Lara Kaufmann on decarbonization

Sharing success stories is important to move the industry towards decarbonization

Lara Kaufman is Design Director and Sustainability & Climate Action Lead in Studio Gang and one of the keynote speakers at Building Green Copenhagen 1-2 November. On stage, Lara will present a cross section of geographically diverse projects across the United States – including the David Rubenstein Treehouse at Harvard University, Beloit College Powerhouse, Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo, and Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership. Each project reveals unique solutions tuned to the specific site and climate.

Read an interview with Lara here.

What is your background and how do you work with sustainability?

I’m an architect and have been practicing in the US for over 20 years. I’ve worked on a range of different project typologies from museums to libraries to multifamily housing. For the past several years at Studio Gang my focus has been climate action and sustainable design. I contribute to many active projects by helping to set and plan for ambitious environmental performance goals early on in the design process. I also lead Studio Gang’s Climate Action Plan development, a Studio-wide plan to measure, evaluate, and reduce the carbon emissions of our projects and operations. I’d say that my work plays out at different scales, from one-on-one sessions with design team members to workshops with studio leadership and all-office presentations. My particular focus these days is around materials and landscapes.

Lara Kaufman, Design Director and Sustainability & Climate Action Lead, Studio Gang

What challenges and opportunities do you see in the construction industry right now?

In the US, the challenges to implementing sustainable design are mainly economic and cultural. Tested low carbon technologies exist and have for a long time in many parts of the world. However, if there’s no local precedent, the technology might be considered too risky for an owner to take on. Sharing success stories and making the case for new types of systems and products is really important for moving the industry towards decarbonization. We need to work as individuals to promote climate design on our projects but also act collectively as a profession to advance policy and legislation which is essential for making improvements happen faster and at a much larger scale.

This year’s theme is ‘Regenerative design and architecture’. What can we do right now to move towards it? And what does it take?

Regenerative architecture, in the narrowest sense, is a design that stores more carbon than it emits. This means using non-extractive processes of material sourcing, labor, and construction to shape a long-term beneficial outcome for society and the planet as a whole.

But regenerative design is not limited to sites with extensive landscapes and wooded areas. We have many exciting options to pursue as we work towards regenerative architecture. We can build less from new materials and reuse what we have in the form of existing buildings. We can invest in existing transit-rich urban sites to preserve open space and prevent land conversion. We can source timber from sustainably managed forests that restore biodiversity, create good jobs for people, and minimize the risk of wildfires.

Arcus Center. Photo by Steve Hall

Can you name a few interesting projects where regenerative principles have been applied? Or where sustainability has been approached in an innovative way?

In a broader sense, regeneration is the transformation of abandoned and polluted sites into living, self-sustaining sites. In the US, where there is a legacy of abandoned industrial buildings and mid-century buildings that no longer perform well, we can apply regenerative practices to bring these sites back to useful life. Studio Gang’s Beloit College Powerhouse is one example of a project that might not appear to be regenerative from the outside, but in fact has made a real impact on improving urban connectivity, river access for the public, and reducing the campus’s carbon footprint. Another example is our University of Chicago Center in Paris, now under construction, which is a vertical campus with a low carbon, sustainably-sourced timber structure and stone façade, with a densely planted roof and courtyard offering urban respite.

What are you planning to talk about at Building Green Copenhagen and what do you hope the participants will gain from hearing it?

I’m looking forward to sharing Studio Gang’s built work and the various ways we’re advancing decarbonization, biodiversity, and belonging in different North American cities. Our sustainability approach evolves from the idea of radical repair of our built environment and relationship to nature. I hope participants will take ideas from the presentation and feel inspired to expand their definition of what architecture can do for climate.

Do you want to hear about Studio Gang’s sustainability approach?

Join Building Green Copenhagen 1-2 November and hear Lara’s keynote presentation on Studio Gang’s sustainability approach and decarbonization in their projects. Read more about the event and sign up today.

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