By AnneMarie Hunter
Dr. Julia Day’s vision for her work is guided by a straightforward equation:
Healthy People + Healthy Buildings = A Healthy Planet
An associate professor in Washington State University’s School of Design and Construction, Day also directs the Integrated Design + Construction Laboratory (ID+CL) where she leads a team of students in pioneering building research.
A multi-disciplinary lab, the ID+CL is integrated into WSU’s School of Design & Construction, Composite Materials and Engineering Center, and the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture. The ID+CL’s mission is to transform today’s building design, so buildings will require less energy and enhance occupant comfort. ID+CL’s research is shared with architecture, interior design, and construction communities around the world.
Day recalls the specific moment that inspired her life’s work.
“In 2009, I was a graduate student, working at the, then, Integrated Design Lab (IDL) and attending a building tour,” she said. “I noticed a red light/green light device in the ceiling, which was intended to signal occupants whether or not they could open the windows and conserve energy. During the tour, I talked to employees there. Most had never noticed the ceiling, or they thought the devices were part of a fire alarm system.
“As a first-year grad student, it blew my mind designers had put a lot of thought into this feature, but the occupants had no idea what it was and were probably enduring discomfort.”
After this experience, Day searched for an academic program where she could learn to solve these concerns. Unable to find one, she created her own. In 2014, Day completed the Individual Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program (IIDP) at WSU in architecture, interior design, and education.
“I’ve carved my own path in research and in fields that didn’t exist yet,” Day said. “I’ve learned that just because something doesn’t exist, it doesn’t mean you can’t create your own path.”
Day brings resources from the path she’s carved to current research projects. She believes that, as building design has become more focused on energy efficiency, occupant well-being is often overlooked. In addition, education to help people fully utilize their spaces is frequently neglected.
Day is rewriting this recurring 21st century narrative. Her approach merges communication and collaboration with all stakeholders involved in building design.
“I’m surprised how many designers and architects never talk to people who will occupy their buildings,” she said. “We have to remember buildings are designed for people, and people interact with buildings. Features that make a building more efficient are negated if people don’t know about them or how to use them. I’m a translator between designers and occupants, so we can get everyone speaking the same language.
“Design can be both sustainable and good for occupants. The goal is to find a balance between all of these goals, and sometimes having empathy for others is the key to balance.”
Day is focused on acquiring information to achieve this balance.
“I use quantitative and qualitative data,” she said. “It’s important to have facts and figures, but without qualitative data you might miss something the numbers don’t tell you. Even when a building succeeds in reaching energy benchmarks, qualitative research needs to be done by talking to people using the building. If the people are comfortable and educated about how to use the building, that’s the true measure of success.”
Day and the ID+CL team are involved in numerous projects to ensure this success.
One of the group’s key partners is the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA), an alliance of utilities and organizations that develop energy-efficiency programs for consumers. The NEEA has provided funding to the ID+CL and worked with the team on numerous projects.
In 2020, the ID+CL partnered with the BetterBricks Program, a NEEA resource. BetterBricks partners with Northwest utilities to provide resources for better energy efficiency in buildings and business practices. With funding from NEEA, Emerald Initiative/Edo, and McKinstry, the ID+CL team developed case studies about the energy-saving features of the Spokane Catalyst Building and surrounding South Landing development. They were also funded to develop a tenant engagement program to balance occupant comfort and energy goals.
“McKinstry specifically supported our vision when they hired our team to design the tenant engagement program for the Catalyst Building in Spokane,” Day said. “This project allowed us to implement real-world strategies we’d learned and observed in previous research.”
This spring, Day launched a NEEA podcast, “Learning from the Greats,” where she interviews recently retired architecture, design, and construction professionals about real-life experiences.
In May, Day became the first appointee for a new joint program between WSU and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). In this program, WSU and NREL scientists will collaborate on energy efficiency research and renewable energy technologies.
“I’m really excited about this appointment,” Day said. “Combining NREL’s engineering know-how and what I’ve learned on the occupant side will be a really great partnership,” she said.
Looking ahead, Day will also contribute to a project sponsored by WSU’s Granger Cobb Institute for Senior Living.
“We’ll travel to senior living and assisted-care facilities to talk with residents about their experiences with buildings growing up, which are often common sense things people used to do to save energy, but we may have forgotten along the way,” Day said. “Many future buildings are going back to basics, and there are a lot of lessons to be learned from the older generation. We don’t want to lose that knowledge.”
Lisa Heschong, architectural writer and lecturer, has collaborated with Day on several energy-efficiency projects during the past several years, including books, papers, and lectures.
“Julia is committed to making buildings better for the people inside of them,” Heschong said. “Part of that commitment is teaching and knowing how to best engage and nurture students in their education, giving them the skills and motivation to make better buildings.”
Though Day’s achievements and contributions to her field are significant, she has faced many hurdles. Her empathy for others, including her students, has grown through these experiences.
“After my first year of college, I was unhappy with my initial area of study in pharmacy, so I switched majors to interior design,” she said. “I needed to change directions, which was scary at the time. But, I learned part of college is about discovering who you are, and it’s ok if you aren’t who you thought you were or thought you should be.”
In 2007, Day was awarded her Bachelor of Arts in interior design at WSU and moved to Seattle for her dream job with an architectural firm.
“I loved my job in Seattle and imagined staying there forever,” she said. “But during the 2009 recession, my department was laid off and I was devastated. I remember my identity was so wrapped up in that career. It’s hard to lose the thing you think you are and the work you think you’re supposed to be doing.”
After the layoff, Day focused on applying for a new job. In the midst of her search, she learned a project manager and research/teaching assistant position had opened at the IDL. However, there was an important prerequisite. She had to enroll as a graduate student at WSU to be hired for the position. Day was hired and returned to WSU.
“During my master’s study, I discovered that I enjoy research and teaching. I also learned I needed both science and creativity, and also to work with people. Today I have all of this and it’s such a happy combination, but it wasn’t an easy road to get here. What I’ve learned is to not see obstacles, but rather options for alternative solutions. Sometimes, they’re even better than you imagined.”