Did you know that Tadao Ando was a boxer before he became an architect? Or that Philip Johnson studied philosophy before going on to build his famed Glass House? The road to a career in design is not always the most straightforward, and more than a handful of the world’s most well-known designers spent years dabbling in different vocations that outwardly seem unrelated to their ultimate true calling. Today’s most forward-thinking design schools are starting to embrace this kind of diversity in their student body, welcoming individuals of all backgrounds and ages who want to begin a career shaping our built environment. But what’s it like to be that student who pursues a design education after years spent working a different type of 9 to 5? We asked students from the highly diverse Boston Architectural College (BAC) to share what it’s like to be a graduate student in Sustainable Design in the Master of Design Studies Program —an innovative low-residency degree dedicated to helping students learn about the practices, processes, and materials for building a sustainable future. These bright minds from across the globe gave us a peek into their lives, sharing their background, the projects they’ve been working on, and what they dream of doing in the future. Read on for a look at for what 7 of Boston Architectural College‘s brightest Sustainable Design students have to say!

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WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
Guayaquil, Ecuador

WHAT IS YOUR EDUCATIONAL / PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND?
Graduate Degree in Architecture from the Universidad de Especialidades Espiritu Santo-Samborondon, Ecuador. Currently I work as a freelance architect in Ecuador and also in my family’s construction company in Guayaquil.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE MDS SD PROGRAM?
My family runs a NGO that works in the slums of Guayaquil called Pro Labore Dei, PLD. There I realized that my country was begging for urgent solutions in sectors such as housing, sanitation, water, energy, among others. Hence, I saw in sustainability a viable way to address the main problems that affect those vulnerable zones, very common in developing countries like mine.  Additionally, this program coupled perfectly to my tight work schedule, allowing me at the same time, to study and put in practice a topic that fascinates me such as sustainability from my homeland.

WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO DO WITH THE KNOWLEDGE YOU LEARN IN THIS PROGRAM?
I hope to become a leader in the area of sustainability here in my country, not for personal interests but to serve others that need it the most. In the macro scale I look forward to work hand in hand with the local government developing environmentally conscious urban planning and housing proposals. In the same way in the micro scale, I hope to change the way clients see this topic, through the application of efficient sustainable design strategies in my projects.

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE WORLD’S MOST PRESSING PROBLEM? 
Definitively as many would say, global warming is one of the biggest problems that affect the world today. But besides this critical moment we are living, the increase in population is another serious issue to worry about. The population worldwide is expected to rise in the next decades and especially the developing world lacks proper strategies to address housing and sanitation solutions.

HOW WOULD YOU ATTEMPT TO TRY TO SOLVE THIS PROBLEM THROUGH DESIGN? 
I developed a sustainable, low-cost dwelling prototype in the slum of “La Ladrillera” located in Guayaquil, Ecuador. In the picture above (taken in January 2014) you can see me with the candidate family chosen to live in the dwelling.
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Patricio’s design for a sustainable, low-cost dwelling prototype in the slum of“La Ladrillera” located in Guayaquil, Ecuador

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WHERE ARE YOU FROM? 
Illinois

WHAT IS YOUR EDUCATIONAL / PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND?
My educational background is in the physical sciences, geology, and hydrogeology. I’ve worked as an environmental consultant for over 25 years concentrating primarily in the field of water resources. This includes working on historic legacy problems related to contamination of drinking water sources, public and industrial water supply problems, and design of green infrastructure products and systems for storm water management.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE MDS SD PROGRAM?
My consulting work also afforded me the opportunity to work on environmental problems associated with buildings and structures due to materials selection, siting issues, and IAQ. These were my first professional experiences related to the health impacts of buildings on their occupants and the environment. That sparked an interest in how and where buildings were constructed, their long term function and performance, as well as the relationship with their surroundings and occupants. To expand on this work though I needed to gain additional knowledge in building science and sustainable design, but I needed to do this while still working. After a long search I located the BAC, who had already established themselves as an innovative educational leader in these fields. When I learned that the BAC was starting a low residency MDS program, it seemed a logical progression of my studies and I joined their inaugural class in 2011.

WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO DO WITH THE KNOWLEDGE YOU LEARN (OR LEARNED) IN THIS PROGRAM?
Combining this education with my professional experience has taught me how the integration of design and environment can enhance a problem solution. My professional goal is to develop products and services to solve the toughest problems for my clients related to the built environment. This program has allowed me to build on what I have learned already, draw lessons for the experience of others, and pass on some of my own knowledge and experience through teaching and thought leadership on the subject of sustainable design.

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE WORLD’S MOST PRESSING PROBLEM?
Water scarcity. More specifically, scarcity and mismanagement of high quality water resources. This may seem somewhat of an enigma to most of us living in this part of the world who take it pretty much for granted. Water is fundamental to life and we live on the “water planet”, yet only 2.5% of the world’s water is freshwater; and less than 1% of that is readily accessible to humans as surface water or groundwater. There is a critical need to manage water resources for sites and building operations with an emphasis on balancing water needs with available water resources, while recognizing the total ecological value of that water.

HOW WOULD YOU ATTEMPT TO TRY TO SOLVE THIS PROBLEM THROUGH DESIGN? 
Utilizing an integrated “site” water management (ISWM) solution to better manage and determine actions needed to supply water, minimize waste, and protect and enhance water resources. Watersheds are closed loop systems defined by hydrologic boundaries and are thus ideal units of measure for managing water resources. We can use this same logic to set hydrologic boundaries around the development site (e.g., property, city block, or neighborhood). Ideally this closed loop ISWM model will use a more holistic “systems thinking” approach, encompassing not only natural hydrologic systems, but hydraulic systems needed as part of the buildings and infrastructure. This would include all potable, process, and wastewater flows; along with natural hydrologic processes (precipitation, drainage, infiltration, evaporation). Within this context, the designer is truly empowered to explore what is possible within the project’s unique water situation.

 

Students creating urban systems through connectivity and collaboration

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WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
Washington, D.C.

WHAT IS YOUR EDUCATIONAL / PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND?
I have a B.S. in Journalism from Ohio University and have written about design for my entire career. I currently oversee sustainability-related content for a major media company in the design, building, and construction realm.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE MDS SD PROGRAM?
I was looking for a way to learn more about the nuts and bolts of sustainable design in a flexible environment that would allow me to keep my day job. I was looking for a program that would help me transition from writing about sustainability to being a more of an active participant. I want to spend less time writing about the people changing our world and more time actively being one of those people.

WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO DO WITH THE KNOWLEDGE YOU LEARN (OR LEARNED) IN THIS PROGRAM?
I want to help more people understand why it is critical to the future of our planet and ourselves that we adopt sustainability on a broad scale at a much faster pace. I plan on marrying my knowledge from the MD-SDS program with my experiences in communications to teach other sustainability professionals how to better craft and convey this message.

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE WORLD’S MOST PRESSING PROBLEM? 
We are seeing our world change through more frequent extreme weather events, and have data that shows that we are quickly approaching critical climate deadlines, but at a macro level, we seem to be disinterested in changing our behavior to address these issues. One in four Americans doesn’t believe in global warming. That is a problem.

HOW WOULD YOU ATTEMPT TO TRY TO SOLVE THIS PROBLEM THROUGH DESIGN? 
There are already innovative design practitioners at work on the challenges at hand, providing sustainable solutions that rebalance our relationship with the earth in ways that allow both people and planet to thrive. The tools are out there and they are growing. We just need to spread the word. The power of design is that it affects nearly every element of our daily life, from where we live to what we wear and what we do from one hour to the next, from how we get around to how we interact with one another. We need to capitalize on this interactivity and use it to affect large-scale change.

 

Collaboration through project work and design iteration is the foundation of the MDS Intensive experience

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WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
Bogota, Colombia

WHAT IS YOUR EDUCATIONAL / PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND?
Architect and civil engineer from the University of los Andes. I am currently the CEO of my company – Green Loop – in which I have had the opportunity to get involved in a little more than 40 LEED projects (NC, CS, EB and ID) in Colombia, Brazil and EEUU as a LEED consultant, energy modeler and commissioning agent. I am a LEED AP BD&C and also a Certified Building Commissioning Professional – CBCP- by the Association of Engineers.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE MDS SD PROGRAM?
I choose this program because of the flexibility of a distance/low-residency program that includes brief periods of intensive study in Boston. Plus, the curriculum was very appealing and at the same time allowed me to select the classes that I find most interesting.

WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO DO WITH THE KNOWLEDGE YOU LEARN (OR LEARNED) IN THIS PROGRAM? I am already implementing the knowledge I learned on a daily basis in my office as a sustainability consultant.

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE WORLD’S MOST PRESSING PROBLEM? 
Finding ways to reduce the carbon footprint associated with the built environment.

HOW WOULD YOU ATTEMPT TO TRY TO SOLVE THIS PROBLEM THROUGH DESIGN?
During the 6 years I have been involved in the sustainable building design, I have become passionate about innovative and new ways to save energy in buildings. I have to say that implementing integrative design tools learned in this program has allowed me to deliver exceptionally efficient designs without incurring in extra costs. Every building I am involved with is a learning tool because our temperate and equatorial climates represent a completely different approach to efficient building envelopes, especially in mild climates (due to the altitude of several of our cities, we have mild or even cold climates in equatorial locations).

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Students engaged in a guest lecture on a proposed new urban development in Boston

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WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
Oaklyn, New Jersey

WHAT IS YOUR EDUCATIONAL / PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND?
I received my B.S. in civil and environmental engineering from Rowan University in 2009. Since graduating, I have worked as a project engineer and sustainability consultant and am currently the energy manager for the New Jersey National Guard. I have attained my LEED Green Associate, Energy Manager in Training (EMIT), and Engineer in Training (EIT) credentials.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE MDS SD PROGRAM?
When I was looking for a master’s program, I wanted one that offered a variety of sustainable design classes taught by experts in the field and where I could increase my knowledge of green buildings and advance my career. The MDS SD program allowed me to do that while continuing to work full-time in addition to the added benefits of being able to travel to Boston and meet other sustainability professionals from across the country and around the world.

WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO DO WITH THE KNOWLEDGE YOU LEARN (OR LEARNED) IN THIS PROGRAM?
My hope is to use the skills and knowledge that I gained in the program to make any company / organization that I work for the most sustainable they can be. The MDS SD program was very good at covering a variety of sustainability topics from daylighting to neighborhood design and being able to communicate with vendors and contractors about different building systems and green products and understand what they are saying has helped me a lot in my career. This knowledge has also helped me green my own home and lifestyle.

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE WORLD’S MOST PRESSING PROBLEM?
I believe that water scarcity is the most pressing problem we face today. Lack of water affects every continent on the planet and it will only get worse if nothing is done. Increasing demand, pollution, waste, and climate change all have an impact on the availability of our water resources, all of which we can change. While water is considered a renewable resource, there is only a limited amount of it.

HOW WOULD YOU ATTEMPT TO TRY TO SOLVE THIS PROBLEM THROUGH DESIGN? 
I believe in a holistic approach to building design. Systems within a building should be designed to make use of synergies in order to get the most efficient building possible. For example, green roofs can reduce stormwater runoff and flooding by collecting rain, which can then be used for flushing toilets or watering plants. As we make our buildings more water efficient, we will be able to reduce demand and pollution and ensure that clean water will be available for everyone.

 

Students exploring and using the city of Boston as a learning lab

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WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
Minnesota

WHAT IS YOUR EDUCATIONAL / PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND?
I received a Bachelors of Design in architecture with a minor in sustainability from the University of Minnesota and am currently working for a construction company providing 3D modeling and coordination, as well as assistance to the Sustainable Energy program.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE MDS SD PROGRAM? 
After landing a job in my desired field, I was hesitant to leave yet I wanted to continue my education in sustainable design. Having an online program allowed me to stay at my job in Minnesota, while continuing to engage with the other classmates through the intensives and the online platform.

WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO DO WITH THE KNOWLEDGE YOU LEARN (OR LEARNED) IN THIS PROGRAM? 
I have always been interested in how we can better our environment through sustainable practices. The Sustainable Energy program at my company is in its earlier phases and I’d like to continue to see that grow. In addition, I took a few residential courses which are currently helping me update my 1950s home to a more efficient space!

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE WORLD’S MOST PRESSING PROBLEM?
I have always been passionate about garbage, in all forms. Wasted material going into landfills that could be better utilized else where (ReUse centers!) and toxic materials being disposed of irresponsibly, harming our water streams causing health issues to the surrounding community. There are so many great resources out there to prevent this, they are just underutilized.

HOW WOULD YOU ATTEMPT TO TRY TO SOLVE THIS PROBLEM THROUGH DESIGN?
My capstone project was based around deconstruction, which I am currently experiencing in my own house. How to deconstruct materials for reuse, or repurpose. It’s fun, exhausting and challenging, but in the end it’ll be worth it! Thinking about the end (Cradle to Cradle) of a product’s useful life during the initial design phase is crucial to ensuring an efficient reuse later on.

 

The Intensive is an opportunity for students from around the world to test new ideas and apply innovative solutions in the city

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WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
Palmer, Alaska

WHAT IS YOUR EDUCATIONAL / PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND? 
I have a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Montana State University and have been a LEED AP since 2007. I have worked in the field of sustainable design for over 10 years in several countries. The last 5 years as a consultant to the Government of American Samoa where I worked on energy efficient commercial building and resource conservation projects. Last year I completed the first LEED certified building project in the South Pacific—a new office for the American Samoa Environmental Protection Agency.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE MDS SD PROGRAM? 
For years I have been working in cross cultural and multi-discipline challenging positions in developing countries. I’ve learned that taking on several roles at once of engineer, architect, and social scientist requires a whole systems thinking approach to implement sustainable development. The MDS SD degree is program developed for sustainable design professionals that personified this type of integrated and whole systems approach; offering both the technical knowledge as well as the larger cultural and global framing skill set I wanted to more effectively deliver lasting sustainable design projects.

WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO DO WITH THE KNOWLEDGE YOU LEARN (OR LEARNED) IN THIS PROGRAM? 
To become involved in projects that go beyond sustainable design into regenerative focused solutions and participate in various levels of sustainable design advocacy and teaching.

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE WORLD’S MOST PRESSING PROBLEM?
The growing climate urgency being overshadowed by a sense of environmental impowerlessness (impotence).

HOW WOULD YOU ATTEMPT TO TRY TO SOLVE THIS PROBLEM THROUGH DESIGN? 
By using the design knowledge and approach cultured in the MSD-SD program to advance transformational leadership that empowers communities to adopt and advocate for sustainable design initiatives. In other words: a good leader is someone that empowers others to lead; this philosophy is at the core of sustainable design practices.

 

+ The Sustainable Design Institute

+ Boston Architectural College