Caring for Community, Cannabis and Sustainability
Anderson Porter Design
When William L. Porter, a former Dean of Architecture and Planning at MIT and emeritus professor of 35 years, and brothers Daniel and Brian Anderson set out to start their own architecture firm in 1994, there was no crystal ball that could have told them that 25 years later, their designs would lead them to the cannabis industry.
In fact, Anderson Porter Design was initially more focused on general practice architecture and worked with a variety of private, commercial, scientific, institutional, municipal, and federal clients. These clients included being the architects for the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston from 1999 to 2006.
Originally known more for their particular talents in energy efficiency and flow management for manufacturing companies, with the devastating events that occurred on September 11th, 2001, having a federal client resulted in the addition of a significant amount of security work into the team’s résumé – both physical and electronic.
Other projects of note that the firm had been a part of included serving as the local design office to the Mumbai, India-based Charles Correa for the Design of the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Project at MIT – a 400,000 square foot series of neuroscience labs; working with restaurateurs and commercial caterers doing hospitality design and technical requirements for food safety procedures, cleanable washable surfaces, freezers, storage, and coordination of commercial equipment; retail store design including prototyping and multi-state roll out; and work with medical device manufacturers in eastern Massachusetts, creating facilities where employees gown up and work in a clean room environment with strict air controls, air pressure differentials, and filtering for environmental contaminants.
“Another significant involvement I was fortunate to be involved with was to work as a design architect with both Boston and Cambridge in the Main Streets program from 1999 to 2008,” shared Brian Anderson, Partner at Anderson Porter. “That work was underwritten by federal grants to cities and towns with CDBG and NDF funding to bring façade improvements through improved environmental design, storefront design, graphics, lighting, landscaping, and interior planning. The principle is: ‘improved neighborhoods through better environmental design’ aka CPTED – Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design,’” he explained.
Today, the company has grown to a team of twelve in its Cambridge, MA office and its work can be found in ten U.S. states and counting, as well as internationally in Israel, Portugal, South Africa, and North Macedonia.
The business has evolved organically to the point where the firm could certainly be described as out-of-the-box – case in point, its evolution into the cannabis industry in 2014.
As a firm that has built its corporate philosophy by putting people first by promoting health, wellness and sustainability in design, Anderson Porter Design was interested in bidding on a medical license holder in Massachusetts. When the team decided to bid on the project, it was a fairly typical process for an atypical typical building type, and they jumped in with both feet. The firm was short-listed, interviewed and ultimately selected in the competitive process for the project.
“We found resistance from our usual go-to consultants,” recalls Anderson. “I got a lot of ‘sorry but we can’t help with that’ from very big established engineering firms that we had worked with, but then MEP/FP (Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing/Fire Protection) engineering became a significant scope for this project. We have since found incredibly good engineering partners both here in MA and nationally who are innovative and forward-thinking in this industry.”
Today the business has directed a large focus of its design efforts toward the growing cannabis industry. “For the past five years it’s been about 45 to 50 percent [of what we do], and 2019 looks like it might push that over 60 or 70 percent,” said Anderson. “As principal in charge of this work, it is 95 percent of what I do.”
The support for medical marijuana use in Missouri, Oklahoma and North Dakota has been significant for the firm because it has projects in those states. To date, 29 states have legalized medical marijuana, one of which is Florida, which has also been a very big market for the firm.
“We are planning a large facility in south Florida now,” said Anderson. “I believe the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 and the Farm Bill that passed in 2018 are positive indicators for the cannabis industry as well. We have now designed two hemp oil (CBD) extraction facilities – one in Colorado and one in Oregon. We have been following South Africa with one client; legislation there has been on-again off-again and now seems likely to be moving forward.”
Anderson Porter’s services for the cannabis industry range from site planning to design, engineering, construction and even ribbon cutting for facilities. Over the past five years the team has developed deep industry knowledge and has designed over 700,000 square feet of growing space and 37 dispensaries since 2014. The company has also become an active member of the National Cannabis Industry Association.
Some of its more notable projects include Mayflower Medicinals, both retail and cultivation facilities, and a large production facility in Michigan that will comprise 110,000 square feet of indoor growing space. In Florida, the firm is also designing a brand new 120,000 square foot ground up new construction project that is notable for its goals, which are being situated one story below grade (in Florida) and achieving LEED certification. This might, in fact, be the first such facility applying for LEED points.
The other side of the company’s practice is housing with a focus on sustainability – net-zero energy for single and multi-family residential. Anderson Porter Design is PasivHaus certified, which is a German standard for net-zero. The firm has also become known as an expert in energy efficiency and sits on the Massachusetts energy council.
Certainly, the work has not been without challenges. The lack of regulation at the federal level, and the lack of clear banking rules have caused real difficulties industry-wide.
“The cannabis industry, as a result, is metaphorically applying the gas and brakes at the same time,” said Anderson. “Each deadline is a crisis – hurry up to get through a regulatory hurdle, followed by forced pause caused by myriad issues. While working in a nascent industry is stimulating, it comes with challenges. There are no published white papers or peer reviewed industry publications on accepted norms.”
Energy is also a significant issue in the indoor or ‘controlled environment agriculture’ production of cannabis because architects have to recreate the sun indoors, which comes at a high cost. Massachusetts also has the highest standards for efficiency among the states.
“As architects, we and our engineering partners are on the front line to introduce and ‘bake in’ the necessary conversations and evolving best practices to ensure that the industry is not contributing to high carbon emissions and climate change,” explained Anderson. “Many of the practices learned under prohibition about lighting, water use or water discharge, or waste disposal are now challenged as the required compliance with state standards set for other industries is in force.”
Despite the challenges over the past five years and the criticism by some of its peers for working in a more controversial area, Anderson Porter feels the reward of providing a service of value to its customers in an area that is new and still somewhat underserved highly outweighs the negative.
“Cannabis has been under prohibition for so long that people with any deep background in the business have been dodging the law, and with that has come real risk to themselves and their livelihood in developing their craft,” said Anderson. “So as an architect I enjoy being able to speak on their behalf in ways that have not been available before. I’m able to represent to a chief of police or fire marshal or planning board member that our client’s efforts with such and such a facility for the following reasons will be amongst the most secure facilities in the commonwealth.”
He went on to say that in areas of planning and engineering, cannabis is both challenging and rewarding. “These are complicated buildings that function as a machine with each component, assembly, and piece of equipment contributing in concert to the whole. Cannabis must comply with local, state and in most cases federal laws. I’m proud to be able to contribute to the science behind the drug delivery and contribute to its legitimization through quality standards in production.”
When asked what Anderson sees for the future in the cannabis industry, he feels it will actually become commonplace.
“Cannabis is a drug that crosses the blood/brain barrier; I don’t think that is surprising, but it’s also just an herbal extract, so that puts it in the nutraceuticals industry – think of GNC stores or that aisle at Whole Foods,” he explained. “I think it will be as common, normal and regulated as other herbal extracts so that it can be sold at stores, pharmacies or even delivered via Amazon.”
As for the future of Anderson Porter Design, the company sees only growth, and that growth means global leadership in creating cannabis cultivation and retail facilities. It also means continuing its sustainability work through sustainable horticulture in urban environments.
“I could see putting greenhouses atop new public high schools to teach farming to future generations,” said Anderson. And for Anderson Porter Design, that is fundamentally what it is all about – helping the next generation.