UO architecture professor testifies to Congress

On Tuesday, June 11, Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg, professor of architecture at the University of Oregon, testified at a hearing before the U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management. The subject of the hearing was energy efficiency and resiliency in federal buildings.

The hearing was conducted, in part, to evaluate the progress being made in federal building efficiency and resiliency by the General Services Administration (GSA), which implements executive regulations governing the acquisition, use, and disposal of real property owned by the federal government. Subcommittee Chairwoman Dina Titus (D-NV) led the hearing by emphasizing the importance of developing “smart and secure” buildings. “This is a chance to look at the past accomplishments, the present situation, and our future goals,” said Titus.

Along with the testimony by the GSA regarding the present state of energy efficiency and resiliency in federal buildings, Van Den Wymelenberg was joined by other two panelists who testified on current innovations being made to improve building health and efficiency. Van Den Wymelenberg, director of the Institute for Health in the Built Environment, described the Institute's development of an academic-industry partnership known as Build Health. Build Health considers the intersection of energy efficiency and other factors in buildings and human health. Van Den Wymelenberg emphasized how indoor environments can negatively impact human health outcomes, and suggested that the subcommittee adopt a vision of “passive thrive-ability”. “Passive thrive-ability”, Van Den Wymelenberg said, encompasses “environments that improve human productivity and health outcomes while using less energy and approaching net-zero energy performance.”

In closing, Van Den Wymelenberg suggested that the subcommittee consider setting goals that are currently implemented at the University of Oregon through a program called BTUs 4 BTU’s, or Building Tune-Ups for BTUs (energy). He explained the approach as a way to capitalize on the investments in energy efficiency, document the energy savings from strategies implemented, establish reinvestment mechanisms to implement deeper energy efficiency and human health strategies, and research the non-energy benefits of health and comfort. Van Den Wymelenberg finished his time with a comment that elicited laughs from the committee when he said that his consortium of industry collaborators, Build Health, is “founded on the principle that academics don’t know everything.”

Full Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) joined the hearing and emphasized the bipartisan interest in promoting efficient resilient federal buildings.

A copy of Van Den Wymelenberg’s written testimony can be found here.