Alicia Ravetto, AIA, launched her residential practice 15 years ago in North Carolina’s rapidly growing Research Triangle between Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill—the perfect location for integrating advanced building technology and renewable energy. She is a fellow of the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) and a sustainability consultant specializing in daylighting and conservation. In 2011, Ravetto received the Gail Lindsey Sustainability Award from AIA North Carolina.

The term "advanced building technology" means using techniques we've known about for years and incorporating them from the very beginning of the design process—site, building orientation, and protection against summer heat gain. In commercial applications, it's also things like daylighting. People do misuse the term, though, and particularly these days, with the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification. People think that a LEED project means it's absolutely going to be energy efficient, water efficient, and so on—but LEED is not a guarantee for performance. I've done a lot of LEED consulting and, for me, it's a tool to walk the design team and owner through the project, to give them a basic understanding. I'm facilitating the process from beginning to end in my work.

"Sustainability" is another term that’s been misused. When we use it, we're referring specifically to environmental sustainability. After all, true sustainability would mean that we don't build new buildings any more. It would mean using what we already have.

Demystifying daylighting is something I do a lot of—because there are a lot of assumptions out there about daylighting. For instance, not every orientation is the same. North is not better than south. In some cases, and for particular functional reasons, yes it is—but not always. It’s not a given. The other important factor is selecting the glazing for a particular orientation. There’s been a lot of improvement in glazing technology, but not a growth of understanding of the potential or how to mix different kinds of glazing in a single project.

ASES has been my main organization in the U.S. since I arrived in 1985 from Argentina, where I had been doing a lot of work on passive systems. It was a natural organization for me to connect with, and it's helped me maintain my technical background. Now I find, during my crossover with other organizations like the USGBC, that I am learning more about the applications and policies that make the technology matter.

But it baffles me that most architects don’t know where to begin with orientation and passive energy. So I find that my role over the last 10 years has been about coaching others. It’s not about aesthetics—the culture of design onto which concepts like "sustainability" have been mapped. It's about a comprehensive approach. —As told to William Richards