Architectural Engineering student builds sustainability into design

Marchella Verdi
April 17, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For Yumna Kurdi, it started with a love for architecture and a passion for sustainability. It’s ending up with a chance to help reshape the future of Penn State.

After taking a graduate course in sustainability at Penn State, Kurdi, an architectural engineering doctoral student, was introduced to the Office of Physical Plant (OPP) staff and presented with its hopes and challenges about formulating a revised policy on how to build sustainability into construction standards on the University Park campus. As she became more involved, Kurdi began working with John Betchel, assistant director of design and construction. 

OPP began funding Kurdi’s research and had her work with others on a team — led by Bechtel and consisting of OPP staff and other researchers — to evolve OPP’s sustainability policies. Currently Penn State requires all new and renovated facility construction to be guided by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. The LEED rating system is the most widely used green-building rating system in the world, involving high standards for indoor air quality, energy efficiency, water conservation and use of recycled, renewable or locally-sourced materials. 

Kurdi, whose focus is on how architecture interacts with the environment and whose adviser is Somayeh Asadi, assistant professor in architectural engineering, is exploring additional aspects of sustainability — such as economic and social values — that can be captured in the evolving building policy, by exploring and adapting different requirements from other sustainability rating systems. The goal is to understand Penn State’s unique place and values and to try to reflect these values in a healthy, comfortable and highly efficient built environment.

“Penn State is unique in so many different ways; the architecture of a building is no different,” Kurdi says. “Each one requires careful consideration to make it suit the needs of its users and environment.”

The current LEED policy, version 4, provides a common sustainability language for OPP and the design teams for individual projects. Kurdi and the team she works with are trying to further increase the engagement of OPP staff in the design process to ensure the implementation of all of Penn State’s sustainability priorities, in addition to LEED standards.

Kurdi is also creating communications channels that invite more students on campus to become involved in the University’s efforts to evolve green building policies. Through in-class presentations about how buildings interact with the environment around them and through arranging student help with data collection about potential new green building systems, Kurdi is encouraging other students to share their voices and offer advice for new building designs and ways to improve the current policies in a way that could help reshape Penn State in the future. 

“From my experience so far, the OPP staff is very open, encouraging and welcoming to new ideas and is excited for upcoming projects,” Kurdi said. “Everyone is working so hard to evolve the Penn State sustainability policy into something great.”

Last Updated April 18, 2019