Sustainability in the Built Environment
By UCL Careers, on 20 February 2019
(*Spoiler alert: my career path has been a bumpy one, filled with trial and error. I don’t regret a single thing as every experience was valuable but hasn’t definitely been a straight line!)
I decided to study Architecture (MArch University of Lisbon) as I was told by a high school career advisor that it would be the best way to combine my creative and artistic side with my analytical thinking. It wasn’t really! While I liked studying Architecture it never really fulfilled me. During my studies, I had a module on Environmental Design that caught my attention. It sparked curiosity and interest in sustainability and environmental design that hasn’t fade.
After graduating and working for a couple of years in my home town Lisbon, I decided to move to London. I was always very oriented to international experiences, I did Erasmus in Norway, studied in Japan for a year, so it was only a matter of time before going abroad again. I was also increasingly frustrated as an architect only focusing on design and ignoring the environmental impact. I really wanted to make a difference and work on making buildings more environmentally friendly. London was an easy choice because after living in Japan, I understood how European I am. I also had a good English level and the UCL MSc Environmental Design and Engineering programme seemed really good. Coming to the UK was a breath of fresh air! The master was a lot of hard work but one of the best years of my life. I learned a lot, made great friends, and had a real “this is it” epiphany as this was the area I wanted to be working on!
I decided to stay after graduation but had a tough time getting a job, it took me about six months and a lot of rejection. I was trying to enter this new sector and was also a foreigner. I got interviews and having UK education helped but everybody kept seeing me as an architect with no UK work experience. I decided to change my strategy and got a job in an architecture practice. It was small and specialised in Passivhaus and was a great learning experience. I got to work on site delivering one of the most demanding energy certifications in the world on a project that has now received a CIBSE Building Performance Award! At the time, the practice had also some research funding so I was lucky to work on Post Occupancy Evaluation of Passivhaus buildings and study their actual performance. It also confirmed that I was less interested in the design and more on the performance so, a couple of years in, I decided to try to move into environmental consultancy. Having now UK work experience made change easier and I finally made it into consultancy work. Funnily for my current job at XCO2 my architectural background was valuable to them as we work with a lot of architects and, being trained in their language, is helpful.
At XCO2, my role is to lead on the energy and sustainability strategies for a project, being a masterplan, new built or refurbishment. My work focuses on reducing the environmental impact of the construction industry, improving buildings’ energy efficiency and performance while promoting occupant wellbeing. Buildings are such complex and beautiful constructions and we spend most of our time inside one so it’s really gratifying when my advice contributes to improving a building’s energy performance or occupant comfort.
Teaching came by serendipity into my life two years ago. Through connections, I saw that the University of Suffolk was looking for a Lecturer in Technology. I applied and got selected and immediately panicked! Would I be able to do it? Instead, I absolutely loved it from day one and teaching has been incredibly transformative for my career. Being able to digest all my knowledge and experience into teaching has made realise how passionate I am about sustainability in the built environment and how much it matters to me to pass on the concepts and the skills and influence future architects. I don’t see sustainability in the built environment as an add-on but as an absolutely fundamental aspect of design. I want my students (and everybody!) to know of the impact buildings have in the environment and in our wellbeing and give them tools to thinks and create better ways of designing.
Although balancing two jobs can be demanding with conflicting needs at times, they absolutely complement each other. My industry experience means I can bring very practical knowledge to my students and teaching requires me to translate difficult concepts into comprehensible principles. It keeps me very aware of the bigger picture and my focus on improving sustainability in the built environment.