As we work along our sustainability journey, we have the pleasure of meeting many individuals and firms that are leading great change. We have enjoyed our relationship with them and want to share their stories with you. This series will feature individuals leading the sustainability movement within the architecture and design community. This next generation of leaders found their passion for sustainability early in their careers and have based their profession on advocating and leading for a more sustainable future.
Mara Baum is HOK’s Healthcare Sustainable Design Leader. Her role includes overseeing sustainability implementation, consulting, research and education across our global healthcare practice. It’s no small task, as healthcare makes up nearly a third of HOK’s overall work. She works on many of the firm’s biggest hospital projects, and outside of those assignments,
regularly mentors teams and educates her colleagues. In addition to her healthcare role, Baum also leads HOK’s
internal firmwide efforts on sustainability education.
Q: Tell us about a specific project where you felt you really made a difference or did something innovative in sustainability.
Right now I’m working on Kaiserslautern Military Community Medical Center, a joint US/German government hospital in southern Germany. It’s an unusual project on many levels, including the fact that it needs to meet the most stringent of both US and German codes and regulations. This includes the US government requirement for LEED for Healthcare Silver minimum and the many German regulations associated with energy efficiency, renewable energy, daylighting, habitat protection and many others. This facility will be far more energy efficient than a typical US hospital while offering views to all regularly occupied spaces. The project site provides places of respite and exercise opportunities for building occupants while also fully treating and infiltrating all rainwater into the aquifer below. Bringing the best of US and German sustainability thinking together is helping us to create a whole new paradigm for green healthcare design.
Q: What is next in sustainability?
I think we’re about to see a transparency explosion, along with a conservative backlash and probably some of political fallout. The transparency revolution will address measured data for building energy and water use as well as the make-up of building materials. The latter is starting to really bubble up. Many of us have been concerned about the unnecessary use of brominated and hydrogenated flame retardants for years, but the recent Chicago Tribune expose has finally grabbed mainstream attention – a group of legislators have even petitioned Congress to conduct a full investigation. This is just one nasty substance of probably thousands, but it will hopefully shed light on the inadequacies of our current system for protecting unknowing consumers from harmful products.
Q: What’s your BHAG (“big hairy audacious goal”) regarding sustainability-related efforts in your organization?
I want to see a day in which hospitals have little or no negative impact on the health of our occupants, communities and natural environments. This means net positive energy and water use and waste generation, all healthy building materials, fully integrated natural systems, and more. We have a really long way to go! We have to start somewhere, though, and there’s no time like the present.
Q: Have any of your recent travels inspired your work?
Last month I spent several weeks in Australia on vacation. I spent time in Melbourne, Sydney and Queensland, so I got to check out some of the best of the country’s natural and built environments. One highlight, of course, was the Sydney Opera House. It tells the story of sustainability from the perspective of longevity as a cultural icon, and it also was once a Big Hairy Audacious Goal – the team still had no idea how to structure the roof “sails” even after construction began. A mid-stream revelation on the part of Jørn Utzon, the design architect, in collaboration with Ove Arup resulted in the built form we know and love today.
I am just as inspired about my wilderness adventures as my urban ones. I hike, camp and backpack regularly around California, and Australia was a great place to bring this hobby. There’s nothing like snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef or hiking deep in the jungle or high in the Grampians mountain range to remind me why I do this kind of work. One of my highlights was a cassowary sighting – they’re supposedly the most dangerous bird in the world, and this was the only time I’ve ever seen an endangered species in the wild. I also saw wild emu, kangaroos, sharks, and tons of exotic fish and birds.