Interview with Vivian Loftness 

Women in Architecture, Building Science, Design
Women in engineering too…

LoftnessThe Intelligent Workplace

The Intelligent Workplace at Carnegie Mellon University is a living laboratory of components and system innovations and the testing ground for the next generation of building systems integration for sustainability. Developed with leading practitioners and manufacturers of high performance building systems, the Intelligent Workplace is an ongoing test bed for advances in building enclosure, mechanical, lighting, telecommunications and interior systems as well as the next generation of building controls to support human health and productivity as well as the highest level of environmental sustainability.

It is important to state that this lab is the work of a team – Volker Hartkopf, myself, Azizan Aziz, Stephen Lee and a host of students and professionals. This team is still a unit, with the lab central to our cohesiveness and our impact. Place matters!

What inspired you to take the direction you did with the ‘living lab’?

A consortium of building industries and federal agencies funded a decade of our research on the office of the future (ABSIC the Advanced Building Systems Integration Consortium) that led to a series of publications on innovations around the world.  The belief that these innovations would not fly in the US led us to propose the “living lab” at Carnegie Mellon University. With a major gift from Robert Prager, an Oracle founder, we built the Intelligent Workplace.

Has the lab provided any solutions to the problems you identified when setting up the program? What outcomes are you most proud of?

The Intelligent Workplace is still a destination for visitors and delegations coming to Carnegie Mellon University – a showcase of the office of the future. It is a living lab so we continuously change out innovations and run experimental studies that are truly impactful on air, light, thermal comfort, acoustics, ergonomics and more. We help to open new markets for water based cooling and heating, desiccant air handlers and heat recovery, for daylighting technologies, for user centric controls and now for energy and Building Automation Systems data analytics.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in setting up an interdisciplinary lab like this?
The Intelligent Workplace is a 4M lab.  In the basic science and engineering fields, this is the type of lab that the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and Defense, industry or even the university would fund as central to education and research. Architecture was not recognized as a field in need of research labs, much less integrated technology labs such as this.  The only precedents that existed were dedicated lighting or hvac labs at select university. Designing a modular, flexible, modifiable lab that advances innovation in enclosure, lighting, mechanical, interior, networking and control systems all at once is truly cutting edge.
On a new note, NSF has finally designated architecture as a key area for scientific and engineering research – at last!

What are the questions you hope to solve in the future through the work that you’re doing in the ‘living lab’?

The Intelligent Workplace at Carnegie Mellon University is focused on advancing and measuring:

building innovations and systems integration for:

  • human health and productivity
  • environmental sustainability
  • organizational flexibility
  • technological adaptability

Why did you decide to go into engineering?

Some might argue that Architecture is not Engineering.  In many curricula this might be true.. but at MIT I took every engineering, materials, science and math class that was even loosely related to architecture - thinking it would be key to succeeding as a women in architecture (1% practitioners at the time), and found instead that I was a unique architect in practice. Today, leading architects are cutting edge technologists and environmental scientists at heart, working collaborative with engineers and scientists to achieve cutting edge performance in buildings.  Moreover, it takes serious hands-on expertise in the design, construction and management of buildings to achieve the next generation of innovation for the high levels of outcomes we listed above.  the best architects are engineers and scientists.

Do you have a role model in engineering and why are they your role model?

Buckminster Fuller is a hero in design, bridging architecture and engineering, demanding that every design challenge start with an analysis of need and the collaboration of multiple disciplines to ensure the solution is outstanding.  While at MIT, I had the chance to be a part of one of Bucky's two day marathon workshops, and to this day feel the aura of genius echoing in my memories.

What’s your favourite phrase?

Hmm.. not one phrase. Maybe a key thought:

Buildings are not commodities that can be replaced with the next hot product. They house the people that are most precious to us and the activities that are most critical to education, production, community, and health outcomes. Design for the highest performance over the long term.

Is there anyone else you’d like to recognize for their involvement in the living lab?
Of course! We are a team, together for the long term. Volker Hartkopf is the director of the Center (the reason I am here with 35 years of marriage), Azizan Aziz, Stephen Lee, Khee Poh Lam, Erica Cochran, Nina Baird, and a host of MS and PhD students who have made it a delight to work and research in the Intelligent Workplace.


Vivian Loftness, FAIA, LEEDAP, is an internationally renowned researcher, author and educator focused on environmental design and sustainability, climate and regionalism in architecture, and the integration of advanced building systems for health and productivity.  In addition to eight book chapters and over 100 journal articles, she is senior editor of the Reference Encyclopedia Sustainable Built Environments, released by Springer Publishing in 2013.

Named Paul Mellon Professor of Architecture in 2015, Professor Loftness is one of 35 University Professors at Carnegie Mellon University and served a decade as Head of the School of Architecture. She has led the movement to advance sustainability in education around the world, launching new degrees in sustainable design and delivering curriculum for thousands of students and professionals. With over 30 years of industry and government research funding, she has uncovered critical linkages between the quality of the built environment and human health and productivity. She is a key member of Carnegie Mellon’s leadership in sustainability research and education, and contributor to the ongoing development of the Intelligent Workplace - a living laboratory of commercial building innovations for performance.

She has served on the Board of Directors of leading organizations and businesses including the US Green Building Council, the AIA Committee on the Environment, the Green Building Alliance, Phipps Conservatory, AtSite Inc, Turner Construction, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.  She has been a member of twelve National Academy of Science panels as well as the Academy’s Board on Infrastructure and the Constructed Environment, and given four Congressional testimonies on sustainable design. Her work has influenced national policy and building projects, including the Adaptable Workplace Lab at the U.S. General Services Administration and the Laboratory for Cognition at Electricity de France.

In 2013, Vivian was recognized as a LEED Fellow, a Senior Fellow of the Design Futures Council, and one of 13 Stars of Building Science by the Building Research Establishment at the Royal Academy of Engineering in the UK. To honor her contribution to education and research, she received a National Educator Honor Award from the American Institute of Architecture Students and a “Sacred Tree” Award from the US Green Building Council.  Vivian Loftness has a Bachelors of Science and a Masters of Architecture from MIT.