Jill Kurtz Speaks “Engineer” to Help Bring Sustainable Design to Architecture
“Climate change is not something we should be talking about in theory—it is changing,” says Jill Kurtz, sustainability program manager at Page architecture and engineering firm. After graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree in architecture, Kurtz spent a year in India working for nonprofits. During that year, Kurtz and her colleagues had to bathe in buckets—if they didn’t, they wouldn’t have enough water for dinner. It was then she realized that for most of the world, thinking about sustainability isn’t an option.
That transformative experience fueled Kurtz’s desire to help facilitate sustainable architecture. Kurtz has learned how to speak “engineer,” as she puts it, translating what the engineers are looking for into what the architects need to do and vice versa. Learn more about Kurtz’s passion for her job and how she is using technology to help change the way buildings are designed.
Jill Kurtz, Sustainability Program Manager, Page: I frequently tell people I think I have the best job at Page because no one else gets to focus on something that I think is the issue of our generation, which is climate change.
My name is Jill Kurtz, and I am a sustainability specialist at Page, which is a large architecture and engineering firm. A big part of what I get to do is carry out Page’s vision for sustainability and make sure that we’re thinking about sustainability on all of our projects.
Climate change is not something that we should be talking about in theory—it is changing. Not only do we need to have buildings that are better addressing that and reducing their carbon impact, but we also need to be designing them in a more resilient way for the future.
After I graduated with my Bachelor of Architecture, I spent a year in India working with nonprofits. We had to use less trash because no one was going to come and pick it up. We had to bathe in a bucket because, if we didn’t, there wasn’t enough water for dinner that night. So for me, that was just such a transformational experience because I realized for most of the world, thinking about sustainability isn’t optional.
Most of the time when people think of sustainability, especially in an architecture firm, they think of LEED. And that’s a big part of what I do is LEED project management—how do we earn LEED certification on our projects. But the part of my job that I really enjoy and that is growing is the building-performance-analysis part.
At the most basic, we’re running some kind of energy model on every project; we’re running some kind of daylight analysis; and we’re running some kind of carbon analysis to make sure that we’ve quantified that environmental impact and that ultimately we are thinking about carbon.
From early design, we start with a climate analysis, and so we [determine]—what is the weather? Using that climate and sun angles [information] is how we try to start every project. And then what we do is we run some early analysis on the massing studies: Here’s where you should probably put a higher percentage of your glass, or maybe this side is where you should put a lower percentage of your glass so that we can minimize heat gain. [We figure out] how we can lay out the interior to better capitalize on that usable daylight.
A surprising part of my job has been the importance of communication. One of the roles that I’ve played, primarily because energy modeling is such an integrated process, is a bridge between design and engineering. I joke that I speak “engineer,” of knowing how to translate what the engineers are looking for to what the architects need and then vice versa, and so how can I be a facilitator, specifically on the energy side of things.
Being a kind of specialty resource within Page means I get to work with a lot of different people on a lot of different projects. And so I’m not just in a little cubby only doing a LEED scorecard but being able to really work across the offices, across the scales—whether it’s selecting materials or advising in that to informing and talking with the board about where we need to be going strategically long term.
One of my favorite parts of this job is turning skeptics into supporters. There’s a huge opportunity. People think they understand sustainability, or they think it just looks one way, but if I can really try and dig down and try and understand what is the problem that they’re trying to solve, and can I use something that our team can do to help them solve it? I find that affects not only that problem or that issue that we’re solving, but it also changes their perspective moving forward.
Another part of what makes this work rewarding for me is I know my “why.” Knowing that I want to leave this place better than I found it, that this place is too precious, and this work is too important to not be focused on anything else.
There’s a lot of people who are going to care about design and a lot of people who care about engineering, and we need more people to be caring about the sustainability part. Being able to focus on that 100%, for me, is what makes this a pretty awesome opportunity.