by: AIA New York
Through practice, research, and advocacy, Stas Zakrzewski, FAIA, CPHD, Principal, ZH Architects, has pioneered high-performance architecture and modern design with his expertise in Passive House and Mass Timber, fostering a new breed of low-carbon, low-impact buildings. Based in New York City, ZH Architects’s work focuses on integrating sustainable practices into a body of modern and design driven work. ZH has completed several high-performance/passive house projects ranging from 24-story residential high-rises to mid-rise retrofits and smaller scale single-family homes and townhouses. This range of work has provided an understanding of the hurdles and opportunities available in the current code and regulatory climate. Zakrzewski has held roles as a member of the AIANY Committee on the Environment, President of New York Passive House (NYPH), and has advised on NYC’s DOB Energy Code Committees. Zakrzewski currently acts as co-chair for the Multifamily Working Group for NYC’s Climate Mobilization Act, also known as Local Law 97.
This year, the Jury of Fellows of the AIA elevated Zakrzewski to its prestigious College of Fellows in the second category of Fellowship, which recognizes architects who have made efforts “To advance the science and art of planning and building by advancing the standards of practice,” according to the organization’s definition. Only three percent of the AIA’s membership is distinguished with Fellowship. Zakrzewski’s distinction was celebrated at the AIA Conference on Architecture in Chicago, and in two receptions at AIA New York’s Center for Architecture.
Q: What is influencing your work the most right now?
The negative impact building emissions are having on climate change—and how we as architects can work to reduce this. We are ideally suited to lead that charge. Knowledge is power—so we first need to impress upon the architectural community that building high-performance buildings isn’t like sending a rocket to the moon, but is achieved through a little knowledge, smart design, and teamwork, all attributes of our education and training. The good news is building supplies and systems are quickly becoming more energy efficient and accessible, making the design and detailing of high-performance projects easier.
Q: What are some of your favorite recent projects you’ve worked on?
Our ideal project is one that marries high-performance design with a modern aesthetic, and we are lucky enough to have a few projects that demonstrate this blend. Two that stand out are Flow Chelsea, a new 24-story, mixed-use residential building with affordable housing located in Manhattan, and Rock House, a single-family home in Kent, CT which is designed to cantilever over the West Aspetuck River and uses both mass timber and passive house technology. The key point here is that our preferred design strategy can be applied to projects of any program, size, and budget.
Q: What are your thoughts on architectural education today?
The architectural educational system has mostly prioritized conceptual and visual design over energy performance and environmental concerns. I don’t see why we can’t teach and encourage the investigation of both concepts at the same time. We are fortunate that there are a number of nonprofits that are educating our architects with seminars, courses, and tours to fill this void. My belief is that the current generation is already on alert to the immediate need to change the way we inhabit the earth and are demanding this in their curriculum.
Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges, or opportunities, facing cities today?
In many of our cities, housing has become prohibitively expensive, forcing more people to live further and further afield. As a result, our cities are becoming less diverse. I see the creation of housing that is affordable, comfortable, and well-built of primary importance. These buildings should be built to high performance standards, creating sanctuaries, while building and reinforcing stronger communities.
Q: What are your greatest sources of inspiration?
My super hard working partner Marianne and my 2 girls are amazing and a constant source of wonder and inspiration. They also put up with my biking equipment in our living room! I am part of the local Veselka restaurant bike racing team. It’s great to connect with friends, get a break and exercise. Even though I am not thinking of work, I find a lot of my thoughts and ideas come as a result of rides I make. In this beautiful city of ours a good work life balance is essential.
Editors’ Note: This feature is part of a series celebrating the members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) New York Chapter who are elevated each year to the AIA College of Fellows, an honor awarded to members who have made significant contributions to both the profession and society. Learn more about Fellowship here.