Top Designer Hafsa Burt Talks Architecture, Sustainability, and Her Biggest Influence

Photo Credit: hb+a Architects

Hafsa Burt has been a design professional and architect for over 21 years. The founder of hb+a architects, Hafsa is a pioneer in sustainable architecture and her mission is to make the world a more environmentally friendly place. Her portfolio includes work at the San Francisco Airport, institutional buildings, multifamily buildings, hospitality, retail, medical office buildings, and custom single-family homes. Through her development arm, Box Lab, she champions sustainability and zero-carbon buildings, as her firm was one of the first to shift in that direction more than a decade before the rest of the world. 

She is also actively involved with the American Institute of Architects and is a member of the AIA California Council’s Committee on the Environment that also looks at legislative decisions as they relate to the building environment. Burt has been awarded the title of ENR’s 20 Under 40 Construction Professionals in California and the American Institute of Architects’ coveted Young Architects’ Honor Award. 

Recently, Hafsa Burt talked with Haute Living about how she came to be an architect and designer, her biggest influence, and her advice for the work/life balance. 

Photo Credit: hb+a Architects

Why did you become a designer/architect?

I come from a family where everybody has post-graduate degrees in fields of science and from the very beginning curiosity to discover and learn was instilled in me. I was always good at Physics and later in high school grew an interest in the arts therefore, Architecture seemed like a perfect blend. My extended family members were also engineers, so I was kind of exposed to the field. 

What makes hb+a unique?

Innovation has been at the heart of the business since its inception. We have also been talking about carbon neutrality and Indoor Air Quality relevant to its role in occupants’ health for over a decade. A long history of working on solutions for carbon neutrality and healthy buildings embedded in a deep awareness of the big picture sets us apart. We take each project as an individual problem and do our best to make the client’s vision become real, with out-of-the-box thinking. 

What advice do you have for those wanting to follow in your footsteps in the design world?

It is important to develop technical skills in college including how to navigate work relationships. Where you may lack in experience you can most certainly contribute in terms of skills making an entry-level designer very invaluable. I also highly suggest working as an intern at an architect’s office to get exposed to real-life scenarios of meeting deadlines, putting fires out, solving problems, and even construction site visits. 

Photo Credit: hb+a Architects

Who is the most influential person in your life?

Most everybody in my family, my dad, my brothers growing up always spent a lot of time discussing ideas, thoughts, and general curiosity was encouraged. My dad was a conservationist, he had done extended research and developed solutions on the topic and was also writing a book on drought resistance some 40-50 years before the industry caught up. There was always a great collection of books around, I had read almost all the works of Hermann Hesse by the time I was 17. 

What advice do you have for handling the work/life balance?

It’s a work in progress right! Scheduling helps, being organized goes a long way. If things are scheduled it is easier to stick to a plan. As a business owner and mom of two, I can tell you there’s always overlap and to be honest a lot of juggling, lost sleep, and constant running at 150 miles per hour. We tend to set standards for ourselves to be perfect in every segment of our life and that doesn’t make it easy and I myself am terribly guilty of that. 

What is your life motto?

It is important to have an awareness of our role in the bigger picture. Everything we do, how we do it, and its connection to the planet and its people. If the result is positive, stay on track, if the result is self-centered with no deep awareness it is time to re-evaluate. I also think ethics and morality take precedence above all else. 

Photo Credit: hb+a Architects

To learn more about Hafsa Burt, please visit her Haute Designer profile here