Architecture & Design

Architect Chris Briley (right) enjoys a nip in his office/studio with fellow architect Phil Kaplan. The pair think of their podcast as “edu-tainment.” Photograph by Mark Fleming.

Drinking Buddies

Architecture & Design

The hosts of Portland’s Green Architects’ Lounge podcast mix tasty cocktails with sustainable building lessons.

For hosts of a podcast ostensibly about environmentally friendly architecture and construction, Phil Kaplan and Chris Briley devote a lot of airtime to the finer points of mixology. To hear them tell it, the two subjects have more in common than one might think. “To talk about crafting a drink, and doing it right, it ties very much into design,” explains Kaplan, principal at Portland’s Kaplan Thompson Architects. “It’s not about getting drunk, it’s about the pleasure of mixing things creatively, and putting them together carefully — but, yes, alcohol helps the conversation flow.”

The idea for the pair’s Green Architects’ Lounge podcast was hatched a decade ago, with an email that Briley, principal at Portland architecture firm Briburn, sent to Kaplan: “Wouldn’t it be cool if a couple of intelligent, well-spoken guys choose a [sustainable building] topic to break down for the layperson or professional who’s just getting into said topic?” Later, they realized the most interesting conversations they were having about the burgeoning field of green design were happening not at the conferences they attended, but afterwards, in bars. Thus, they figured, the podcast needed drinks. Each episode begins with the architects mixing, say, a whiskey sour or Dark and Stormy or Moscow Mule in Briley’s office, then segues into subjects ranging from photovoltaics to ground-source heat pumps to net-zero homes. The pair doesn’t rehearse or do much editing, and yet Kaplan and Briley manage to produce a fun and accessible — if a little lubricated — listening experience. GAL has logged as many as 4,000 downloads in a day and has listeners as far away as Costa Rica and Croatia.

“If there’s one complaint, it’s that we don’t churn out enough episodes,” Briley says. (They’ve recorded 46 over eight years.) “But people like us because we’re both busy people with families and day jobs. We are out doing the things we talk about — succeeding a lot of times, failing at other times — and sharing it all on the air.”

Life, and technical difficulties, intervened for a while — the pair didn’t produce any new episodes for two years. Then, last fall, they were asked to host a live episode at a forum put on by the green building nonprofit passivhausMAINE. “We said, ‘A live podcast? That’s a stupid idea. Let’s do it!’” Kaplan jokes. Everyone in the 35-member audience got a “Portland,” Kaplan’s twist on the Manhattan, made with pine bitters and garnished with frozen blueberries. Onstage, the architects pledged to record an episode a month this year — to whoops of enthusiasm. “We played on the vibe of that room,” Kaplan says. “Giving everybody a drink beforehand didn’t hurt.”


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