Dr. Mona Azarbayjani comes from a family of engineers, with both her parents and grandparents working in construction and engineering. Being exposed to that world from such a young age helped her very early on discover her own passion for architecture.
“I always wanted to work in the same realm of construction and be an architect,” she says. “I thought about it in high school. We had a teacher who was an architect and was teaching us arts, and just talking to her I realized I wanted to create a space, and not just like the structures my parents would make, but a space for people.``
Her passion for human-centered design was nurtured by her surroundings. Azarbayjani grew up in Iran, an area with a rich history of architecture, something that would become a major inspiration for her work. She spent time visiting the historic sites of Iran while at in undergraduate school at the University of Science and Technology in Tehran.
"Architecture in Iran has a long history, 5000 years of buildings, some even more than that. Being in a place where you can see the architecture from thousands of years ago that are still working. Some are in harsh climates like desert climates. They can provide comfort without using technology - just the building and the structure. How can they provide comfort in 110 degrees in the summertime, so people can live comfortably in a nice environment?”
Developing designs that balance human comfort and health with environmental sustainability became the focus of Azarbayjani’s research. Ultimately, she obtained her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and joined UNC Charlotte in 2010. And while the innovations of ancient Iran still inspire her, she looks to the newest inventions to find the most efficient and successful way to create buildings.
"A lot of my research goals were exploring building and how we can create a positive impact on energy efficiency and occupants' health,” she says. “I wanted to look at leveraging the advancements of technology and data analysis, and how we can bring it to architecture.”
Last year, Azarbayjani published her book High-Performance Double Skin Façade Buildings: Climate Based Exploration. Double-skin façades developed in Europe several decades ago as a way to both save energy and augment access to natural light and ventilation. The design incorporates two “skins” or exterior surfaces – both glass – with space in between for air circulation and, if desired, blinds or some sort of shading device. The air gap in between the two façades acts as insulation. The technology has been widely used in Europe, but sparingly in the United States, although it is gaining popularity.
Azarbayjani’s book provides the first systematic assessment of the operational performance of double-skin façade technology in buildings in the United States.
“I wanted to write this book to help architects think ‘if this is a strategy for climates like Europe, how can we learn and bring that to the U.S?’ There are few buildings in the U.S that build upon that concept, but there was no looking into the actual performance of these buildings, and this (double skin façades) really helps with energy efficiency and reduction of Co2 emission.”
Azarbayjani’s newest projects involve research in artificial intelligence, and how AI technology can be applied to future “high-performance” buildings to support human and environmental health.
“Looking at all the progress in data analysis and machine learning, I wanted to bring in that aspect, so I collaborated with computer science faculty at UNC Charlotte to bring that side of the data analytics to bring innovative solutions to architecture.”
Ideally, she says, architects will “think holistically” about technology and humanity to “optimize the experience of the person in the space.”
“Both looking at the users of the space and also the technical side – looking at the data and how we can contribute to the health and wellbeing of the occupants in the space.”
By Rayden Leeder