A conversation with 2019 Sustainability Fellow Ciera Gordon

Date Published October 01, 2019
Category Fellowships
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HA: What did you think of your time here?

CG: Joining Handel Architects for the summer as a sustainability fellow was a wonderful experience. I mainly worked with the sustainability group, conducting research and developing tools to facilitate sustainable design within the office.

HA: Can you talk a bit about your background? What did you do prior to coming to Handel Architects?

CG: In my education so far, I’ve tried to bring together architecture and sustainable design. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I combined majors in architecture and mechanical engineering with a minor in energy studies to pursue an education tailored towards energy efficiency in buildings and sustainable design.

HA: And what inspired your interest in sustainable design?

CG: I’ve always been interested in the ability of architecture to give back to the natural environment and the people around it, and sustainable design is a great opportunity to do this. Architecture firms like Handel Architects are leading the way by establishing what the industry is capable of accomplishing. Occupants benefit from healthier interior spaces, clients benefit from reduced energy use, and the community at large benefits from a natural environment that can be enjoyed for generations to come.

HA: Can you share a bit about that you worked on?

CG: My work as part of the sustainability fellowship focused on tools that could facilitate sustainable design and augment existing design workflows within the office. I developed scripts and workflows for the Ladybug suite of plug-ins in Grasshopper, and explored Tally as a method for tabulating the embodied energy of Revit models. Both the Ladybug suite and Tally are intuitive tools, and my contribution was to make their capabilities easily accessible to project teams who don’t have the spare time to explore these tools’ intricacies and full potential.

The workflows I developed covered a range of sustainability studies, from energy simulations to thermal comfort analyses to the generation of solar envelopes. As part of this process, I had the opportunity to share my work with the office during two officewide presentations. I had only been briefly introduced to tools like Grasshopper before this summer, so I learned a lot through the development of the scripts and the exploration of everything these programs have to offer. Working with the sustainability group also took me to the North American Passive House Conference, which was an inspiring and valuable learning experience.

HA: And what were the best moments, for you, in your opinion?

CG: For me, the most rewarding moments were when I was able to apply the work I’d developed to real projects in the office. I worked with a team on a large-scale multifamily building in Jersey City to conduct a shading study of the podium deck and determine the amount and quality of solar access.

I also worked with a team working on a tw0-building residential development in Queens to analyze façade energy performance and inform design decisions regarding window-to-wall ratio and levels of curtain wall insulation.

I hope that by becoming involved with these projects, the sustainability group and I have spread awareness throughout the office of all of the sustainable tools Handel has at its disposal.

HA: I understand you’re heading back to school shortly, but if you had another six months here, what would you love to do?

If I were able to continue with Handel past this summer, I would be interested in becoming more involved in particular projects, to see how these tools could be used and adjusted for different contexts and to investigate which other capabilities would be valuable throughout the design process.

HA: What are your goals for the future? Would you say this Fellowship helped you pursue them?

CG: As I move forward with graduate school, with the goal of eventually becoming a licensed architect, I am hoping to carry the sustainable expertise I have gained at Handel with me. Working here has shown me a model for overcoming some of the challenges of comprehensively incorporating sustainable design across a range of projects. I’ve learned a lot about all of the pieces that have to come together to make successful buildings, and the organizational frameworks that facilitate good design. Overall, I really appreciated the open environment and the commitment at Handel to continually learn and improve, in sustainability and in all aspects of design.