Sim Van der Ryn

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Sim Van der Ryn is an American architect, researcher and educator. Van der Ryn's professional interest has been applying principles of physical and social ecology to architecture and environmental design.[1]

Van der Ryn has promoted sustainable design at the community scale and the building-specific scale. He has designed single-family and multi-family housing, community facilities, retreat centers and resorts, learning facilities, as well as office and commercial buildings.[citation needed]


Early life[edit]

Sim Van Der Ryn was born in 1935[2] (age 88) in the Netherlands. His family moved to Queens, New York, then moved to Great Neck, New York on Long Island.[3]

Van der Ryn pursued education in architecture at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, graduating at the age of 24 with a B.Arch degree, in 1958.[4] During that year he moved to California and joined the UC Berkeley faculty where he taught for 35 years.[5] Later in his career, he was listed as a state architect in California and New Mexico. Sim also, became a licensed architect where he received a certification by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).[6][7]

Professional Projects[edit]

  • State of California, Energy Resources and Conservation and Development Building, Sacramento, CA[8]
  • State of California, Department of Justice, Office Building #1, Sacramento, CA 1977-1978.[9]
  • State of California, State Office Building, Sacramento, CA, 1977-1978[9]
  • State of California, Water Resources Control Board Building, Sacramento, CA[9]
  • State of California, State Office Building, San Jose, CA[9]
  • The Ojai Foundation School Ojai, CA.[10]
  • Green Gulch Zen Center Muir Beach, CA[11]
  • Real Goods Solar Living Center Hopland, California, 1996[12]

Teaching Career[edit]

  • Assistant Professor, University of California, Berkeley (UCB), Berkeley, CA. 1958-1966.
  • Associate Professor, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, 1966-1970.[6]
  • Professor, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, 1970.[6]
  • Goff Chair of Innovative Architecture, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK, 2001.[6]
  • Professor Emeritus of Architecture, University of California, Berkeley, 2019.[6]

Professional Efforts[edit]

Van der Ryn’s vision and philosophy have been based on the inclusion of ecological values to the built environment. He introduced new academic programs through elementary schools in Berkeley, California. One of the program's mottos was “trash can do it.” The idea was that recycling of materials would encourage students to utilize resources; the approach was new at the time. Hands-on methods of gaining understanding allowed students to grasp a real-life perspective concerning different materials by utilizing them in environmentally functional projects. The program created opportunities to enhance and develop manual, intellectual and social skills. It put forward a do-it-yourself guideline to enhance educational systems.[13]

Van der Ryn had an innovative and unconventional approach to teaching. In his classes he insisted on creating a more balanced basis among male and female students. He persisted with this principle and was able to create a more equal environment for all with professional aspirations. His vision in relation to architecture was to provide women with similar opportunities as men, accepting equal applicants of men and women in the early 70s.

“Outlaw Builder Studio,” a significant platform for Van der Ryn to demonstrate his new ecological and solar architecture, in which his students could develop building and social skills. Students created, designed and built according to their need while living in the outdoors for at least three days of the week. Later on, some of the projects were dismantled because they didn't meet building-code requirements. This was met with some scrutiny in his teaching career from his peers and other professionals.[13]

Energy Pavilion was a project of interest in the early 70s. This project provided the first mainstream booklet on solar architecture. Students were able to construct an early solar-panel design. This energy-efficient design offered a futuristic glimpse into ecological and environmental architecture. At the time of this project, the world was witnessing the dilemmas of the oil crisis. Van der Ryn encouraged his studio to connect with the surrounding environment and maintain a cohesive approach in design.[13]

California State Government[edit]

Van der Ryn was appointed California State Architect in the administration of Governor Jerry Brown in the late 1970s.[1] Van der Ryn was in the architecture faculty at the University of California, Berkeley. He lives in California.[14]


Sim desired to become a painter he believed that design is a gate to understand ourselves through nature. He taught different watercolor classes to his students and found it to be meditative state. Sim also found it to be a starting point for a designer to integrate with nature and begin to collaborate with it.[15]


  • Recipient, Guggenheim Fellowship, 1971.[16]
  • Recipient, American Institute of Architects, California Council (AIACC), Commendation for Excellence in Technology, 1981.[3]
  • Recipient, AIACC, Nathaniel Owings Award, 1996.[3]
  • Recipient, Rockefeller Scholar in Residence, Bellagio, Italy, 1997 and 2012.[3]
  • Fellowship, Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, Chicago, IL, 1997.[3]
  • President's Award for Planning, American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA Colorado Chapter) for the Arbolera de Vida Master Plan, Albuquerque, NM, 1997.[3]
  • Recipient, Congress for the New Urbanism, Athena Medal, 2008[17]


  • Van der Ryn, Sim and Stuart Cowan (2007). Ecological Design, Tenth Anniversary Edition. Washington, DC: Island Press. ISBN 978-1-59726-1418
  • Van der Ryn, Sim (2005). Design For Life: The Architecture of Sim Van der Ryn. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith. ISBN 978-1586855307
  • Van der Ryn, Sim and Stuart Cowan (1996). Ecological Design. Washington, DC: Island Press. ISBN 1-55963-389-1
  • Calthorpe, Peter and Sim Van der Ryn (1986). Sustainable Communities: A New Design Synthesis for Cities, Suburbs and Towns. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books. ISBN 0-87156-629-X
  • Van der Ryn, Sim and the Farallones Institute, Helga & William Olkowski (1982). The Integral Urban House. NY: Random House. ISBN 978-0871562135
  • Van der Ryn, Sim (1978). The Toilet Papers. Santa Barbara, CA: Capra Press. ISBN 978-0884961215

Van de Ryn also contributed a foreword to the book Handmade Houses: A Guide to the Woodbutcher's Art by Art Boericke and Barry Shapiro (1973).

  • Van der Ryn, Sim (2013). Design for an Empathic World: Reconnecting People, Nature, and Self 2nd None ed. Edition. ISBN 978-1610914260
  • Van der Ryn, Sim (2013). Culture, Architecture and Nature: An Ecological Design Retrospective 1st Edition. ISBN 041583967X
  • Temko, Allan, “California’s New Generation of Energy Efficient State Buildings”,AIA Journal,66: 13,50-56,12/1977.
  • Lencher, Norbert,Heating Cooling Lighting, Design Methods for Architects, 450-455,1991.
  • Bednar, Michael J., Interior Pedestrian Places, 131,1989.
  • “Getting Architects Involved Community Action”, Journal of the American Institute of Architects, 46:5,89,11/1966.
  • Stein, Benjamin, Reynolds, John S., Mechanical and Electrical Equipment for Buildings, 259-265,1992
  • Woodbridge, Sally, “Governing Energy: California State Office Building”, Progressive Architecture, 56:4,86-91,04/1984
  • “An architect child of the’60s whose time has come”, Seattle Times, Sect I:16,10/22/2005.
  • Brown, G.Z., DEKAY, Mark, “Mechanical Mass Ventilation”, Sun, Wind & Light, 284, 288, 2001.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Roberts, Jennifer (November 2007). "The Sim". Dwell. pp. 112–116. Retrieved 2015-06-12.
  2. ^ "CONTENTdm".
  3. ^ a b c d e f "PCAD - Sim Van der Ryn".
  4. ^ "Distinguished Alumni Honorees | Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning".
  5. ^ "Sim-Van der Ryn".
  6. ^ a b c d e "PCAD - Sim Van der Ryn".
  7. ^ 2008. Sim Van Der Ryn - Pioneer Of Green Architecture.
  8. ^ "PCAD - State of California, Energy Resources and Conservation and Development Building, Sacramento, CA".
  9. ^ a b c d "PCAD - State of California, Department of Justice, Office Building #1, Sacramento, CA".
  10. ^ "Ojai". Sim Van der Ryn.
  11. ^ "Wheelwright". Sim Van der Ryn.
  12. ^ "Real Goods Solar Living Center".
  13. ^ a b c 2015. Design Radicals.
  14. ^ "Architect". Sim Van der Ryn.
  15. ^ Point Reyes Light, 2013. Sim Van der Ryn and the architecture of empathy. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 10 March 2013].
  16. ^ "Sim Van der Ryn". Sim Van der Ryn.
  17. ^ amckeag (2015-06-11). "Athena Medals". CNU. Retrieved 2022-06-25.

External links[edit]