Mallory Taub, AIA, is a Sustainability Director and Senior Associate at Gensler and recently became co-chair of the AIANY Committee on the Environment (COTE). Taub’s goal is to drive systemic, positive change for a more sustainable future by drastically reducing carbon emissions, enhancing our connection to nature, catalyzing the materials industry, and advancing climate justice principles that empower equitable communities. She brings a holistic, interdisciplinary approach to developing sustainability strategy for high-performance buildings, campuses, and portfolios.
Taub’s career has included researching resiliency in heat-vulnerable neighborhoods as a Forefront fellow at the Urban Design Forum and serving on the steering committee of the Building Energy Exchange. She holds an M.S. in Architecture from UC Berkeley and a B.A. in Architectural Studies from Brown University. Her work has been featured in Fast Company, City Limits, The Architect’s Newspaper, Urban Land Institute, The Boston Globe, and CoreNet Global.
Q: How/why did you decide to pursue architecture?
I grew up on a dirt road in a rural, environmentally-conscious community in Vermont that unofficially claims to have the highest number of architects per capita in the country. In high school, I thought architecture could be right for me because it combined my interests of the arts and sciences. Early influences included interning for founders of two hometown architectural practices: Ellen Strauss, who showed me that women can do it all in architecture, and Bill Maclay, who taught me about net-zero building design.
In college, I enjoyed learning about architectural history and how the built environment shaped daily life and communities across time and in different cultures throughout the world. While taking architectural design in grad school, I gravitated towards sustainability-focused classes partly because they brought together architectural, engineering, and construction expertise and partly because they provided methods for making environmentally responsible design decisions. I then decided to change programs to center my architectural education on an interdisciplinary approach to sustainability and haven’t looked back.
Q: What is influencing your work the most right now?
We are experiencing a climate emergency, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made it clear that there is limited time left to make the substantial changes required to avoid catastrophe. There was a point in my life when I thought of climate change as something that only impacts the future. Climate change is here now, and our actions today and through 2030 will determine the extremity of the heatwaves, wildfires, storms, and sea level rise we experience in our lifetimes.
Another influence is learning about the intersection of climate change, the built environment, and equity, which is a journey that regrettably started late for me. It began in 2019 as a Forefront fellow with the Urban Design Forum, where I worked with a cohort of emerging leaders to identify strategies to mitigate the impact of extreme heat in vulnerable communities. I did not previously know that low-income communities of color rank highest in heat vulnerability in New York City, or that nationally, formerly redlined areas are consistently hotter than non-redlined areas. Since then, I have been continuing my journey to learn more about climate justice, amplify the work of those who have long been working on these issues, and change how I think about project opportunities and implications.
Q: What has been particularly challenging in your recent work?
To make progress on reducing the amount of carbon in design work, it is necessary to be able to measure carbon. While it is possible to measure the operational and embodied carbon at the project scale, my team and I are looking to address how to measure operational and embodied carbon of the built environment at the portfolio scale.
With an exceptional team at Gensler across sustainability, design technology, and data engineering, we are working to roadmap a scalable approach to measuring carbon across all our projects. We believe this data has value to not only track progress toward carbon commitments but inform decarbonization strategy at the organizational scale and contribute to a feedback loop to advance low-carbon building design.
Q: How do you feel about the state of the industry right now?
While the built environment industry has embraced decarbonization, there is no time for incremental change. Innovation and change are historically difficult in the industry, but not impossible. The rate at which new and existing buildings need to decarbonize means working on one building at a time is too slow to mitigate climate change. We need to think about portfolio-scale solutions that can accelerate decarbonization, and I believe architects as systems thinkers are well positioned to collaboratively lead the charge.
Q: What do you see as an architect’s role—and responsibility—within our culture?
Architects have a multifaceted role to inspire, find creative and meaningful solutions that shape how we live, address historic and contemporary inequities, and create spaces for all to thrive in current and future conditions. This vision is predicated on environmental responsibility to reduce the impact of the built environment on climate change and prepare people and communities for a changing climate. We also need to understand what actions outside of our field need to happen to achieve our climate goals, whether that be a decarbonized grid or climate policy and use our voice to be agents of change. In short, I think it is the profession’s responsibility to go all-in on driving down emissions at a scale that matters for our collective present and future.