SkillSpeak Series #5: Professor Lynnette Widder

The following interview is a part of SkillSpeak, a series of short interviews with SUMA professors, where they share bits of wisdom and knowledge, advising on skills that are crucial for a successful career in sustainability. This week we have Lynnette Widder who teaches Resiliency and Responsiveness in the Built Environment as well as Hungry City Workshop. The interview was conducted by Ian Brecher, SUMANI Trendster Editor and Knowledge Partner.

Name: Lynnette Widder

Academic Background: Master of Architecture from Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture; BA from Barnard College; academic focus on architecture and construction history.

Current Professional Title: Lecturer in Discipline

What field within the sustainability realm do you work in?

I work in the sustainable built environment, from building to urban scale. I also write, curate, design and build various topics in architecture more generally.

What skills have you leveraged on so far, to expand your presence in your field of sustainability?

My work in sustainability includes teaching, research (building energy assessment, lightweight panelized construction for high performance building, various topics in big data for tracking patterns in urban resource flows around human behavior), R &D for my sister’s small textile company (textile-reinforced earth block and adobe construction) and some consulting. I became involved in sustainability because of my interest in the historical connection between building construction and architecture. This may sound obvious to a non-architect, but the way in which buildings are realized is central to the quality of the spaces they make, and the culture they engender. From that kind of involvement in material culture, wanting to know more about the energy/material link was natural.

What are some of the most relevant skill-building opportunities offered by the SUMA program?

I take a broader view on the idea of “skills”. Technology and standards change all the time, so most techniques and methodologies have an expiration date built in. That is not to say these are not vital components of a masters degree, but it is as important to see as skills the kinds of things that seem totally academic at first glance: understanding the history and theory of your field, keeping an open mind to problem definition rather than starting from finite problem solving, creative analysis (design thinking). Open research is another skill that this program cultivates, and which has infinite application to a “wicked problem” like sustainability.

What skills would you advise a future SUMA graduate to develop in order to build credibility within your field of sustainability?

Most SUMA students are not architects and don’t intend to become architects, so the field for which I trained is only obliquely related to how SUMA students are trained. That said, being able to appreciate the way architects and urban designers look at problems, and bridging the gap between qualitative and quantitative assessment of space, building material, architecture and cities is in real demand. Knowing how to calculate the CBA or ROI of any building technology is important, but also knowing how to look beyond labels (LEED and such) to real, cutting edge achievement in sustainability will be appreciated by everyone involved. Don’t be afraid to ally yourselves with the visionaries.

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