One can tell a lot about architect Eric Corey Freed by the dozens of biology and nature books piled around his desk,
“I'll often sketch or make tiny sculptures of odd, fictional biological creatures,” Freed said. “Getting away from the computer and using my hands on something tactile helps me reconnect to reality.” As the founding Principal of organicARCHITECT, with locations in San Francisco and Palm Springs, Calif., Freed finds himself constantly traveling around the United States, designing, consulting, and giving presentations about green design.
“I started organicARCHITECT in 1997 as an alternative to the traditional design practices I saw when I moved to San Francisco,” Freed said. “Having just come from working for several green visionaries in New York and Santa Fe, I felt I had accumulated some experiences that I could bring to my own projects.”
In preparation for his move to San Francisco, Freed said he called almost every architect in the San Francisco phone book and spoke with them about their philosophy and approach. “The few like-minded firms I found were too small to hire me, so I launched off on my own,” he recalled.
The first projects Freed worked on were remodels and additions. “Over the years, the projects have grown in size and scope, but I have no minimum size requirements,” he said. “I choose the client, not the project, and we work around the country.”
Today, Freed is a consultant to companies on the sustainability of everything from their products to their marketing to their buildings.
“I often consult on projects where I am not the architect - they already have an architect and I am asked to collaborate on greening the design,” he said.
An Early StartWhen Eric Corey Freed was young, he drew pictures of buildings.
“I was eight years old when someone first asked me if I was going to be an architect, and that is when I had a name for what I enjoyed doing,” he said. “The benefit of knowing your passion at such a young age is that it gives you great perspective on the type of career you want to have.”
Freed knew that it wasn’t enough to simply be an architect. “I wanted to be a good architect that pushed the boundaries of design and was striving to make the world a better place,” he said. “At ten, I visited my first Frank Lloyd Wright building and was hooked.”
Freed said the term “organic architecture” was the way Wright described “the process of building the way nature builds.”
“My company, organicARCHITECT, is really named in deference to him,” Freed noted.
Freed attended Temple University School of Architecture in Philadelphia, Pa., and graduated with honors. Since then, he has lived and worked in Philadelphia, New York, Santa Fe, N.M., and San Francisco.
“One needs great mentors in order to be successful, and I have had many,” Freed noted. “When I was just 25 years old, noted architect and critic Philip Johnson was kind enough to describe me as one of the real brains of his generation.”
In addition, Freed worked for a variety of former Wright devotees and apprentices before launching his own firm in 1997.
Past ProjectsEric Corey Freed’s focus began on houses, but over time it has grown to include schools and hospitality projects.
“I love all three because they involve the end user interacting with the design in wonderful ways,” Freed said. “I also love that homes, schools and hotels can serve as learning environments where we can educate them about their environmental impact and radically change their behavior.”
Freed said he is a “bit of a tortured artist,” in that he is never fully pleased with the final design.
“There are always things to improve, to evolve,” he said. “And as such, I am always more interested in the next project and the next opportunity I can have to create something new.”
As an architect, Freed’s ultimate goal is to have happy clients. “In that way I am proud that I can make my clients happy,” he said. “As for pride, I am proud of my students and thrilled that I have been able to influence their career paths toward a more responsible one.”
Freed is also proud of the various nonprofit organizations he has worked with over the years. “The great change they have brought,” he confessed. “For myself, I think I am too self-critical to be proud.”
Impact of SustainabilityFreed has lectures at over 40 conferences a year, which exposes his thoughts to about 10,000 people a year. His latest innovations are in materials and systems.
“Companies often show up on our doorstep to show me their latest products, which allows us to try them out and provide feedback to the manufacturer,” Freed said. “A large part of our work is research, which is a full time effort for me.”
By writing a book every couple of years, creating a new lecture presentation each year and authoring a dozen articles a year, Freed said he is able to keep abreast of some of the most recent advances in the green movement.
“Though there is still so much more to see and learn it is not impossible to keep up on everything,” he said.
Still, for Freed, the term “sustainability” implies something as you'd see in nature. “It suggests a joyful abundance and an endless stream of design solutions,” he said. “But sustainability also requires responsibility: taking responsibility for our actions, for our impact and for our future generations.”
Green Building & Remodeling for Dummies and Other BooksFreed was approached in 2006 to write his book, “Green Building & Remodeling for Dummies.”
“I realized that this was what was needed: simple, no-nonsense advice for how to green your home,” he remembered. “The book fills an important need, and de-mystifies green building into something that anyone can do.”
Since he wrote “Green Building & Remodeling for Dummies,” Freed has written three more books. The latest one, “Green$ense for the Home: Rating the Real Payoff from 50 Green Home Projects,” shows 50 things that anyone (even renters) can do in their homes and calculates how it saves them money.
“In all my books, I like to use simple and fun analogies and metaphors to explain complex ideas,” he said. “I don't believe in using guilt, which is no way to sell environmentalism.”
The FutureIn the last couple of years, Eric Corey Freed has been working with various cities around the country to help them embrace green building and development. From training their staff, to pitching their city council members, to helping draft a green building ordinance or policy, he has been having a lot of fun helping reshape our cities beyond the architecture.
“As much as I love designing, I find such government policy work equally fulfilling and impactful,” Freed noted.
In the next five years, Freed said he will be growing in scope, but not in size.
“Rather than bulking up with more staff, I prefer to partner with other firms,” Freed said. “Instead of competing with people I admire, I'd rather work alongside them.”
Every project is a chance for this type of collaboration, and Freed said he has many collaborators. “I think of it as the ‘Dream Team’ approach,” he said. “organicARCHITECT can partner with other great firms and bring our combined experience to a project.”
Still, being green is not enough for Freed.
“Every building should be a green building,” he said. “We also need to design something beautiful, something original and something that takes a creative approach to solving our clients’ problems. “Rather than copying the past, we can invent a unique style for each project. Every building is a chance to express the personality of the clients, of the site, and of the materials.”