Alison Kwok, AIA, received an AIA Upjohn Research Initiative grant in 2007, which resulted in her 2009 report “Case Studies of Carbon Neutrality,” a catalog of the design and delivery process for carbon neutral buildings that mapped design intent onto actual performance based on the 2030 Challenge. That report became the basis for a series of five articles and related case study e-books for the USGBC’s “LEED Stories from Practice,” which covers topics such as building management and quantifying sustainability. Kwok serves on the board of the Passive House Institute US and teaches architecture at the University of Oregon.
In 1998, I began teaching at Oregon, where there is a critical mass of faculty members who have design and technology backgrounds. So the conversation here in design studios is very fluid, and we can move forward on an idea quickly because everyone is on the same page. My own research has been in natural ventilation in the tropics as well as, more generally, building performance as it relates to design intentions. Translating that into an educational context has been rewarding—teaching research skills, how to ask critical questions, how to use cutting-edge equipment.
We’ve seen a lot of those lines of inquiry go into practice. But the fact remains that tracking post-occupancy building performance is challenging—and so is integrating that process into a firm’s own identity and operation. But it’s happened—and it’s happening. Some firms have successfully done it. What’s the real challenge? The education component. In other words, it’s not just about understanding building performance within architecture education—it’s also about education within the firms. Who pays for folks to get up to speed on calculating energy use intensity (EUI) or to design for net-zero energy? Education needs champions and money. But incorporating the effort and understanding the basic principles of building performance will render positive results.
When I interviewed architects and engineers for my research, I was pleased with how willing they were to share information about how their firms work. I think firm principals were so willing to help because they believe in what they’re doing, and that tracking building performance is a value-driven system. Practitioners and design professionals involved in the 2030 Commitment were really engaged in that enterprise. It was not all about the process, though—it was also about firm culture. Can you work with other people? Can you lead other people across other disciplines? As the next generation of students moves into practice, I think that would be a useful thing to know if you’re looking for a job. —As told to William Richards