Sim Van der Ryn, the president of Van der Ryn Architects, is a renowned leader in sustainable architecture. For over thirty-five years, his design, planning, teaching and public leadership has advanced the viability, acceptance and knowledge base of ecological principles and practices in architecture and planning. His vision, passion and keen insight into the opportunities and challenges of every project, in concert with his collaborative skills, have made ecological design a real solution for our times.

The origins informing his work emerged in the early years of his life. His family fled from war torn Holland to the outskirts of New York City. There, he sought refuge from those unhappy times in nearby deserted marshes, beaches and vacant lots where he found an inner calm in the midst of an unfamiliar order and fascinating forms of life. The unspoken tragedy that he and his family left behind along with his experiences in nature imprinted him with a lifelong concern for social justice, equity and ecology.

Trained as an architect with a degree from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; licenses from California and New Mexico; and certification from the National Council of Architectural Registration, the theme of Sim's career in design, teaching and research has been applying principles of physical and social ecology to architecture and environmental design.

Throughout his professional life, Sim has pioneered sustainable design at the community scale and the building specific scale. He has designed single family and multi-family housing; community facilities; retreat, resort and health centers; schools and learning facilities; office buildings; commercial buildings; and planned communities. In each project, he has pioneered new technologies, systems, materials and design solutions to create environments that are sensitive to place and climate, responsive to human needs and that place the highest regard on both the integrity of ecological systems and the quality of life.

Appointed California State Architect by Governor Jerry Brown, he developed the nation's first government-initiated energy efficient office building program; and led adoption of energy standards and disability access standards for all construction in California. In this capacity, he was responsible for planning and design of all state facilities including the design and management of the State Park System.

As an educator and researcher, Sim has played a major role in bringing ecological design awareness and practice to children and adults of all ages. While a Professor of Architecture at UC Berkeley, a position he held for over thirty years, Sim was a key force in establishing Berkeley's international reputation as a leading school focusing on issues of socially and environmentally responsible design.

Sim also founded the Farallones Institute which helped to create national awareness of "ecologically integrated living design." The Farallones Institute designed, built and managed an urban and a rural research/teaching center for studying appropriate technologies, energy-efficiency, organic agriculture, land restoration, community design and ecologically sustainable energy and waste systems, design and construction. The work started by the Farallones Institute continues today at the Ecological Design Institute (EDI), Van der Ryn Architects' non-profit partner. EDI offers training, education, and research services in ecological design to businesses, government agencies, professional organizations and educational institutions.

Sim has also written several cutting edge books about sustainable planning and design including Sustainable Communities (1986) with Peter Calthorpe and Ecological Design (1996) with Stuart Cowan.

For his leadership and innovation, Sim has won numerous honors and awards including:

  • Richard Neutra Award for Professional Excellence, Cal Poly Pomona (2004)
  • Governorís Award as North Coast Green Entrepreneur by SAFE-BIDCO (2004)
  • Marin County Economic Commission Environmental Values and Resources Award, (2003)
  • Goff Chair of Innovative Architecture, University of Oklahoma (2001)
  • Sustainability Trailblazer Award, Marin Community Development Agency (2000)
  • John M. McPhail, Jr. Business Award, Marin Conservation League (2000)
  • Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts Fellowship (1997)
  • Rockefeller Scholar in Residence, Bellagio, Italy (1997)
  • President's Award for Planning, American Society of Landscape Architects (Colorado Chapter), Arbolera de Vida Master Plan, Albuquerque, New Mexico (1997)
  • Nathaniel Owings Award, California Council American Institute of Architects (1996)
  • Commendation for Excellence in Technology, California Council American Institute of Architects (1981)
  • Progressive Architecture Merit Award, Marin Solar Village (1981)
  • Special Award, California Council American Institute of Architects (1978)
  • Lindisfarne Fellow (1978)
  • Guggenheim Fellow (1971)
  • Governor's Award for Excellence in Design, Migrant Farm Labor Community Design (1968)

In awarding the Nathaniel Owings Award to Sim in 1996, the American Institute of Architects said,

"In recognition of your countless contributions to the built and natural environments through the integration of design, education and research. Throughout your career as a visionary architect, teacher, and writer, you have paved the way for positive change... A leader and pioneer of energy efficient and sustainable design, your bold initiation... has established a proven and imperative direction for the architectural profession."


©2000 Van der Ryn Architects