Raised in a small academic town, Mary Ann Lazarus, FAIA, grew up with the message that “what you did with your life was important in terms of contributing to a better world,” she recalls. The question was how to do so. In the 1970s, she found a potential avenue under the tutelage of George “Charlie” Brown in the Masters of Architecture program at Washington University in St. Louis. “He exposed me and my classmates in the early ’70s to this concept of environmentally responsible design,” she says, and the studio “really brought together my interest in architecture and the question of how would I make a difference.”
Today, as the director of sustainable design for global architecture and design firm HOK, Lazarus, who is based in the firm’s St. Louis office, continues to make a difference for clients and colleagues. She has worked on more than 130 certified sustainable projects for HOK, including eight AIA COTE Top Ten Green Projects. Recent projects include the LEED Platinum King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia, the Net Zero Court prototype for affordable zero-carbon-emissions office buildings, and Project Haiti, a LEED Platinum, net-zero-emissions orphanage. She served as a program committee chair for Greenbuild International Conference and Expo for three years, is the co-chair of the AIA task force for the International Green Construction Code, and is a long-time lecturer and adjunct professor at Washington University’s Sam Fox School of Design.
Looking over your time in the industry, what are the most exciting innovations or developments that have emerged in terms of sustainable design?
One fundamental innovation that’s starting to make a big difference is the linkage to performance: performance-driven design. It’s not aspirational, but it is understanding as best we can the real outcome of what we are doing from the very beginning. It’s this intersection of building information modeling and new kinds of integrated design strategies. We are really starting to focus at the earliest stage on understanding the measurable results of our work, and we’re building that into projects even before we begin to design. It means understanding the site and what it tells us.
Another thing that is really exciting is the recognition of the importance of people in the equation. In the old days, it was all about the building and forgetting what happens when we’re done with our phase. We’re starting to recognize the role that occupants play and the gap between actual performance and predicted performance. How do we address that in our work? We’re working with some clients on occupant engagement. How do you bridge that gap and engage with the occupants in employee-driven programs so that it’s not a situation of us telling them, but it’s them telling us what they care about and what they want to do.
Mary Ann Lazarus on sustainable designCourtesy HOK Network on Youtube.