David Baker Architects

2021 LEADERS

Katie Ackerly, AIA, LEED AP, CPHC, Principal


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Principal Katie Ackerly, AIA, LEED AP, CPHC, is DBA’s Sustainable Design Lead, an industry thought-leader, and an advocate for building decarbonization and housing resilience. Katie joined DBA in 2012, and over the years has brought focus and heft to the firm’s sustainability goals, positioning DBA at the forefront of resilience initiatives in affordable housing design and construction.

Katie draws on a background in building science and energy-efficiency policy, including graduate studies with the Center for the Built Environment. She brings DBA into critical conversations and approaches to zero net energy and all-electric multifamily housing, informing research reports and design guidelines and sharing her knowledge through writings and workshops. She has been actively involved in the International Living Future Institute’s Affordable Housing Framework and the Living Building Leaders advisory group, and she is currently leading DBA’s collaboration with Rocky Mountain Institute’s REALIZE-CA initiative to catalyze equitable zero-carbon retrofits for affordable housing.

Her projects with DBA include the affordable multifamily developments Onizuka Crossing, Williams Terrace, 222 Taylor, and Coliseum Place, as well as Union Flats—the largest built modular project in California. Katie assists project teams in early conceptual design and building performance goals, and coordinates with consultants to preserve and attain these goals through the design process.

“There are so many people who pursue sustainability for sustainability’s sake, but Katie is so engaged in a thoughtful approach, in putting sustainability in context of what’s important to the residents and the community at large.”
—Daniel Simons, FAIA, LEED AP, Principal

 

Get to know Katie.

Back to the beginning:

From an early age, I was sensitive to my physical environment to an unusual degree. When I was a child, my family lived within the grounds of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan—my dad was the Principal of the school there. Construction on the 100-year-old cathedral was slow and ongoing, which fascinated me. All these blocks of stone were stacked up in the back, and I puzzled over how the towers and transepts abruptly stopped, like I was seeing the back-story of this grand statement.

My family moved to Oakland when I was six, and I remember how unsettled I was by the mid-century homes and suburban feel of a relatively central part of the city. My high school, Lick-Wilmerding in San Francisco, offered architecture courses, and in those I discovered that designing the physical environment was a thing that you could do.

I studied geology at Williams College, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Geosciences. It was a fitting major for me, because it's a very visual, physically tangible science that’s actually not that different from architecture. You're working out the history of a landscape in plan and section drawings, based on careful observation, field measurements, and other analytical methods.

A student of sustainability:

As early as high school, I was interested in sustainability—I could tell that this concept was going to shape the next several decades. After college, I worked in Washington, D.C., tracking policy developments on Capitol Hill related to earth sciences and environmental policy, then joined the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

I realized it would be hard to continue developing building efficiency codes, standards, and market transformation programs without really understanding how the decisions about buildings themselves were made. When I was at ACEEE, I identified multifamily housing—especially existing buildings and affordable housing—as one of the next big opportunities for addressing shortcomings in building design and construction. There wasn’t much data on multifamily housing at that time. I entered U.C. Berkeley’s building science program, earning both a Master of Science in Architecture and Master of Architecture degree in order to jump into practice.

An evolving role for an evolving firm:

As a principal, my background and expertise will help inform the firm’s evolving mission. An architecture firm’s goals and mindset need to fundamentally reckon with the demands that climate mitigation, adaptation, urban ecology, and resilience are placing on the practice. I think a core strength of our office has been an ability to stay nimble and experimental in response to change. Now, not only are we facing overwhelming change, but we find that our work designing affordable, livable, high-density communities is at the center of the solution. Sustainability—the idea of designing for future generations—has to be the driving objective that undergirds everything. I reinforce that perspective on projects as well as in management roles like marketing, standards, staffing, and hiring.

My hope for the future:

I’m interested in moving beyond the notion of the “heroic architect.” Progress is made by respecting people in different roles, bringing multiple disciplines to the table, leveraging relationships and connections within the construction industry and other sectors, and acknowledging that sharing mistakes is valuable and that progress is made by teams.

I also hope that architects continue to hold a positive, visionary leadership role in society. I’d like the earnestness and technical understanding of green building leaders to reconcile with the field’s powerfully charismatic side, which is able to capture the imagination of the public. I hope we really tune into the question “How do we achieve greater integration with a global ecology?” There is an opportunity for us to commit to holding a positive vision for the future. After all, we are in the business of creating a vision for something that is not already there.

"Housing is this essential ingredient to a stable future."
Hear more in Katie's bio video.

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Connect with Katie at katieackerly@dbarchitect.com

Meet DBA's 2021 Leaders.