Ali Malkawi has very good timing. In 2013 he moved from the University of Pennsylvania, where he had taught architecture and computational simulation—a sophisticated means of predicting building performance—for more than a decade, to Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, where he is a professor of Architectural Technology. A few months later, Malkawi wrote a proposal for what would be called the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities, to be funded with a gift from the Evergrande Group, a Chinese company with $75 billion in assets. (Evergrande’s gift was large enough to also fund centers in mathematics and immunology.)
Malkawi was named founding director of the environmental center, which will host an inaugural conference on November 7. He believes the center is uniquely positioned to rethink the design, construction, and operation of buildings to enhance their efficiency—particularly, their use of energy—and to do those things without regard to industry agendas. Malkawi studied engineering in his native Jordan before moving to the U.S. in 1989 to focus on architecture and the computer modeling of buildings. His Ph.D. from the Georgia Institute of Technology combined work in three areas: architecture, artificial intelligence, and mechanical engineering, which makes him uniquely qualified to interact not just with architects, but also with the scientists and engineers who are part of his new center.