A Conversation With Edward Orlowski, Professor of Architecture

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Orlowski-Post.jpg An associate professor of architecture at Lawrence Technological University, Edward Orlowski teaches what he once practiced with Luckenbach | Ziegelman as a licensed architect in the state of Michigan. In addition to his work at LTU, Orlowski serves as a member of the U.S. Green Building Council Detroit Regional Chapter, the American Institute of Architects, and other organizations. Here, Orlowski discusses how sustainable architecture needs to be seen not as a mix of technologies like photovoltaics, but more holistically; why he wishes industry-standard green rating systems were better designed to encourage sound early design decisions and passive techniques; and how Bruce Mau allowed him think about design as a measure of human potential instead of an object-based discipline.

What do you say when people ask you, "What do you do?"

"I teach architecture." My interests in my field are varied, and I don't identify exclusively with the notion of sustainability. Thankfully, my institution is committed to addressing these issues in a variety of core and elective courses, so there is no need for any one person to be the sustainability guy. Which is good, as I was starting to get a bit lonely.

What new idea or innovation is having the most significant impact on the sustainability world?

The move toward integrated project delivery is one of the most significant changes I've seen in the practice of architecture. It represents a cultural change in the way architects work with the project team, and can reap tremendous benefits in the creation of better-performing buildings.

What's something that most people just don't understand about your area of expertise?

I think many people believe sustainable architecture is all about technologies like photovoltaics and green roofs. A true approach to sustainability must embrace a more holistic view of what the architect does, including the opportunities for social and environmental advocacy. This is the direction in which my interests and teaching have been moving lately.

What's an emerging trend that you think will shake up the sustainability world?

I truly feel that those who aim to debunk the notion of climate change and are leading a general backlash against what they see as the green police actually perform a valuable service to those engaged in issues of sustainability. We cannot live under the illusion that people (and certainly corporations) do anything just because it is the right thing. Pressure to demonstrate measurable benefits both economically and environmentally leads us to the development of stronger arguments to advance our position. This is something that William McDonough has clearly recognized.

What's a sustainability trend that you wish would go away?

I don't necessarily want our industry-standard green rating systems to go away, but I wish they were better designed to encourage sound early design decisions and passive techniques. I've seen a number of buildings earn certification based upon expensive add-ons which are needed to counteract bad decisions regarding things such as basic building orientation.

What's an idea you became fascinated with but that ended up taking you off track?

When I was in graduate school, deconstructivism was all the rage. It was fun to play with, and I won't deny such movements are vital to expand our understanding of the possible readings of architecture, but it quickly became clear I am much more philosophically attuned to Louis Kahn than Daniel Libeskind.

Who are three people or organizations that you would put in a Hall of Fame for your field?

R. Buckminster Fuller was addressing sustainability -- technologically and socially -- long before anyone else really put a name to it. He was a true innovator. Cameron Sinclair has been successful in galvanizing ideas of humanitarian design, and bringing them, and those who engage in this field, into a realm of legitimacy and visibility. Bruce Mau changed the way I think about design; no longer as an object-based discipline but rather as a measure of human intentionality and potential.

What other field or occupation did you consider going into?

I was committed to architecture since middle school. It has only been in the last decade that I've fantasized about being a chef or a blues musician. It must be a middle-age thing.

What website or app most helps you do your job on a daily basis?

The Open Architecture Network is a source of constant inspiration to me.

What song's been stuck in your head lately?

The theme song to Pinky and the Brain. I have absolutely no theory as to why.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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