Architect Julie Hiromoto, a director with HKS, has focused much of her career on sustainability and advocacy for it within the profession. She founded the Sustainable Knowledge Network at SOM, which endeavored to green the firm’s operations, and was instrumental in launching the Center for Architecture Science and Ecology, a research consortium, founded by SOM and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, between academics, design professionals, and manufacturers.

As a representative of the AIA, and in her capacity as chair of the Committee on the Environment, Hiromoto testified before the U.S. House Energy & Commerce Com­mittee’s Energy Subcommit­tee in mid-February, discussing aspects of the Energy Savings and Indus­trial Competitiveness Act of 2019. The bill, H.R. 3692, aims to ­promote energy savings and emissions reductions by supporting the use of energy-efficient technology in residential, commercial, and industrial sectors. The Dallas-based architect spoke with record about the AIA’s stance on this legislation.

First, tell me about your role at HKS. What do you do as the “Firmwide Director of Integration”?

HKS has made a lot of investments outside of plain vanilla architecture, for lack of a better word. We have health-care clinicians on staff, a research group, parametric and digital designers, construction and fabrication experts. But sometimes those silos get in the way of communication and collaboration. If we really want to leverage all of our unique, diverse perspectives and experiences, we have to be more purposeful in coming to learn what we can from each other so that we’re not reinventing the wheel.

Last year for me was about listening and learning, trying to establish the baseline and understand where the opportunities to effect meaningful change might be. In 2020, I’m rotating around several of our practices and embedding myself with those teams to understand the specific solutions that work for their client types or project demands, then find ways to translate those lessons across the larger firm. It’s a grassroots-focused approach to integrating the firm’s diverse expertise.

Let’s talk about H.R. 3692. While the AIA supports parts of the bill, it has taken a clear stance against one provision that would repeal a current policy—section 433 of the Energy and Security Act of 2007—which sets targets for the reduction of fossil-fuel use in new federal buildings by 2030. Tell me more about that.

Some people would say that the AIA has taken a very controversial position. Why would we oppose this House resolution when it includes many important commitments—whether it’s research for energy-efficient building systems and technology, education and training, or building codes? But, really, it’s a matter of principle. If the goal is a net zero carbon economy [or better], we have to act with urgency.

The AIA made a purposeful effort last year when the board decided to rally all of our resources, tools, staff, and energy around this one big thing: climate action. I think some people would say that section 433 is the most important piece of climate legislation in the last 20 years, when it comes to the building industry. It includes clear step targets that were established to reach an audacious goal for federal buildings: zero carbon. Repealing that won’t get us there.

This seems like a bold move for the AIA.

Yes, it represents a huge attitudinal shift, one I’ve personally experienced within the last year. I sit on the Strategic Planning Committee, led by chair Brian Frickie, and going through the process of writing a plan for 2021 to 2025 has been enlightening. Historically, the AIA has wanted to serve all of its members equally—to represent everyone. But the Strategic Planning Committee has put a stake in the ground, saying that, if urgent and sustained climate action is important to us, we may not be able to keep everybody happy and satisfied. We need to do what’s right, and maybe we’ll lose some members along the way. But we’ll also gain some, and we’re doing what’s important for necessary change in the world.

In your testimony, you said that when it comes to moving toward renewable energy sources, “Large-volume and iconic projects must lead the way, as they have the unique ability to capture the public’s imagination.”

Civic buildings are beacons of the institution of government, throughout our global distributed communities, so they are iconic in that sense. And, when you look at the federal building portfolio, the General Services Admin­istration is one of the largest domestic landlords. They have a huge opportunity for leadership, because of their massive purchasing power and storylines. People are paying attention to that.

Watch Hiromoto's testimony before the U.S. House Energy & Commerce Com­mittee’s Energy Subcommit­tee below.