Five Minutes with Dr Martina Pacifici and David Taylor

August 10, 2023

ADAM Architecture's Sustainability Lead Dr Martina Pacifici had a conversation with Editor of NLQ and New London Weekly David Taylor, about her role and the sustainability challenges of historic and traditionally-designed buildings, as part of David Taylor's 'five minutes with' series.

Read Martina and David's conversation on New London Architecture's website.

 

David Taylor
Hello, Martina. How are you?

Dr Martina Pacifici
Hello, David. I am very well - and you?

David Taylor
Very good, thank you. I wanted to talk to you about your role as sustainability lead at Adam Architecture, which you've had now for about 11 months, which seems a good time to take stock. But first, I wanted to ask you about your background and how you came to be where you are, because you studied in Rome and San Paolo, I think. So what brought you to London initially?

Dr Martina Pacifici
Yeah, okay. It is a long journey (laughs). I mean, everything started in Rome, because I was educated in engineering - architectural engineering - at Sapienza University of Rome. And then I went to Brazil, to Sao Paulo, for my PhD, my doctorate. I had my doctorate degree in 2019. My research was focusing on the interdependencies linking building with microclimates. I used advanced dynamic thermal modelling to simulate energy exchange in densely built human landscapes. So, as you may understand, my focus during my research time was on the urban fabric. So like high scale research, and especially my doctorate, I basically understood that this was my mission; really understanding how the built environment works and what we can do to make this work better. When I finished my PhD, in spite of having appreciated everything about learning, how to do research, I also realized that I was too far from real life, from projects. So I decided to join the industry. And I chose London, because I saw a great city full of opportunities for engineers and architects. And I joined AHMM…

David Taylor
Ah!

Dr Martina Pacifici
Yes! So, contemporary architecture, you may know. I worked there for almost three years actually as a building performance engineer. My role was delivering advanced models to understand the building performance and improve it. After that, my next step was, okay, I have now let's say, a pretty good picture about how things work, and I really would like to assume a lead role for my team and really try to push sustainability forward. Because when you are in a technical role, there is not too much you can do when it comes, for example, to talking to clients, etc. So I had the great opportunity to join Adam Architecture and it has been 11 months, and I have learned so much, especially in the leading aspects of my role. And we have many projects and tasks going on. I can tell you a little bit more?

David Taylor
Sure! But can I just interrupt there, though, and just ask you, since you've been in place for 11 months now, what have you learned so far about a) the practice and b) the topic within the wider industry, from a leading role?

Dr Martina Pacifici
So, what I have learned and what I'm trying to do is, first of all, trying to address and actually bring sustainability as a main topic to address at all levels. So I'm trying to basically act from a top-down perspective. So I'm collaborating with directors in order to really have sustainability as a main topic of our agendas and trying to persuade clients to engage with us. But at the same time, I'm working also with employees. So, bottom up. We have been actually investing a lot in a knowledge-sharing culture in order to engage everyone in the practice with sustainability.

Obviously, our practice specialises in traditional and classical design, and this brought me challenges because sustainability is a very well-known topic when it comes to contemporary architecture. In our field, we are very, very new, you know, on this. So, obviously, all the aesthetic constraints or all the constraints related to listed buildings, which represents a big part of our portfolio, represent a challenge for us, because there are sustainability and energy efficient measures that sometimes we cannot apply because of the constraints that are related to the listed properties that we work with.

So, just to give you an example, we are collaborating with manufacturers, in order to find a special prototype of sash windows, for example, because with the introduction of the new Part O of the building regulations, which actually tries to prevent overheating risk in new build, this is actually affecting a lot our ability to design homes according to traditional design principles. Because sash windows are unable to deliver as effective natural ventilation as casement windows, for example. So ,we are collaborating with manufacturers, doing research in order to find new solutions, which comply with regulation, but at the same time, guarantees us a traditional, stylistic approach.

David Taylor
Can I ask you a broader question about how you maintain optimism in this field, especially when in the broader media, there's a sort of bubbling up of opposition to even the principles of climate change, with deniers becoming a bit more public? Certainly, in the last couple of weeks, with noises from government and beyond? How do you stay optimistic on this front?

Dr Martina Pacifici
I stay optimistic first of all, because of my scientific background. So, because I have been studying climate change and the climate emergency for years, there is no one that needs to persuade me that climate change is happening! It is happening! So I will bring this forward without any hesitation, because I think that in spite of the rumours that you are mentioning, on the other side, science is releasing news that are more and more accurate about what is happening. I don't know if you heard, for example, about the collapse of the Gulf Stream that we know actually is slowly happening, but science now thinks that this could happen even in 2035. So this is really much closer than expected.

So I really try to persuade everyone around me that this is the right path. And in spite of some rumours say, for example, about UK being not exactly a country that should worry about this because we are a small country, and less populated compared to Asia, for example - I think this is not the right way to look at what is happening. We should focus on the influence that we can provide. We have a long history and tradition of a country at the forefront of innovation in technology, so, we just need to carry on with this approach and try to influence the world around us. This is really all about the ethics, you know. And this is about architecture, of course, but I think we should shift our mindset and understand and think in terms of the impact of what we do on the environment around us.

David Taylor
Well, I completely agree, and hats off to you for the work you do. And hopefully, the message will hit home to the deniers a bit more than is currently happening. So thank you for your time talking about the work that you do, and good luck with the future.

Dr Martina Pacifici
Okay. Thanks very much!