Mara Baum, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, came to HOK’s St. Louis office in 1999 as a young college graduate wary about joining a large architectural firm. After three years working on lab projects as an original member of HOK’s Science + Technology group and contributing to the first edition of The HOK Guidebook to Sustainable Design, her perception changed.
“I learned that you can’t put labels on an organization as large and diverse as HOK,” she says. “When you are working on projects, you are working with individuals and small teams. It wasn’t the ‘studio-industrial complex’ I had imagined. The resources and opportunities here are phenomenal.”
In 2002, Mara headed west to build on her bachelor’s degree in architecture from Washington University in St. Louis by entering a joint master of architecture and master of city planning program at the University of California in Berkeley. Last November, Mara’s career path steered her back to HOK, this time in San Francisco, when she rejoined the firm to take on a newly created position: Healthcare Sustainable Design Leader.
In a recent two-month stretch, Mara’s job integrating sustainability into HOK’s global healthcare projects took her to 10 cities across the U.S. and Europe. I took advantage of a break in her travel schedule to give her a call.
What’s a typical day like for you?
MB: I oversee sustainability research, education, consulting and implementation across HOK’s global healthcare practice. This can mean a lot of things, depending on the day, week or month. I work closely with HOK’s sustainable design leaders and healthcare leaders to help our teams drive sustainability as far as we can into projects. It’s especially important to be engaged in projects during predesign and schematic design, as that’s when the major decisions are made that impact energy, water and other sustainability issues. I also help with marketing efforts, support research and assist project teams on an as-needed basis. I’m available to all HOK healthcare staff for anything from an occasional question to design charrettes, client meetings or hands-on design assistance.
I’m developing a network of HOK people who are interested in healthcare and sustainability. I also sit on outside committees and represent HOK at conferences. In my spare time, I teach at a few different architecture schools. Right now I’m teaching an online course called “Sustainable Design of Healthcare Facilities” at Boston Architectural College. I’m speaking at Greenbuild in Toronto in October.
I’m a member of HOK’s firmwide sustainable design curriculum task force. I’ve been helping my LEED AP colleagues learn about the new Credential Maintenance Program and developing an internal education plan that will help to keep all staff abreast of current sustainable design issues and allow us to easily meet the CMP requirements. We hope to be able to offer our courses to the rest of the industry in the near future.
The most important thing is I get to be involved with HOK’s coolest healthcare projects. We have amazing projects that are on the right track to be very deep green, but there’s always more we can do.
How did you get interested in sustainability?
When I was an undergraduate architectural student at Washington University in the 1990s, the term ‘sustainable design’ had not yet entered our academic lexicon, but I talked my way into a graduate-level course on climate and light. That class showed me that there was a challenging and satisfying way forward in the architectural profession. I ended up at HOK almost by fluke – the firm I first worked for after college unexpectedly closed its local office at just the same time as Bill Odell was looking for help with the Guidebook. The rest is history.
At Berkeley, I focused on building science and worked for the Center for the Built Environment. I was also a graduate student instructor for a course on energy and climate. The city planning curriculum allowed me to pursue campus and urban scale environmental planning and design issues, experience that I now bring to our large government and institutional clients.
After graduating from Berkeley, I got a research fellowship with the U.S. Green Building Council and eventually became deeply focused on healthcare projects while working with a different architectural firm. I’ve always been interested in human health. If our health is impacted by the built environment as a whole, then clearly the impact of hospital buildings on patients is that much greater. Getting involved with healthcare design was the next logical step for me.
Tell me about a few of your projects.
MB: My main project is a two million-square-foot hospital in Kaiserslautern, Germany, being built jointly by the U.S. and German governments. This is my first-ever project to be delineated by an international treaty. It is very unusual because we are required to follow the codes and standards of both countries – just figuring out what this means has been an interesting challenge. For example, all German workers who occupy a space for at least two consecutive hours need to have a view to the outside. It’s not about having enough daylight to perform their tasks without electric lights — it’s a general health and well-being issue. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that our bodies need to recognize the passing of day and night to prevent depression, cancer and other serious medical problems. The conventional U.S. medical planning approach, however, emphasizes direct adjacencies within and between departments. That tends to lead to a deep floor plate and thus provides less of a connection to the outdoors. In Germany, this isn’t acceptable. From a sustainability perspective, we are making a better building because of these requirements.
A client for another project, the new Wishard Hospital in Indianapolis, now called Eskenazi Health, is very committed to LEED and to sustainability. The goal for this entire six building, 1.2-million-square-foot campus is to meet a minimum of LEED Silver certification. My favorite part of the design is the Sky Farm, which is a green roof that will yield an estimated 1,000 pounds of produce per year. The hospital will use the Sky Farm to help teach patients and staff about healthy eating. Gardening can be a very therapeutic activity.
Though I hadn’t yet joined HOK when it was in design, I have been analyzing the design of the 700-bed Jurong General Hospital, now under construction in Singapore, to understand how we can apply lessons learned here to other projects. Though the climate is incredibly hot and humid year-round, most of the building is naturally cooled and ventilated. That would be a shocking concept in this country regardless of a project’s location and, when you consider the climate in Singapore, it is even more amazing that the design team could create passively cooled, comfortable spaces. Jurong’s energy use intensity is about 20% of that of a conventional US hospital – an incredible achievement.
I am also on call for any HOK healthcare team that has questions about sustainability or energy efficient mechanical design. My building science background helps me translate complex issues between architects, engineers and clients. By working with project teams across the world, I have a unique perspective into best practices and trends in healthcare sustainability. I try to communicate the best new ideas from each individual project across HOK’s entire global healthcare practice.
What do you think about LEED for Healthcare?
MB: It’s a huge step up from LEED for New Construction because it addresses issues that are specific to health and healthcare. For example, the LEED NC building water efficiency credit only looks at plumbing fixtures, but these account for only a fraction of overall building water use in healthcare facilities. LEED for Healthcare, on the other hand, also takes into account process water use in medical, commercial kitchen and mechanical equipment – a more complete approach for overall water efficiency. LEED for Healthcare also addresses health and healing issues related to acoustics, daylighting, material toxicity, places of respite and connection to nature. Several of the new issues that LEED HC takes on will likely be disseminated into other rating systems in the upcoming 2012 version.
In terms of actual certification, there are more credits and prerequisites in LEED for Healthcare, so it may take more work to achieve a specific level of certification than for LEED NC. However, LEED HC should ultimately give you a better, higher performing building. That said, as with the other LEED rating systems, LEED for Healthcare will never be the be-all and end-all for sustainability. But it’s a huge step forward, and can provide design teams with motivation and guidance on key sustainability issues.
What’s the state of net zero energy design for hospitals?
MB: Inpatient hospitals have the highest energy use per square foot per year of any building type in most U.S. climate zones. The intense resource, code and program requirements are huge hurdles in terms of hitting net zero energy use, no matter which definition of net zero we’re talking about. Though we are moving in this direction on some projects, the industry has a long way to go in terms of working through the cultural, technological and research challenges required to reach net zero. But certainly we can create healthy, healing environments that also conserve resources.
For now, 50 percent energy savings is a more realistic goal. I am on an ASHRAE committee that is writing an Advanced Energy Design Guide that will provide a prescriptive approach for helping large hospitals achieve 50 percent savings below ASHRAE 90.1.
Where do you live?
I live in the Mission District of San Francisco, which is a diverse neighborhood with a great mix of people. It’s about a 25-minute bike ride to HOK’s office on Bush Street. Our building is LEED EBOM Platinum, so we have secure bike parking in the garage. When I’m in town, I either ride my bike to work or walk the 15 minutes to the BART station and then take a 10-minute train ride.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I love to travel, which is one great thing about my job. In the last two months, I have been to Atlanta, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Denver, New York, Germany and London for work. In the past few years, I have also visited Guatemala, Tobago, Japan, Thailand and France for fun. I am definitely an architourist and photography nerd, but I also like outdoor adventures like bird watching in rainforests or kayaking through mangroves. I like to take cooking classes abroad and bring the recipes home.
I used to be a total adrenaline junkie and would spend weekends whitewater rafting, skiing or biking. Now that I’m moving so quickly for work — I hit three different time zones on a good week — I am trying to slow it down and spend some of my down time surrounded by beautiful landscapes. On my more recent trips, I have been doing things like hiking along the rugged California coastline, wine tasting in Napa or backpacking through Redwood National Park. Big trees are awesome! There are so many amazing places near the Bay Area. It’s the perfect place to come home to.