Pliny Fisk III

Noted sustainability expert
to teach this spring at A&M

Pliny Fisk III, co-founder of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems (CMPBS) in Austin, Texas, joined the College of Architecture faculty this spring as a visiting professor in the Department of Architecture.

An expert in the field of sustainability, Fisk has held faculty positions throughout the U.S. at institutions including Ball State University; the University of New Mexico; the University of Oklahoma, where he held the Bruce Goff Chair for Creative Architecture; Mississippi State University, as the Herrin Distinguished Fellow; and most recently, the University of Texas–Austin.

In 1975, while serving as assistant professor at the University of Texas’ School of Architecture, Fisk co-founded the CMPBS, an independent non-profit research and educational firm that concentrates on the interrelationships between the built and natural environments with a focus on sustainable community and local economic development.

The center’s broad agenda includes work and research in the areas of environmental planning and policy, environmental hazards, sustainable community planning in underrepresented communities, environmental justice, green architecture and construction, sustainability theory, materials science, life cycle assessment, building systems, and patent and product development.

Since the center's inception, Fisk has had a pivotal role in moving this agenda forward in four areas: architecture, master planning, participatory gaming and quantitative methods.

“CMPBS' body of work reflects the importance of recognizing the international protocols of life cycle assessment, geographic spatial analysis, and the footprint representation of sustainable technology as not limited to purely technical methods, but as a basis for public and client awareness and understanding” Fisk explained. “This new interpretation and visualization framework accepts interoperability between diverse disciplines as key in the creation of iconographic sequences, pictorial computer modeling, and infinite scaling procedures that literally interconnect the actions taken at the home level to those at a national or international level.”

A project exemplifying CMPBS’s work in these areas was the co-development of BaseLineGreen™, a modeling tool used to establish the environmental and economic baselining of generic building types. The center used this methodology in several green specification projects including work for the Pentagon Renovation Program in Washington, D.C., the NIST EpiCenter in Bozeman, Mont., the UT/Houston Health Science Center in Houston, Texas, and Seattle Green Building initiatives in Seattle, Wash.

CMPBS architecture projects include the internationally published Advanced Green Builder Demonstration and the Laredo Demonstration Farm. Additionally, the center developed an ecological land planning procedure, “Eco-BalancePlanning™,” which it has employed in master planning projects totaling more than 11,000 acres.

With CMPBS, Fisk has received several national and international awards including the United Nations’ Earth Summit Award, presented in 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro Rio. The award recognized the center’s work with the city of Austin in creating the world’s first Green Builder Program. He has received the American Solar Energy Society’s 2000 Passive Solar Pioneer Award, the first Sacred Tree Award for “significant contributions to the advancement and transformation of green buildings in the public sector” from the U.S. Green Building Council in 2002, and the Presidential Team Award for contributing to the plan for moving towns relocated by the Mississippi Flood.

Fisk’s work was featured in the Contemporary American Architects Vol. IV by Tashcen Press. The book, published in Germany in 1998, represented the international work from 12 U.S. firms

The professor has done research totaling $2.5 million for the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and many other federal, state and local government agencies.

In the 30 years since it was founded, the CMPBS, through its internship program, has mentored students from approximately 47 universities in the United States and abroad.

Pliny studied at the University of Pennsylvania, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture and a master of landscape architecture. His close association during his graduate studies with environmental planning pioneer Ian McHarg guided him to concentrate on ecological land planning. In addition to his degrees, Fisk holds certificates for his studies in systems sciences and permaculture.

“Of all the environmental designers who studied at the feet of Ian McHarg,” wrote J. William Thompson, a fellow in the American Society of Landscape Architects and editor of Landscape Architecture Magazine, “Pliny Fisk is probably the most eclectic, the most radical, and the most inventive. He is also, arguably, the one whose ideas have the widest practical application to the sustainable practice of landscape design."

Fisk is currently wrapping up interviews for an up coming biography featuring his life’s work. The publication will be included in a compendium of four books referred to as “The Green Pioneers.” Others featured in the compilation are Amory Lovins, Bill MacDonough and Robert Berkebile, well known figures in the sustainable architecture and planning movement.

“My specific interests,” Fisk said, “are in the areas of what is internationally recognized as Open Flexible Building systems, resource balanced land use planning procedures — balancing resource uses by allocating the necessary life support footprints within the planning process — and the area of ecological design referred to as Permaculture.”

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