How long and in what ways have you been involved with HDC’s Exemplary Buildings Program? What is it about EBP that resonates with you?
Since late 2019 I have been working on North Lot, an affordable housing project that is pursuing the Exemplary Buildings Program. I think there needs to be a paradigm shift in the way we approach the construction of buildings and that shift needs to happen now, especially in housing. This new crop of exemplary buildings will be a testament to the fact that we can produce ultra-energy efficient homes that balance first costs with long-term operational savings while preserving the environment we live in, and I am very excited to see this become standard practice.
Why are your specific skills and unique traits necessary and important for this work? How do they come into play in balancing the goals of delivering “exemplary” housing while maintaining affordability?
Prior to North Lot, I had worked on Solis, a market-rate multifamily project that achieved Passive House certification at a mere 5% construction cost premium by using market-standard assemblies. Exemplary buildings are Passive House-adjacent and share very similar goals, so I was able to translate what I learned from working on Solis onto North Lot. We applied a lot of similar systems and assembly details, as well as important lessons learned from the previous project.
One of EBP’s defining traits is its collaborative model and team-based approach. Tell us a bit about how your team worked together to achieve exemplary building goals: what were the values, individually and collectively, that were most important to success?
Early integrative design is an important tenet in the exemplary building process, and it certainly helped to bring in all they key players early on in the project. Establishing core goals at the outset of the project helped the team to better integrate them in all aspects of the design. We had such good team synergy on the North Lot project, if I may say so, and communication lines were always open between ownership, contractor, and the design and consultant teams.
What leadership tool will you take forward from the extraordinary challenges of this past year?
Working on the North Lot project for over a full year of Covid lockdowns really challenged the team to find ways to collaborate remotely and effectively. If I had to pick one thing that I’d like to carry forward post-Covid, it’s the importance of over-communication. Daily Slack check-ins with team members, weekly meetings with ownership and contractor teams, and twice a week meetings with the internal design team sound like a lot, but they were both necessary and extremely helpful throughout the development of the project.
What would you say to a younger woman who is considering entering the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry? What do you wish you had known prior to entering your profession?
The decision to pursue architecture is not an easy one. There will be highs and lows in architecture school, but persevere and don’t quit! In the end, all your hard work will be well worth it. To be able to influence the trajectory of the built environment and be part of the solution in preserving the precious world we live in is truly a rewarding experience.
On a lighter note: What or who has been an empowering song, poem, book, movie, or person for you this past year?
One of the poems that resonated with me this past year is Wendell Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things. It has themes of escapism, healing, and the therapeutic effects that nature can have on us. He describes the unfettered simplicity of living in the present moment. Ultimately, one of the underlying messages here is that we must learn to live in harmony with the natural environment.
Noelle is part of an incredible team from Weber Thompson working with EBP. Read more of their stories– and those of women from other firms and organizations– here.