David Pill, a practitioner of sustainable architecture

Mar-4-T-CP-David-Pill-CBy Phyl Newbeck

David Pill began working as an architect in the 1980s at a large firm in Cambridge, Mass. In 1990, he and his wife Hillary Maharam collaborated on a project which won an award from Metropolitan Home Magazine. The couple took advantage of that acclaim and hung up their own shingle as Pill-Maharam Architects. Maharam soon decided she was more interested in landscape design than buildings, but the firm’s name stayed the same.

Pill started the company with residential work but ended up getting more involved in commercial and retail projects. “Almost from the start I maintained a really strong commitment to sustainability,” he said. “In the early 90s there weren’t many people talking about it but it was meaningful to me. All buildings have an impact, even the ones built as sustainably as possible, so my job is to minimize that impact.” Sustainable building was an uphill struggle initially because clients were reluctant to do things that cost more money, but Pill appealed to their social and ethical ideals. “The last 15 years that’s all I’ve been doing,” he said. “It’s not a label. It’s the way we do our work.”

In 2005, Pill and Maharam moved to Charlotte. They wanted to find a pre-existing home rather than build on open space but they had trouble finding something that fit their requirements. They eventually found property which had a 14,000 square foot riding arena and a storage barn. Neighbors disassembled the arena and rebuilt it nearby and Pill and Maharam built a house inside the existing footprint. Pill designed the house so it wouldn’t use more energy than it made and the result is the first building to win the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association’s Net Zero award. Passive solar siting means the house is warmed even on days when it’s cloudy. The house has a wind turbine and Pill recently leased a solar tracker. The tracker brings in more energy than the house uses which has enabled him to buy an electric car. Pill believes the house was the first to be certified LEED Platinum in the state as well as being the first documented net zero home.

Pill is proud of some recent work he has done for Efficiency Vermont on their Manufactured Home Innovation Project. The project grew out of Tropical Storm Irene as a way to replace mobile homes with ones that are energy efficient. The result is a high performance, net-zero structure which is also affordable. Seventeen have been built so far. “I’m really proud of that because it’s a great program,” Pill said. “It’s helping a lot of people and showing that anybody can have an energy efficient home.”

Pill’s commitment to sustainability doesn’t end with his work day. He is a member of the board of the Charlotte Land Trust as well as serving on the Charlotte Energy Committee. “My work comes out of my love for the environment,” he said. “I feel lucky that we’ve been able to do the work we’ve been doing and have clients who are so aware of the environment and willing to do what they can to help.”