January 12, 2024

Healthy Materials

“Architects and designers today must grapple with the reality that toxic materials have become ingrained in the fabric of the modern world. Our participation in this course has presented a wonderful opportunity for our team to actively engage in the issues related to this fundamental design challenge—all through the lens of social equity, material health, and lifecycle. As material specifiers, architects and designers must actively advocate for the use of healthier products to steer our industry towards positive change.”  – Matthew Richardson LEED AP BD+C, CPHC, Director of Sustainability

In 2022, our staff organized a Healthy Building Materials Committee in response to a growing concern for the safety of the planet and humans and the materials used in the architecture and construction industry.  In May 2023, five BKSK staff completed a Healthy Materials certification course through Parsons School of Design. The program was a series of lectures and is the conception of Jonsara Ruth and Alison Mears of Parson’s Healthy Materials Lab. “Healthy Materials Lab, is a design research lab at Parsons, is dedicated to a world in which people’s health is placed at the center of all design decisions. We are committed to raising awareness about toxic chemicals in building products and to creating resources for the next generation of designers and architects to make healthier places for all people to live.” To learn more, visit healthymaterialslab.org.

BKSK has long participated in the healthy materials movement through our completion of some of the earliest LEED Platinum buildings in New York City. In those early days, the pursuit of high indoor air quality and clean material specification was novel and sometimes difficult. While the market has shifted greatly in the past 20 years, there is still much work to do. While we have always championed these green principles and strategies, the Healthy Materials course is a springboard for the development of refreshed guidelines for BKSK to engage in a more meaningful way in the selection, use, and recommendation of building materials that are healthier for the planet, installers and for occupants of spaces we design. Throughout the past year, we undertook an audit of our materials library with the objective of eliminating toxic products and building a knowledge base to be shared with clients and collaborators.  It is our hope to guide clients toward healthy choices of materials, fabrics, finishes, as well as manufacturing methods, installation and even transportation options, with the goal of lowering the overall carbon impact of our projects. We wrapped up 2023 at BKSK with a materials symposium that shared our lessons learned from the course and personal experience on recent projects, concluding with outlined action items for this year. Big plans are ahead of us, and a cleaner future is within our reach!


Our newly certified staff shared some thoughts of the education module and experience gained through taking this course.

“When I first became interested in sustainable design (now some time ago) it seemed to me that world was divided into two camps – the energy people and the health people.  I found myself at that time belittling the people in the health camp as overanxious over what seemed to me then as fairly remote hazards, but the passing of time and this course have raised my consciousness in these matters, and I welcome the information provided, which reinforces in my mind what should be obvious to us all, which is that buildings should contribute to our health, not endanger it.” – John Englund, Senior Associate

“One of the most rewarding and most challenging aspects of being an architect is the necessity to work with a wide array of subjects, professions, typologies, clients and end users. While it is challenging to take on the responsibility of specifying healthy materials, it is also rewarding to know that these choices have impacts on a wide array of people and places – from those that extract and manufacture products through to the end users of a buildings as well as the disposal of these materials after their useful life. In this way, the selection of healthy materials can represent both the best and the hardest parts of the practice of architecture.” – Sorcha Murphy, AIA, CPHD, Architect

Matthew Richardson, John Englund and Luisa Vargas