I just made a bold career move.

Originally published on the USGBC blog

Tom Hootman, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Performance + Design Innovation Lead

I just made a bold career move.
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After 20 years of developing a successful and rewarding career as a sustainable design architect I decided to reinvent myself as an engineer. For those that know me, the career change may not be too surprising. With degrees in both engineering and architecture, I have always been equally drawn to both technical ideas, and aesthetic and conceptual ideas. As an architect, I have developed a growing interest in performance-oriented design. This is design informed by simulation, analysis, and data to enhance the performance of the building. It is still very much design, but its more ‘form follows flow’, rather than ‘form follows function.’

It turns out that the flows of energy, heat, air, water, light, and sound through a building offer a compelling opportunity to advance sustainable design. These very flows define building performance, but they also define the quality of the environment and the human sensory experience of a space. This is where the overarching objectives of sustainable design come together. This is where the environmental footprint meets environmental quality and innovations around human comfort and wellness. It can be tricky business because instead of focusing on tangible things like walls, windows, floors, and roofs, I am trying to tackle the intangible – designing the invisible.
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Inspired by the possibilities, I realized that designing for the flows that comprise our sensory environment was going to take more technical resources than I had as an architect. So I turned to my engineering friends, who happen to be experts in the science and design of things like heat transfer and airflow. Speaking of my engineering friends, as an architect, I continued to see a market opportunity for MEP engineers to innovate around sustainable design. I was always seeking out the engineers that could come to the table with creative ideas, but also deliver on high performance. An interesting opportunity was forming.
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In moving from architecture to engineering, I could help an engineering firm grow as a leader in sustainable design and innovation, and fill a growing need in the market. Joining MKK Consulting Engineers was a natural fit as they were already established leaders in high performance design, but with the drive and vision to take this leadership to the next level. I am excited about this entrepreneurial opportunity to be able to fully leverage my technical skills as well as my design and communication skills that I honed as an architect. I am also able to work as an architectural liaison, working on the engineering side to better integrate the team. My goal is to work collaboratively with architects early in design to help tune the architecture for low energy and high comfort.

This is a big opportunity because the architecture largely pre-defines the outcome for human comfort and energy.Inspired by the possibilities, I realized that designing for the flows that comprise our sensory environment was going to take more technical resources than I had as an architect. So I turned to my engineering friends, who happen to be experts in the science and design of things like heat transfer and airflow. Speaking of my engineering friends, as an architect, I continued to see a market opportunity for MEP engineers to innovate around sustainable design. I was always seeking out the engineers that could come to the table with creative ideas, but also deliver on high performance. An interesting opportunity was forming.

The integration of architecture and engineering should go beyond enabling high performance outcomes. I see my role as integrating the MEP solutions into the larger context of the architectural design by working to support the architect’s design concepts and vision. This is a huge creative opportunity as design tends to be dominated by the visual. As consultants, we can bring a new set of design opportunities to the table that are not only focused on performance, but also on the other senses and the whole human experience. It’s designing the invisible.