We interviewed architect Molly Jones on Dec. 21, 2018 — the fifth anniversary of Jones Design Studio — about sustainability, the Living Building Challenge, and project goals for The Joinery in the coming year. Read highlights from the conversation below.
Architect Molly Jones opened her Tulsa firm in 2013 thinking that consulting with clients on green building and sustainable design would serve her well for the first five years.
She never anticipated having the “dream project” fall in her lap in half that time.
Terrell Hoagland, who was on the board of Up With Trees, had just joined Jones Design Studio. He told Jones about fellow board member Nathan Pickard and his nonprofit, Restoration Collective, which operates several sustainability initiatives in North Tulsa. Later over lunch, Pickard described his vision for The Joinery, a community-minded building in a historic neighborhood that gives more to the environment than it takes.
“The more Nathan was talking about what they were doing, what Restoration Collective was all about, what they believed in, I was like, ‘We can do LEED buildings all day long, but I don’t think you want a LEED building,'" Jones recalled. "'I think you really want a Living Building.'"
Jones explained how much further the challenge went than just the building itself.
"It actually helps regenerate community and invite people into buildings and helps strengthen relationships with each other, which frankly is what architecture should be all about,” she said.
Five years after Pickard bought the asphalt parking lot and Jones started her firm, ground was broken on The Joinery this December.
Before Jones Design Studio, Jones developed her passion for and knowledge of sustainability on the side, while leading high-profile commercial construction and federal sector projects. Her 25-year career includes managing a $230 million housing project in Fort Bliss, building Walmarts across the region, and revamping central security and concourses at Tulsa International Airport.
While working on the airport's master plan project, she began teaching herself about sustainability, which she defines (with the inspiration of Chilean Alejandro Aravena) as the “rigorous application of common sense.”
“I wanted my career to align with my own goals and what I really believed about being a human being on this earth,” Jones said. “I was having a hard time with that before.”
She earned two LEED specialty credentials, co-founded the American Institute of Architects Eastern Oklahoma Chapter’s Committee on the Environment, and served on former Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor’s Green Team.
“We saw this movement happening, and during all of that, my employer said, ‘We kind of feel like Molly has a passion in this area,’” Jones recalls. “From then on, it was just all sustainability all the time.”
She later served as Director of Sustainable Facilities for SAIC (formerly Benham) before going independent, and she took on a role with NASA as an adviser on sustainability.
“It’s what gets me up in the mornings.”
Read more highlights from the interview below.
Why is the Living Building Challenge worth pursuing?
“It puts you in a leadership position in sustainability in any area of the world...It is taking building design to the next level, where it’s not doing as much harm as typical buildings do. Without the actual certification, we can say we did these things and we can prove them, but it takes a lot longer to convince someone that you actually did this.
“We were certainly interested in putting Tulsa on the map and giving Tulsa an example of what sustainability could look like — and it’s not weird, right? It’s beautiful, and it’s functional. It’s just taken some thought. We are deliberate in how we approach the design of the building.”
What does sustainability actually mean to you?
“My favorite definition is that sustainability is the rigorous application of common sense. So what makes a sustainable building sustainable? It understands its responsibility to the earth. It understands its role in our society. It understands what it can contribute and what it takes away.”
What led you to refocus your career on sustainability?
“I wanted my career to align with my own goals and what I really believed about being a human being on this earth, and what that meant for me. I was having a hard time with that before, so...[I’m] a self-taught sustainability person.
“I was the gal that was overlooked by Benham to go get her LEED credential. It’s a funny story. They gathered up all these people and shipped them off to Oklahoma City to go get trained by somebody that specialized in training people to take their LEED exams. And I was the little kid in the corner sticking their hand up, jumping up and down, that didn’t picked for the ball team. And that’s fine. I’m a self-starter...So I found some materials and I studied it and I took my exam and passed it.”
What are your goals for The Joinery in 2019?
“I would like to see the shell done: the exterior walls, the roof structure, the tile put on. I’d love to get the panels installed, so that we can start seeing how the building’s performing even though the building may not be finished yet. Typically what happens with these buildings is that they get built, they get occupied, but then they have to be tweaked. When you’re going for something like [the] Living Building Challenge, you have to deal with how occupants use your building. So, there’s going to be a lot of tweaking of behaviors. We see a lot of times Living Buildings have to add solar panels [to reach the required 105 percent energy.]"
Why are you passionate about this?
“My plan when I started [Jones Design Studio]...I knew that consulting was going to be most of what we did, and I thought that would be the first five years. It never ever occurred to me that I would have the dream project, which is The Joinery, drop in my lap within the first 24 months of this company being in existence. It just never occurred to me.
"It’s an amazing project. I think it’s so, so good for Tulsa and the state and the region. It just aligns so perfectly with what Nathan and Kristin [Pickard] are about. I’m just so excited it’s finally under construction, because it’s been a long haul. It’ll be a few more years probably before it’s actually certified.
“The city has been wonderful. The state has been wonderful. Everyone we’ve met with has been wonderful. It has been a very long process, but everyone has been embracing the project and loves what we’re doing and that we’re trying to bring this here to Tulsa. We have a lot of champions that have helped us out. They know who they are, and we’re very grateful for them.”