Drawing from her experience in driving sustainability within an international design firm and across the architectural profession, Mary Ann Lazarus, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, has a deep understanding of how to work with firms who are at the early stages of sustainability, as well as those ready to go to the next level. She takes time to develop a clear understanding of each firm’s unique needs and leadership opportunities in order to develop strategies that work.

Mary Ann will speak during 2018 Environmental Awareness Week in our St. Louis office. We sat down with her to ask a few questions in anticipation of her talk.

Can you provide a bit of background as to your role in driving sustainability at HOK over the years?
I worked at HOK since 1980 and I had the honor and privilege to be part of the group who was driving the “green movement” as it was called in the early ’90s. One of the defining moments was when the HOK Board adopted sustainability as one of their Core Values in ’91. There was a lot of work done within the firm by a grassroots group of self-identified, interested people to bring sustainability into our projects.

These same people then became involved with nation-wide initiatives such as the development of LEED and the AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE). HOK also published the first edition of their “HOK Guidebook to Sustainable Design” in 2000. I moved from project leadership roles to the role of firm-wide Sustainability Leader in 2001. I then a co-authored the second edition of the “HOK Guidebook to Sustainable Design” in 2005.

What will your presentation focus on for CannonDesign’s Environmental Awareness Week given that your audience will be architects and engineers who make design decisions every day?
My title is “Gimme Shelter: Resilient Design in a Transformative Era.” It’s about the role design professionals have within the topic of resilient design. The opportunity is so vast and I’ll talk about how we can improve resiliency at different scales and plan for a very different and unknown future. There is an urgent need and we as designers can address many of these challenges.

What is your background on resilient design?
My background is based on 12 years at the local and national scale. I first became involved in resilience after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005. I worked with a group of U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) leaders to address the devastation to address how to build back differently in a way that would be more adaptable and resilient over time. We worked hard to pull together a two-day charrette at Greenbuild that year, which included green building experts and residents of the affected area. We focused on the strategies and opportunities that could come from this devastation. Out of that charrette came several publications and new relationships especially with the Resilient Design Institute that formed a few years later.

Since then, I have continued working on implementing and promoting resilient design. Three years ago, I co-chaired a task group developing pilot credits for resilience in the LEED rating system. I now sit on the “RELi” Steering Committee which is a rating system for resilience with the USGBC. So, there has been a need for this work and it has really taken hold in the past few years.

What was most challenging and most rewarding during your time as a Resident Fellow of the AIA?
I was brought in as part of the AIA’s repositioning effort after the recession in 2008. I was tapped as a business expert to help the AIA identify its role in sustainability efforts. Aftermarket research and interviews and working with an advisory group, I presented findings to the Board which stated that sustainability is essential to the future of our practice and architects need to be leading the conversation. It is something where design professionals are uniquely positioned to help our clients and communities. Out of that report, the AIA launched a series of four initiatives that have since involved volunteer groups, staff positions and many other resources to help architects promote sustainable outcomes. The four initiatives were Materials, Energy, Resilience, and Design & Health. They are integrated now in the AIA activities and continue to evolve and grow. Since my time as Resident Fellow, I became a member of the AIA COTE Advisory Group and chaired that group in 2017.

As an adjunct professor at Washington University in St. Louis, what are you seeing with students today and how they are reacting challenges we face with climate change?
My first observation is that no one is denying climate change. It could be self-selecting because you would be hard-pressed to find climate change deniers in my classes. What’s exciting about the student body I have been exposed to is that it is a very international group. So, there’s great discussion about the challenges in everyone’s home city, such as Shanghai and Beijing, but also in Newark, NJ. In addition to the traditional student body, I’m also working with non-traditional students such as people who are usually of an older demographic (25-60). They have varied and interesting life experiences that they bring to the discussion.

What do you like to do in your free time?
My husband and I travel a lot. I enjoy visiting new places; we’re going to Peru shortly after this talk. My children are spread across the country in great places to be. I enjoy gardening and am trying to get native plants to work in my garden. I also enjoy various forms of exercise; my favorites are biking and walking.