Vivian Loftness is Design, Quantified

With a career spanning more than four decades, Dr. Vivian Loftness is an internationally renowned expert in environmental and climactic design. This is not in question. She has worked from Canada to Finland to Greece as a researcher, professor, and designer, with a brief break to create the United States’ first PhD program in building science. And yet, Dr. Loftness remains a devoted student of her calling, in continual pursuit of the precisely quantified benefits that architecture brings to the world. For her unceasing curiosity and unwavering dedication to design for all, Dr. Loftness is the 2019 Legacy Award winner.

A double graduate of MIT, Dr. Loftness pursued the precise intersection of art and math, or her particular interpretation of contextual architecture. With the energy crisis looming, her interest lay neither in becoming an aesthete nor visionary theorist. “You should study architecture as if it has a responsibility to get something right,” Dr. Loftness explains. “We are a profession that influences quality of life, that impacts equity, compassion, water, and energy use. But we haven’t adequately figured out how to measure those changes.”

Dr. Loftness’s penchant for multi-tasking is deeply rooted, beginning with her dual jobs as a researcher at the American Institute of Architecture and a professor of environmental design at MIT, then SUNY Buffalo. She was an accidental teacher by her own account, and yet her focus on energy and solar design garnered academic prestige, eventually translating to a position designing a solarized public housing village in Athens, Greece.

With each posting, Dr. Loftness added new fields of analysis to her practice. In a 2-year stint with Public Work Canada, Loftness and her new husband Volker Hartkopf pioneered the Total Building Performance Evaluation Method, advocating for an integrated examination of energy efficiency, air quality, light, acoustics, and material integrity. In their spring trips back to Carnegie Mellon University to teach, Loftness and Hartkopf founded the Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics, with now more than one hundred PhD graduates seeding their own programs in Korea, India, Singapore, England, France, and Canada. She also found time to become head of the Carnegie Mellon School of Architecture for 10 years, ushering in its robust quantitative design curriculum.

Dr. Loftness is currently researching the economic and health benefits of smart surfaces, in partnership with field pioneer Greg Katz, while serving on multiple nonprofit boards including AIA, the International Living Future Institute, Phipps Conservatory. She continues to advise at least three PhD theses, and was just elected as a Senior fellow for the New Buildings Institute.

After 37 years at Carnegie Mellon University, retirement is a consideration, though only to prioritize the several books she wants to write. “Architects have a tendency to think that beauty comes from unusual shapes or drape. But what if a building were beautiful by accentuating the very systems that we need?” she exclaims. “What’s a beautiful shading or daylighting system? How can operable windows form delicate articulations on a building?” Surrounded by the baroque gargoyles of her home in Ludwigsburg, Germany, themselves a system of water conveyance, her proposed book title seems particularly apt. “It’s Systematically Beautiful,” she concludes. Though of course, she still needs to quantify just how beautiful they are.

Vivian Loftness is the 2019 recipient of the Legacy Award. Join us at GBA’s Emerald Evening Gala on September 12 as we celebrate 5 people and projects transforming Western Pennsylvania, and inaugurate Pittsburgh’s UN Center for Excellence.

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