3 Things We Learned from Vivian Loftness

3 Things We Learned from Vivian Loftness


“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.” – Vivian Loftness, Elsevier Interview


Last week, Carnegie Mellon University Professor and internationally acclaimed though-leader, Vivian Loftness, FAIA, LEED AP, visited the IKM office to give her presentation on High Performance Systems for Sustainability, Health & Productivity. As institutional architects in a climate that experiences the four seasons, affordable, sustainable design can be hard to nail down. Her presentation, rich in real-world examples and anecdotes, left our staff intrigued by some of the projects she shared relating to our clients in corporate offices, healthcare systems, and education. Each of us walked away from Vivian’s talk with a different “aha moment” to report, but three key takeaways stood out in the words of our staff.



1.) Nature heals, and it can start at the office.

Sustainability moves beyond conservation of our energy to the conservation of our body and minds. What outlets and anecdotes for enhancing wellness in the workplace struck you?

Alek: Project Designer (and former student of Vivian’s!)

“There is so much more to building comfort than temperature and humidity. Architects and designers are ultimately responsible for their decisions that affect the holistic space. I was struck by how relatively simple some solutions can be with the right team in place – like separating breathing air and conditioning systems.”

Neil: Project Designer

“Architects (and all associated design professionals) have the profound responsibility to understand and design for the human experience within a built environment.  One of the most interesting design concepts Vivian proposed focuses on active user movement throughout a building, rather than the destination when one arrives.  For example, the Bullitt Center in Seattle, WA utilizes a prominent stair that grants access to unparalleled surrounding views, encourages and exhibits activity in the building, and provides the opportunity for serendipitous interactions between building users.  As this building shows, it is the architect’s undertaking to physically shape a space that positively affects user comfort, productivity, and well-being.”

2.) Client buy-in is possible with the data to back it up.

Creating a natural oasis regardless of geographic location sounds like a fun challenge, but it does come with a price tag not all clients are sold on. Vivian had the resources to prove that investing in the right products and consultants can drastically improve life cycle costs. What are some examples?

Steve: Associate 

“I love that there is actual data available now to prove the value of biophilic concepts, such as how better daylight utilization, higher quality air, connection to nature through floor to ceiling glass can increase productivity, reduce stress, and save money in a quantifiable way.   What I would like us to do more of is having those statistics and case studies immediately available so that we can show them to clients at the right time.  I have a collection of some of those case studies, but I plan to download her references and make them more accessible through our Knowledge Sharing Cohort.”


“One thought I had about this presentation is developing the client engagement process diagram.  I think a big part of this process should be about presenting relevant research data to make the case for ‘green’ efforts, among a lot of other evidence-based design decisions.  I appreciate that the presentation covered research and return on investments, but I think we need think about how we engage clients with this kind of information.

The basis to modern architectural ‘evidence-based’ research and design stems from Ulrich’s 1984 study regarding patient’s visual access to nature and direct impact on the healing process.  As the healthcare industry continues forward with the ‘patient first’ mantra, architects must carry the responsibility of advancing design research, and actively produce evidence that can positively enrich the built environment and user experience.  For example, merging a patient’s ability to control their own environment (lighting, noise, temperature, and views) with adaptive building systems can help create unique and truly individual environments for every patient while reducing patient length of stay and improving the bottom line.”


3.) Biophilia is about much more than creative landscaping.

It’s about “mimicking nature” in the built environment to access the ways we are wired as humans to feel, work, and live better. How can Biophilia push the limits of our work as architects to make a difference?


“I really like the idea that humans intrinsically respond positively to a natural environment. I also think that the current trend of “just give everyone a view” is an architectural cop out. We need to go beyond what is expected and feel obligated to not only follow what biophilia research suggests, but also to try new solutions that better sync a building’s systems to our circadian rhythm.”


“Biophilia presents architects with the unique opportunity to blur the lines between indoor and outdoor space, and create environments that enhance both physical and spiritual connections to nature.  Current research continues to grow and support the importance of metaphysically connecting building occupants to nature, and even solidifies the design theories of mid-century modernists Aalto and Neutra who believed that blending views to nature, natural light, and fresh air into the architecture can have significant health benefits.  As architects, we need to think about what biophilia means for different market sectors and how it may positively impact the users of the built environment.

Can the sounds and smells of nature help healing in a hospital?  Can views to nature help enhance learning for students? can natural light help mitigate workplace fatigue and increase productivity and happiness? These questions must push architects to rethink the current paradigm to generate wholly connected and thoughtfully integrated spaces.”