One of the pillars of the sustainability community left this earth on November 27, 2021. James (Jim) Binkley, FAIA, passed peacefully in Reston, Virginia, leaving a legacy of environmental and civic stewardship that has impacted so many people in so many ways. He served as chair of the COTE Advisory Group in 2006.
During Jim’s career he held leading roles at the U.S. General Services Administration and the U.S. Department of Energy. He also served as a lead architect for the U.S. Postal Service, impacting the design and building performance of over 29,000 facilities around the country. For his outstanding service to the profession and the country he received the AIA Thomas Jefferson Award in 2011.
While his imprint on federal structures is indelible, perhaps his greatest contribution to sustainability in the built environment occurred in his teaching. He developed and taught the original Environmental Design courses at the Catholic University of America (CUA) for 32 years, influencing thousands of rising architects including this one. His passion for sustainability came through with every lecture as he commanded the classroom and the coursework with humble authority. With a simple, “Let’s get started,” every class meeting became an adventure into how to apply theory to reality. While the classes covered all aspects of building systems, Jim always presented the passive solutions first before diving into mechanized approaches. He often illustrated concepts with examples from his own work, which as a student was captivating to see.
Jim “walked the walk” long before AIA adopted the mantra and encouraged all around him to join him on that journey. As COTE Chair he assisted in the original “greening” of the AIA Convention, working with staff to develop new policies and protocol that reflected the values he and so many members held dear.
In 2020, the CUA School of Architecture and Planning created the James Binkley Prize, awarded annually and quite appropriately to a student in the Integrated Building Design Studio (IBDS). Quite a fitting honor for a man dedicated to promoting integrated systems-thinking solutions.
His awareness of how the built and natural environments needed to intertwine is what propelled me deep into sustainability, from thesis through present practice. A few years ago, I ran into Jim and his wife at an AIA DC Fellows dinner, and to my surprise he lit up when seeing me. I was shocked he remembered me – one of literally thousands of students he taught. He was excited to talk about a summit he was helping organize, and I got a chance to tell him how seminal his instruction has been in my life. He took the compliments in stride and quickly turned the conversation back to what I wanted to see happen in his summit. But that was Jim – so passionate about sustainable architecture, but also passionate about the people who create it.
Jim was a true leader, mentor, role model, and friend.
Jim’s full obituary in The Washington Post can be found here: https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/washingtonpost/name/james-binkley-obituary?id=31734413
Jon Penndorf, FAIA, is an architect in the Washington, DC office of Perkins&Will. He is also adjunct faculty at the CUA School of Architecture and Planning.