With more than 16 years of experience in architecture, planning, interiors and historic preservation for public and private entities, Amber Richane leads CallisonRTKL’s Performance-Driven Design initiatives at the Los Angeles, California office. She excels at assessing different development schemes for mixed-use projects by seeking functional design solutions and research-based design alternatives. A sustainable strategies leader in her market, her skills in examining urban densities, analyzing data and determining efficiencies make her a valuable asset to any design team approaching large or small scale-projects. Modelo spent some time learning about Amber's path through architecture and design, and about how her sustainable approach has evolved over time.
On becoming an interior designer
I kind of fell into architecture and design. Growing up, I had very cool parents who encouraged me to explore all of my interests as long as I kept my grades up in school. During my junior year of high school, I took an interior decorating class, and that course made me want to major in interior design when I went to college. My dad wasn’t thrilled with my choice, so we compromised on architecture. I applied to the Environmental Design program at Syracuse University, which is a multi-disciplined program that encompasses architecture, interiors and landscape architecture. I was hooked immediately.
Their methodology is to design buildings from the outside-in and from the inside-out—a very holistic philosophy that jived perfectly with my green upbringing. I love the intersection of nature, design and program. What really sealed the deal for me, though, was visiting Fallingwater, the Pennsylvania residence designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. I just felt it in my bones, as if I had returned home. The magic of how that building and its interiors blend so seamlessly with the environment still stays with me today.
On discovering her voice as a designer
I think I am still trying to find my full voice as a designer. It’s an on-going and iterative process. My path has taken me in many different directions like office space planning, historic preservation, interior design, strategic planning, urban design and sustainable design. I have been lucky to have some really great bosses and mentors who have guided me in my career. Most notably, I have had some incredibly strong female mentors who have taken me under their wing and helped navigate a mostly male profession.
On joining CallisonRTKL
I joined Callison almost 10 years ago before the company became CallisonRTKL. It was the firm that my then-boss recommended to me, and he couldn’t have given me a better gift. CallisonRTKL has been a great fit. It has allowed me to expand my design aesthetic, dig deep into sustainable design practice and push my colleagues towards a more sustainable future. I feel that my work has gone from largely theory-based to more substantial, data-backed solutions during my time at CallisonRTKL.
On specific principles she strives to adhere to
My work is wholly focused on sustainability. I don’t specialize in a specific type of project, but I instead strive to bring sustainability to all project teams. My primary focus is setting goals to solve problems for clients using performance-based solutions. This method helps CallisonRTKL provide smarter and more sustainable solutions that save energy and water, reduce waste and provide better environmental quality.
On her role at CallisonRTKL
As the Performance-Driven Design℠ (PDD) Lead at CallisonRTKL, I direct a team of sustainability experts that works with our project teams to define sustainability goals including energy reduction targets. Another part of that job is education. When working with project teams, we also educate them about sustainability so more of their work will follow sustainable principles. I sometimes joke that my job is to make sure I don’t have a job in the future.
On recent projects that represent the firm's unique approach
Our approach is really about bringing value to our clients through sustainable practices. What that means in a general sense is that, while it’s great to save energy and water, it’s even better to do that while also designing a building that will sell for a higher price, command stronger rents and lease more quickly than its competitors.
Our work with AT&T is a great example of our approach. This is one of only a small handful of LEED Platinum retail projects out there. We used a completely integrated design process and ran everything through a cost/benefit analysis before deciding on a direction. This informed every decision we made and allowed us to target the most effective credits for the money and achieve the highest LEED certification target.
Lotte Center Hanoi is another example of how CallisonRTKL designs for the local culture and climate. This project’s sleek and tapered design is in reference to the traditional “ao dai” garment—a design unique to Vietnam. The tower is oriented along a southwest/northeast axis, minimizing the building’s solar heat gain and maximizing exposure to the area’s prevailing wind direction, providing the best conditions for natural ventilation. Six-story sky garden atria are an integral part of the tower’s cross ventilation strategy. Rainwater harvesting, greywater systems and water-efficient appliances reduce potable water needs and are critical components of the tower’s performance. The building’s sewage is also treated on-site in membrane bioreactors.
In additional I think our strong legacy of sustainable projects really speaks for itself. Our firm designed Mirdif City Centre, the first LEED Gold retail mall in the Middle East, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Headquarters, which is the largest LEED Gold federal building, and we were the first to receive LEED Gold certification for a private development in Seattle for 2201 Westlake. Not to mention the San Antonio Military Medical Complex, which won the 2015 AIA COTE award.
On her design toolkit
We have a number of external and internal tools that we use for assessment. We have developed the DART and Matrix to help assess and explain sustainable strategies as external resources. For our project work, we use climate analysis to discern what passive strategies are appropriate. We look to optimize our waste streams as part of the operations of the building typology to further reduce our impact and create value for the client. We then work with a variety of software like IES, DIVA, Radiance and Sefaira to ensure our projects utilize passive strategies, make the architectural elements perform better, and design smarter outcomes.
On the state of design software today
The speed at which design software development is moving is impressive. New applications and software are being invented every day, and many of these allow us to work more intelligently and seamlessly while also helping us to more accurately analyze climatic conditions. I think the single biggest inhibitor to using them on all projects, though, is computing power and the time it takes to test multiple options.
On the future of design in the next 5-10 years
We’ll see the first driverless cars and see computer speeds unlike anything we can even comprehend right now. Designers will be more collaborative and will figure out how to use crowd-sourcing to solve design projects with hyper-local solutions. I believe that carbon neutral buildings and spaces will become commonplace and that we will be able to start reversing the effects of climate change.
On the future of the firm in the next 5-10 years
These are actually questions that we constantly keep in mind. Where will our business take us in five to ten years? What do we need to be thinking about now to facilitate how we want to shape that future? We continuously assess the tools that we need, new markets we can break into and what type of work will keep us relevant on a global scale.
On advice she would give her younger self
If I could give my younger self some sage advice it would be: if you see an opportunity, take it. Push yourself to do things you aren’t comfortable with and always keep learning.