Sustainability, Architecture and the Future



Studio visit with Romina & Nicolas
April 23, 2023

As luck would have it Romina and Nicolas walked into my Studio on this spring day in April. After a few minutes of chatting I realized that both had very interesting lives and we all had a common thread. The environment. Romina works in Sustainable Architecture in Germany and Nicolas worked on Roofkit, a sustainable project for his graduate project.

Romina Rissetto

Q: Could you tell me where you work and what kind of role does the word “Sustainable” play in your life?

Since 2018, I have been working at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, in the building science group. My work focuses on sustainable architecture, both at the building level and at the occupant level. This is of particular importance to me, as the concept of sustainability is not only about energy efficiency or reducing CO2 emissions, but also about human health and well-being.

Q: You mentioned it’s huge in Europe now- can you expand?

Many countries in Europe have made efforts to enable the construction of energy-efficient buildings. For example, by providing legal frameworks and specific sustainable goals, such as the ones discussed in the Paris Agreement. However, events such as climate change and the energy crisis have set us back. Additionally, high energy-efficient buildings are not enough. More efforts are needed to ensure affordable and high-quality buildings. In my opinion, both efficient and sufficient architecture is the direction that Europe needs to turn to.

Q: You are from Argentina and live in Germany, how has this shaped your designs or architecture?

Energy-efficient construction has been used in Germany for many years and is already part of the construction sector. For example, energy certificates for buildings are mandatory in Germany, but are being developed in Argentina. Many of the lessons learned in Germany can be applied there. For instance, Europe has a huge existing building stock, unlike Argentina or even the US. Retrofitting has played an important role in reducing energy consumption in Germany, but in some cases, this can lead to overheating. That is why the focus on sustainable cooling solutions in building design is so important. However, local design is the most important aspect to consider when thinking about sustainable architecture. For example, what resources are available, such as materials, or what kind of climate are we working with?

Q: I love these forward thinking concepts, what are you working on now?

I am leading a research project focused on the use of personal environmental control systems in non-residential buildings, specifically the use of personal ceiling fans. These systems are a promising solution to keep energy consumption to a minimum while providing occupant satisfaction with indoor environmental conditions.

Q: You mentioned you are looking at cooling systems outside of air conditioners- Germany traditionally doesn’t have much need for air conditioners. What has been happening ?

Climate change is happening. Historically, Germany has developed energy-efficient buildings with a focus on heating measures, such as well-insulated and airtight building envelopes.
However, outside temperatures are rising, leading to warmer indoor environments and thermal dissatisfaction among occupants. Increased cooling demand brings air conditioning into the picture. However, this comes at a high environmental cost. Passive cooling strategies, such as the use of fans or night ventilation, are alternative and energy-efficient solutions that do not compromise occupant comfort in well-designed buildings.

Q: Could you share some images of what you have been working on?

Figure 1: Conceptual representation of personal ceiling fan to control occupant thermal environment.

Q: Cool personal fans that can be controlled by your phone! I have heard sand is running out and this could have a huge impact on cement – is this true? Are there alternatives that are being considered?

Wood is a sustainable and renewable building material. It has a reduced carbon footprint and is very versatile as it can be used as a structure or facade in buildings.

Q: What are the most important factors moving forward to becoming a more sustainable community?

I mentioned this at the beginning, as the first word that comes to my mind is sufficiency. Not only in terms of lifestyle changes by individuals, but rather as an overall framework or long-term actions that, in case of buildings, cover basic energy needs and respect ecological impact.

Q: What are some of the things people can do in their daily lives to help with environmental change ? Especially as we are confronting extreme weather patterns?

Being informed is probably a key aspect of contributing to the environment. Small choices can make a big difference. For example, choosing to wear a piece of clothing instead of turning up the heat at home when I feel cold. Why would that make a difference? Well, less energy consumption and greater human adaptability to the environment. This is a simple example but understanding the impact of our daily choices can have a huge impact on our lives.

Wonderful, remember to layer up when cold, and use personal fans – thank you so much for your thoughtful work Romina !



Nicolas Carbonare
Energy Engineer & RoofKIT participant

Q: Hi Nicolas, why were you excited to hear that I paint seagrass abstractions?
To be honest, when we first entered the studio, we didn’t know they were seagrass abstractions, and we entered because we loved the art style that you propose. When you told us about your work, it got more interesting because you use art as a path to raise awareness about a concerning environmental challenge, one of many we are facing nowadays.

Q: Thank you, I am glad to hear the paintings resonated with you.  When you heard about the seagrass you were very excited. Could you explain a little more about your connection with seagrass and the RoofKITProject you were involved in?
The RoofKIT project was our contribution to one of the most important competitions in energy-efficient and sustainable architecture: the Solar Decathlon. At that time, I was working as a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Building Science Group at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany. The university participated for the first time in this competition. This is mainly a interdisciplinary student competition (for architects and engineers), and teams also have an academic support (Professors and Researchers). We participated in the Solar Decathlon Europe 21/22 in Wuppertal, Germany, together with other 17 universities around the world. The competition has a design challenge, and a prototype testing, where a part of the designed building is built and operated. And we won!

Q: Wow that’s amazing, congratulations! Even if you didn’t win, how wonderful to have a pool of creative minds focusing on sustainable architecture. I am curious on how your group  incorporated seagrass into the project?
We used seagrass as our main insulation material for our walls and roof. We decided to use it as a sustainable option to other non-recyclable materials. We worked with a partner that collected seagrass from the beaches at the Mediterranean sea. The material has exceptional insulation capabilities and is also non-flammable. Here there is a picture of how we installed it in our modules:

© RoofKIT

Q:  I love it- that is so exciting! A completely different way if thinking recycling seagrass that has washed ashore! Historically seagrass was also used for thatched roofs in Denmark 300 years ago in the Danish island of Læsø (click here for more  )   

We also used seagrass as insulation named Cabot’s Quilt in New England(Click here for more), before the huge seagrass die-off in 1920’s with Wastings Disease. It’s pretty remarkable that we have this endangered plant, that can also be recycled to be a waterproof insulator! 

Back to the RoofKIT Project: How did you all collaborate with so many people on this project?
As part of the competition, students have the chance to have a taste of real life building design and construction. Our team consisted mainly of architecture students, but also some engineering disciplines (civil, mechanical, industrial). We also onboarded people from other universities, students of facilities technician institutes, as well as experienced professionals and company sponsors. All working together towards developing our building.

Q: What was your role in this project?
I was the team leader for everything related to energy and building systems. Our task involved developing the energy concepts, testing them before construction (i.e. with simulations), install them and operate them during the competition. Our goal was to minimize the building’s energy consumption while maintaining a healthy indoor environment.

Q: What type of projects are you working on now?
I am currently working as an Energy Model Developer at Ekotrope, a Boston-based start-up company related to energy-efficient buildings.

Q: What are the most important factors moving forward to becoming a more sustainable community?
I spent several years researching the occupant behavior in buildings. I firmly believe that we need more education in terms of energy-efficient behavior. Operating correctly the heating and cooling systems at home can make the same impact as replacing an old system with a new one. Recent advances in these technologies contribute significantly towards a more sustainable community, but people need to make their contribution at home too.

Q: What are some of the things people can do in their daily lives to help with environmental change ? Especially as we are confronting extreme weather patterns?
Following the last answer, in the era of the AI, people are still the center of this question. You can always recycle more, reduce your thermostat set point, not forget to turn off the lights. All these points go back to what called my attention about your seagrass art: awareness. Other things you can do: don’t buy cheap appliances (a more efficient fridge can even be cheaper after some years, by helping you to save electricity), use electric cars, sign on a utility company that uses mostly renewable energy. Everyone should contribute, even marginally, if we really want to achieve the climate target.

Yes, yes, these are things we can all do before making purchasing decisions. How are we impacting both the environment and our home environment. Thank you Nicolas for sharing your exciting work and suggestions!


Romina Rissetto,
Nicolas Carbonare,