Susan Stokes Hill, Rona, Kenny's Country Cheese

Susan Stokes Hill, Rona, Kenny's Country Cheese

This article first appeared in the April, 2007 issue ofNougat Magazine.

The first Earth Day ' April 22, 1970 ' had Wisconsin roots, and so does my friend Susan Stokes Hill, partner at Tate Hill Jacobs Architects Inc. Susan's parents both came to Kentucky from small towns in Wisconsin.

I know this because I am lucky. Across more than 35 years of friendship I have shared with Susan and her family hundreds of wonderful meals, visits, games, walks, life changes ' all the treasured connections that give life its sweetness.

It all began with Susan's sister, who was my former husband's high school sweetheart, and quickly extended to include all of Susan's family ' both her parents, all siblings and spouses, Susan's children and now her grandchildren.

In fact, because Susan has been such an exquisite friend, quick with invitations to eat great meals that often end with her stellar Italian Cream Cake, I have not paid adequate attention to her work in the world. I knew she was one of Lexington's first female architects, and I knew she did as much environmentally sensitive design as possible, but I knew few details.

At Thanksgiving Dinner last year, I listened to the unfolding language of 'green design' as Susan and my environmental engineer son talked about the building she has designed for SeQuential Biofuels®, her son's biodiesel fuel station in Oregon. I heard 'bioswale,' 'living roof,' 'solar array,' and 'LEED Accredited Professional.'

I wanted to know more. Susan and I recently dedicated one of our regular visits to helping me understand better what Susan does now, at the peak of her career. Susan also gave me precious individual coaching on the essential secrets of making a perfect Italian Cream Cake ' although I doubt I will be able to duplicate the architectural beauty of Susan's cakes.

Susan's design work is hard to miss in Lexington. She designed and led the Embry's building renovation on Main Street, now home to the Downtown Arts Center, Alfalfa Restaurant, and the Ann Tower Gallery. The successful new uses for these rebuilt spaces make it hard to remember the days when that section of Main Street had dark windows and significant eau de pigeon.

Susan served as the lead architect for the new Athens-Chilesburg Elementary School, which features significant 'green' design components. One of the most important for improving student performance and easing energy demands is 'daylighting,' placing the building on the site in a particular relationship to the sun, so that maximum daylight enters the buildings.

Right now Susan is designing the new William Wells Brown Elementary school/community center scheduled to open in 2008 in the Bluegrass-Aspendale neighborhood. She is also the main architect for the long-neglected, important Lyric Theatre renovation and rejuvenation, which may become Lexington's first LEED-certified public building.

In 2000, the U. S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a nonprofit coalition of leaders in the building industry, launched the first of several voluntary certifications for 'Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.' LEED certification is one way the USGBC works toward its mission: to 'transform the building marketplace to sustainability.'

Buildings do not gain LEED certification passively, or through a one-time, after-construction appraisal. Susan says, 'Everything about a LEED project is different, starting from the very beginning.'

LEED-certified buildings grow out of consistent, sustained effort by their planners, designers, builders, and owners. All the key players invest the time required to plan well for 'state of the art strategies in sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.' To make their case for certification, they document each step in a comprehensive project notebook.

The first LEED-certified building in Kentucky is Lincoln Hall on the Berea College Campus. Nationally 735 building projects are LEED-certified, and 5,562 projects are registered, indicating they are following green practices and intend to seek certification.

If you are looking for a unique way to celebrate Earth Day this year, consider becoming a LEED Accredited Professional (LAP). This accreditation is open to all of us, not just designers and builders. Community people who are 'LAPs' serve on the task forces and committees that plan and oversee LEED-oriented building projects.

Let me know when you receive your accreditation and I will bake you a cake. Italian Cream Cake, of course.