Environmental Quality, Building Systems Integration, and a Love for Pittsburgh

Vivian+LoftnessVivian Loftness, FAIA, LEED AP, is a University Professor and former Head of the School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University. She is an internationally renowned researcher, author and educator with over thirty years of focus on environmental design and sustainability, advanced building systems integration, climate and regionalism in architecture, and design for performance in the workplace of the future. She is a registered architect and a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. Vivian answered some of our questions in anticipation of her presentation at our Environmental Awareness Week event on Wednesday, October 28 in Pittsburgh.

CannonDesign: What topic are you planning to present at the EAW event?

Vivian Loftness: I’m part of a research team here at Carnegie Mellon with a wide range of research that could be of interest to the CannonDesign group. The first is, “how do buildings need to change in response to health and productivity?” Another is, “what is the emerging ‘internet of things’ doing to improve environmental quality?”

CD: In terms of the environmental quality, do you have any examples of your research you would like to share?

VL: By using the phrase “environmental quality,” we are broadening the dialogue to include the overall health and well-being of people in spaces, considering all factors like thermal, air quality, visual, acoustic and spatial/ergonomic conditions. Innovations are occurring in every building system. Take lighting for example. In addition to LED innovations, daylighting is an incredibly important source and still a major design challenge for working environments. Far too often, we’ve handed over lighting design to the electrical team, and interior façade layers to the interiors team, but today we’re finding the need to collaborate much more strongly than we did in the past.

In a few years, Loftness says, there will be an increased ability to personally adjust workplace environment settings through smartphone technology, thus saving significant amount of energy.

In a few years, Loftness says, there will be an increased ability to personally adjust workplace environment settings through smartphone technology, thus saving significant amount of energy.

The “internet of things” is allowing us to put sensors and controllers on every “terminal device” in the workplace. Today, we can see what lighting levels we have at our desk and can control each fixture independently—a big shift from where we’ve been in the past. Now, we can make choices and take action to make our environments more sustainable. In the very near future, every light fixture, every air diffuser, every plug point and every dynamic façade component will be digitally addressable with smart phone controllers to give the occupants a true say in their indoor environments and reduce energy consumption by about 40%.

CD: You’ve touched on the importance of building systems integration. CannonDesign prides itself on being highly integrated – do you have any advice for us?

VL: A firm that has the full suite of expertise is, potentially, far more competitive in today’s search for innovative buildings —but only if it truly acts as an integrated firm. For example, an engineering firm takes its new hires from college and throws them into a different specialty than what they studied in school, be it civil, mechanical or electrical engineering, thus forcing them to literally operate outside of their comfort zone. This creates a deeper understanding about the entire planning and building process and a commitment to true integration. If CannonDesign has methods in place that encourage breaking down silos—not just occasionally showing up at meetings together—then the partnership will reap the benefits of being an integrated firm.

The second critical tip in successful integration is how strongly each member of the team believes in passive building systems. If you have a lighting engineer that says, “daylighting is an amenity, not a reliable light source” or if you have a mechanical engineer that says, “natural ventilation is not a guarantee of ventilation or thermal conditioning, and pressurized buildings are the answer,” you will not be able to create innovative façade solutions. If you are not committed to “unplugged” solutions you will have a weak link in your chain of producing a high-performing building.

CD: You live and work in Pittsburgh and have a real love for the city. What are some things you love about it?

VL: Pittsburgh is always a surprise for new visitors and even a surprise for those who haven’t been here in 20 years. It’s an idyllic setting where two rivers form a third at the foothills of the Allegheny, and it’s a hilly city unlike a mid-western city. It’s filled with green slopes and has five large Olmstead parks. Where these two rivers form a third, the city skyline is a crescendo with a dense urban core. The smoke is gone. The mills have disappeared. What was once a hundred miles of industry along the waterfront has slowly but surely been turned into some of the most beautiful greenways and developments in any city.

LEED-CertifiedIt’s also a leading green city largely because of a host of firms including Astorino (Astorino joined CannonDesign in 2014). They designed many landmark buildings in the downtown and surrounding area and they have a real commitment to green building design. Because of their efforts and others like them, Pittsburgh now has one of the largest arrays of LEED certified buildings in the country in relation to its size. For all who can come see the presentation in-person, it is being held at Phipps Conservatory. Through the leadership of Richard Piacentini, Phipps has added a series of cutting-edge LEED buildings, including a brilliant net-zero energy and net-zero water Living Building Challenge office and classroom building that has gone through a full year of reporting and data mining on its building systems. And, since it is a conservatory, it has some of the most beautiful flowers you can ever imagine. So, if anyone from CannonDesign is in driving distance, I would highly encourage you to visit for the presentation!

Vivian Loftness will be speaking at Phipps conservatory in Pittsburgh on October 28 as part of CannonDesign’s Environmental Awareness Week (EAW). EAW is CannonDesign’s annual celebration of smart ideas, innovative technologies and iconoclastic thinkers that help guide our progress toward becoming a regenerative practice.

Learn more about our EAW event in Pittsburgh >

Read our interview with Michael Harcourt on more EAW Topics >