’s Rana Creek’s genius that yields such massive marvels as the rooftops of the Gap corporate headquarters and the California Academy of Sciences.
I discovered Rana Creek at CA Boom, the West Coast annual design show. Across a huge exhibition floor, I was drawn to Rana Creek’s living wall display, which they’d custom designed for the occasion as an example of a climate-appropriate botanical rain catchment system. Of course, the technical functions of the wall weren’t the main attractor; rather, it was the incredible artistry of the sculptural bent metal, through which succulents were penetrating by what seems like the sheer force of a plant’s irrepressible will to thrive.
It’s a metaphor for the whole organism that is Rana Creek Habitat Restoration and Living Architecture, a California-based firm with a committment to sustainable innovation matched by a tremendously impressive project portfolio. When I met the two team representatives, Freya Bardell and Brent Bucknum, both were adamant that I speak with with their Exective Director, Paul Kephart, who they made to sound like an ecological prophet with a vision for the future that must be heard.
As it turns out, their zeal was not unfounded. A few weeks later, I had a chance to interview Paul, and gain a broader understanding of the mission and philosophy underlying Rana Creek’s tenacious green pursuits. Beginning as a painter on the Big Sur coast with a passion for natural habitats, Paul is now a leading restoration ecologist and resource planner. It was a delight to have a conversation with such a deeply knowledgeable, wholeheartedly committed, and genuinely optimistic innovator.
The interview to follow us the first part of two – you can check out our second interview here.
Sarah: So tell me how you’ve seen the interest level in green roofs evolve since you began.
Paul: Well, there is a great interest today, that’s for sure! When I first started, there was less. A lot of these great ideas started with some art and science integration, and all of the tenets and houses that support psychological and natural processes. When I did the project with Bill McDonough at the Gap [Headquarters in San Bruno, California], it was a little far out – a green roof in a Mediterranean climate. But now things are happening, and I think people are beginning to understand what is sustainable and what isn’t. People are beginning to recognize the importance of sustainable design and planning and construction. And they are starting to see the economic benefits, as well. I am pretty encouraged. Having spent 20 years doing this and now seeing it as both “main street” and “mainstream” is really a rewarding and fulfilling experience.
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