Pliny Fisk III

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Pliny Fisk III (born May 30, 1944 in New York) is a co-founder and co-director of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems (CMPBS),[1] a sustainable design and planning 501c3 non-profit established in 1975. Fisk also serves as Fellow in Sustainable Urbanism and Fellow in Health Systems Design at Texas A & M University, where he holds a joint position as signature faculty in Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Planning.[2] Fisk has previously held positions at Ball State University, The University of Texas at Austin, Mississippi State University and University of Oklahoma.

Education and personal life[edit]

Fisk received B.Arch., M.Arch., and M.L.Arch. Degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. His graduate studies focused on ecological land planning under the guidance of Ian McHarg. His work has also been influenced substantially by Russell Ackoff in various disciplines associated with the systems sciences. He has four children and is married to Gail Vittori.


Fisk’s special contributions in the research field have been principally in materials and methods;[3] from low-cost building systems development referred to as open building, to wide ranging material development that includes low carbon and carbon balanced cements, and many other low impact materials.[4] He was instrumental in developing the first input/output life cycle assessment model for material flow in the U.S. and connecting this to a Geographic Information System, so that human activities can be placed into the context of natural systems on a national scale. The model for preserving abundant, naturally renewable resources is entirely removed from the questions of social equity, quality of environment and human welfare. The model represents greenhouse gases, criteria air pollutants and toxic releases of over 12,500,000 businesses. He has also developed an alternative land planning and design methodology referred to as Eco- Balance Design and Planning.

“...(the Center’s) work grows out of a literal and metaphysical map of the ecology and resources of a region. The material cycles, the energy flows, the water in a region is really what it’s all about.” -Jane Holtz Kay, Architecture Magazine[5]

"Once considered on the fringe, the [Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems] ... is now widely considered to be in the vanguard of the country's eco-friendly or 'green building' movement."

-Patricia Leigh Brown, New York Times

“Like Buckminster Fuller, Pliny’s ideas may be more appreciated a hundred years from now.”

-George James, U.S. Dept. of Energy, New York Times

"He's given the whole movement a more technical bent and a less touchy-feely direction."

-James White, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, New York Times[6]

Early work[edit]

After completing his education at University of Pennsylvania, Fisk worked for Ian McHarg in Philadelphia and in 1969 he assisted McHarg as the coordinator of engineering and ecology for New Orleans East, a new town of 100,000 on the Mississippi Delta. He served as an Assistant Professor at Ball State University for one year (1969–1970) before accepting a teaching position at The University of Texas at Austin.[7]

Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems[edit]

In 1975, with a seed grant from the Menil Foundation, Fisk and his then wife, Daria Bolton, founded the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems (CMPBS) in Austin, Texas.[7] CMPBS is a nonprofit 501(c)3 education, research, and demonstration organization.

The CMPBS site features numerous demonstration projects including the Advanced Green Builder Demonstration Home (AGBDH), a 170 square meter structure featuring numerous sustainable building techniques including a 50,000 liter rainwater harvesting system and two methods of straw-bale construction. The AGBDH is the first modern building in the U.S. to use 100% Portland Cement-free concrete. The concrete used in the building is a fly-ash, Caliche mix developed by CMPBS. The AGBDH was also designed for easy disassembly, pays particular attention to the lifecycles of water, energy and materials, and incorporates local and recycled materials.[8][9] The AGBDH currently serves as the main offices for CMPBS.

Other examples of Fisk's work on the CMPBS site include the 2002 University of Texas at Austin entry for the Department of Energy Solar Decathlon competition, the GreenformsTM erector-set prototype and a foam and MgO Cement modular building system.[7]

Pliny Fisk currently co-directs CMPBS with his wife, Gail Vittori.

Crystal City, Nicaragua and the Laredo Demonstration Farm[edit]

Site of Laredo Demonstration Farm, now the Lamar Bruni Vergara Environmental Science Center

When the Lo Vaca Gathering Co shut off the natural gas supply to the small town of Crystal City, Texas in the fall of 1977, Fisk developed the idea of using Army surplus wood stoves and abundant mesquite for heating. By January 1978, Crystal City residents had installed nearly 1,000 wood stoves. In subsequent years Fisk led an effort to manufacture and install inexpensive solar hot water heaters using salvaged materials. The production of the solar collectors also helped bolster the job market of Crystal City.[10][11][12]

In 1983, Fisk was sponsored by the Center for Investigation and Documentation of the Atlantic Coast (CIDCA) to set into motion a large scale indigenous housing program for the Moskito Indians of Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast. Fisk's goal in the project was to draw upon the available natural and human resources of the region to address an extreme housing shortage. He helped develop building materials using abundant stocks of Kaolinite High Alumina Clay, waste sawdust and woodchips, and waste rice husks.[13]

In 1991, the Texas Department of Agriculture and Laredo Junior College hired Fisk and CMPBS to design and build a demonstration farm outside the arid South Texas city of Laredo, Texas. The 2-acre (8,100 m2) farm integrated local materials in its mesquite wood floors and straw-bale buildings, achieved passive cooling with wind towers and salvaged steel oil-rig drilling stems for the superstructure of the facility. Shade structures protect the farm from the often extreme South Texas sun.[14][15][16][17]

City of Austin Green Building Program[edit]

In 1991, Fisk and Vittori developed "A Conceptual and Contextual Framework for the City of Austin" that served as the basis for the formation of the world's first municipal green building program, now operating as Austin Energy Green Building.[18][19] The cooperative effort earned the United Nations Earth Summit Award for Exemplary Public Environmental Initiative in 1992, the only United States organization to receive recognition at the Earth Summit.

Innovations and ideas[edit]

Area Point Resource Network[edit]

Developed in 1978, the Area Point Resource Network is a tool for coordinating the natural, technological and human resources within a region. The technique identifies and maps local natural resources (“Area Source”) in suitability maps of where sustainable methods work or are needed that can serve as alternatives to more resource intensive methods. All interventions are place-sensitive in that their design materiality and engineering is suited to that location. Second, “Point Resources,” examples of a successful past or present use of a given resource, are sought central to an area resource. The flow linkages (“Network Resources”) between these examples of people that have had success in using the suitability areas defined above provide the final map in the Area Point Resource Network. The Network Resources map tracks four flows: information, currency, energy and materials. The overlay of the three resource types reveals a functional web that coordinates resource movement with built-in feedback mechanisms. Additionally, a void at any hub of the web reveals a missing resource and an opportunity to improve the function of the regional network.[20][21]


Baseline Green is a methodology, initially funded through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to design and engineer environmentally and economically sophisticated buildings using national data for approximately 12 million businesses in the continental U.S. The approach was developed between 1995 and 2000, and connects four fundamental tools: 1) Baselining environmental impacts of 489 industrial categories within the U.S. economy (including 39 building construction sectors) according to region; 2) Correlating Construction Specification Institute and ASTM categorization systems; 3) Depicting impacts graphically of all major facets of building and support utilities; 4) Showing in GIS format where the generic condition effects local environmental and/or economies.[22]

The Baseline Green framework is a synthesis of environmental Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), economic input/output modeling and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The methodology is applicable at multiple construction scales, from single family residential to large-scale commercial. The procedure compares the upstream environmental costs of a standard construction material with its market cost (in dollars) to determine the material’s “external environmental cost ratio.” The “employment impact ratio” (EIR) is a ratio of employment generated by a material to its market value.[23]

Carbon Dioxide Intensity Ratios (CDIR)[edit]

A carbon dioxide intensity ratio, a concept developed in 1998, is the ratio between the net upstream CO2 impact (emissions minus storage) of a material and the weight of that material. A material with a positive CDIR is a net CO2 source and one with a negative CDIR is a net CO2 sink. CDIR offers an opportunity to quantify the long-term impact of conservation efforts. Accompanying construction standards could help ensure forest products retain their carbon by using specific construction and disposal practices.[24][25]

EcoBalance Planning and the EcoBalance Sustainable Land Use Planning Game[edit]

EcoBalance is a sustainable land use planning and design method that employs the principle of life cycles as a framework for sustaining basic life supporting systems.[26] It is used as a means to address the need for planning of physical space both within buildings and surrounding land. The EcoBalance method asserts that sustainability is measurable by the degree to which human needs are balanced with our ability to manage the environment using nature-augmenting technologies.

During the EcoBalance planning process, space uses are determined and analyzed according to the footprints that are necessary to supply the basic human life support requirements of air, water, food, energy and materials in a regenerative fashion. The framework for EcoBalance planning remains essentially the same regardless of project scale, with the process typically directed toward the building, site, and master planning scales. The objective during the planning process is to understand the limits of human activities by carefully managing those activities’ resource use. In addition, the degree to which limits are exceeded is shared with the next scalar boundary, either on or off the building boundary or site.

Measurement of sustainability is an integral part of the planning and design process, and is illustrated in multiple forms, such as 1) the ratio between the amount of life support supplied by the space being analyzed and the amount of life support needed by humans occupying that space; 2) the ratio of the sourcing requirements of the physical space and the resourcing capacity of the same space; 3) the ratio of life support needs supplied on-site and those supplied off-site.[27][28][29]

The EcoBalance Game[30][26] is an interactive tool for undertaking the EcoBalance Planning methodology to make decisions about future land uses on a given site.[31] The game board is, in essence, a graphic summary of site analysis data, including inventories of site characteristics and resources such as topography, soil types, geology, hydrology, vegetation, site improvements, and special features. Each base map topic may include sub-topics such as digital elevation model, slope, and aspect sub-topics under topography. Each of the Base Maps is a separate document that can be overlaid on an aerial photo of the site and on other Base Maps. A set of five game principles is generally used to guide play, as follows: 1. Life cycle assessment methodology 2. Ecological footprinting 3. Scales (varying generic boundaries within which the planning game can be played) 4. Resource balancing 5. Integration (overlapping or multi-use potential of a single landscape or building component)


ProtoScope, developed in 2008, is a method for facilitating the development of better-informed prototypes that are truly responsive to humans and all other living systems.[32] By combining some of the most well-researched databases known, ProtoScope enables participants to understand their local context through its role in ecosystem health, hydrological well being, present and future climatic impact, and the condition of the soil and mineral regimes. In order to reach effective and reparative management strategies, ProtoScope provides the necessary understanding of the most sensitive conditions in a scalable perspective from world down to site. The ProtoSpace aspect of ProtoScope[further explanation needed] reveals other sites around the globe with similar biophysical characteristics in order to mine past examples of strategies that have succeeded under the same conditions. ProtoPartners are examples of people within a ProtoSpace who have successfully reached an understanding of balance within one or more of the five balance areas: Air, Water Food, Energy and Material.[33]


In 1992 Fisk received the United Nations Earth Summit Award for Exemplary Public Environmental Initiative, for the City of Austin’s Green Building Program conceived and developed by The Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems.[34]

In 2002, Fisk was awarded the U.S. Green Building Council’s first Sacred Tree Award in the public sector category.[35][36] He is also recipient of the Passive Solar Pioneer Award from the American Solar Energy Society,[37] and the National Center for Appropriate Technology’s 15th Year Distinguished Appropriate Technology Award,[3] recognizing significant work in the field of environmental protection.

Fisk led two award-winning student teams in the 2002 (with the University of Texas at Austin) and 2007 (with Texas A&M University) Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

The US Green Building Council honored Pliny Fisk with the USGBC Leadership Award for Organizational Excellence in 2008 for his role as a founding member of the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment.


Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems: 35 Years of Serious Commotion

Pliny Fisk III: Creating a Maximum Potential Future by Sam Martin

See also[edit]

Gail Vittori
Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on October 5, 2012. Retrieved July 26, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Welcome - College of Architecture". Retrieved 29 June 2016. 
  3. ^ a b "Eco-Pioneers: Practical Visionaries Solving Today's Environmental Problems". 1997-11-05. Retrieved 2016-06-29. 
  4. ^ "Video News -". Retrieved 2016-06-29. 
  5. ^ Kay, Jane Holtz. “The Greening of Architecture.” Architecture 80 (May 1991): 61–63.
  6. ^ Leigh, Patricia (1996-02-15). "Mr. Fisk Builds His Green House". Austin, Tx, Usa; Austin (Tex): Retrieved 2016-06-29. 
  7. ^ a b c "Pliny the Greener" Architecture Magazine June 1998, 55.
  8. ^ "Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems" Contemporary American Architects Vol. IV. Taschen Press, 1998. 48.
  9. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on September 20, 2009. Retrieved January 13, 2010. 
  10. ^ "The Town that turned off the gas" The Christian Science MonitorDecember 7, 1979, B1.
  11. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on November 23, 2009. Retrieved January 13, 2010. 
  12. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on September 19, 2010. Retrieved January 13, 2010. 
  13. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on September 19, 2010. Retrieved January 13, 2010. 
  14. ^ "Blueprint for Survival" Architecture Magazine, May 1991, 64.
  15. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on September 20, 2009. Retrieved January 13, 2010. 
  16. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on September 20, 2009. Retrieved January 13, 2010. 
  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on September 20, 2009. Retrieved January 13, 2010. 
  18. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on September 19, 2010. Retrieved October 12, 2010. 
  19. ^ "Home". Retrieved 29 June 2016. 
  20. ^ Fisk III, P. A Conceptual Approach Toward the Development of Appropriate Technology, Science and Technology: New Tools, New Dimensions, American Association for the Advancement of Science 1978.
  21. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on September 19, 2010. Retrieved January 7, 2010. 
  22. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on December 13, 2010. Retrieved January 7, 2014. 
  23. ^ MacMath, Richard and Pliny Fisk III. BaseLine Green and GreenBalance: A Step Beyond Sustainability in Building Performance, 1998,
  24. ^ MacMath, Richard and Pliny Fisk III. Carbon Dioxide Intensity Ratios: A Method of Evaluating the Upstream Global Warming Impact of Long-Life Building Materials, 1998
  25. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on September 20, 2009. Retrieved January 7, 2010. 
  26. ^ a b Lebkowsky, Jon (2008-04-18). "The Serious Play in Saving the World: Gaming gets on the sustainability bandwagon - Screens". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 2016-06-29. 
  27. ^ Fisk III, Pliny, and Lovleen Gill-Aulakh. ECOBALANCE: A Sustainable Land Use Planning and Design Methodology, 2009.
  28. ^ Fisk III, Pliny. “The Ecobalance Approach to New Urbanism and the Smartcode: Efforts Taken at Verano, A New Community and University in San Antonio, Texas.”
  29. ^ Emergent Urbanism: Evolution in Urban Form, Texas, Marisa Ballas and Jeff Gipson Eds. The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture and the Congress for the New Urbanism, 125
  30. ^
  31. ^ “EcoBalance Planning Game - A New Overlay Land Use Analysis Tool For Planning Of Sustainable Communities”, Fisk, P., Sustainable Building/Green Challenge 2000, Maastricht, Netherlands, October 2000.
  32. ^ [1][dead link]
  33. ^ Bucky Fuller Challenge Idea Index
  34. ^ "Pliny the Greener" Architecture Magazine June 1998, 55.,
  35. ^ "USGBC "Sacred Tree" awards". BuildingGreen. 2002-12-01. Retrieved 2016-06-29. 
  36. ^ "EcoBuilding Pulse: Environmental performance, sustainability, green-building projects, green products, and green-building news". Retrieved 29 June 2016. 
  37. ^ "American Solar Energy Society". Retrieved 29 June 2016. 

External links[edit]