An Independent K-12 school on a beautiful wooded campus, 3 miles from Washington, D.C.

Lewis Butler '72: Reviving A Lost Era

Lewis Butler's ('72) sustainable architecture is part of a national return to conservationism.

It was the beginning of something big. On the morning of April 22, 1970, Lewis Butler ‘72 whizzed down Turkey Run Road and across Georgetown Pike on his bicycle, picking up other bikers along the way. By the time they wheeled onto Dolly Madison Boulevard, they were almost a dozen strong. And when they reached The Potomac School, their dozen or so bicycles disappeared into other dozens — hundreds, if Butler’s memory serves. They had all ridden their bikes in celebration of the first official Earth Day, the dawn of what many hoped would be a new era of environmentalism.

Now a sustainable architect in San Francisco, Butler remembers that day and his time at Potomac as formative. “Our science classes at Potomac were very geared toward the effects of phosphates and DDT and [other chemicals] on the environment,” he says. “It was an environmental era, and Potomac was leading the way.”

The School’s expansive campus made it a prime location for the blossoming of a progressive environmental curriculum. In one biology class, Butler remembers attempting the gargantuan task of identifying all of the campus’ trees and birds. “We were always studying something that was simultaneously an important scientific concept and also something that was right in our backyard.” That direct connection between education and setting was something Butler, who only attended Potomac for two years, never experienced anywhere else.

Butler laments that the golden age of U.S. environmentalism was, in his estimation, cut short when oil prices dropped in the ‘80s. But today he’s seeing a renewal of the spirit of the ‘70s, due once again to a spike in oil prices and also a heightened awareness of climate change and other ecological issues. “Shocking that it took 40 years. But I think it’s back to stay.”

This return to conservationism inspires Butler. His firm, Butler Armsden Architects, recently completed work on a LEED Platinum Certified home, which the American Institute of Architects honored with a Citation Award in the energy and sustainability category. It all started when a woman told Butler she wanted to build a house that would be a shining example of energy efficiency and sustainability. Butler’s response? “Finally.”

“Our science classes at Potomac were very geared toward the effects of phosphates and DDT and [other chemicals] on the environment. We were always studying something that was simultaneously an important scientific concept and also something that was right in our backyard. It was an environmental era, and Potomac was leading the way.”

—Lewis butler '72, sustainable architect