Meeting the Microgrant Recipients: Part II

Announcement | November 19, 2020

The Research Microgrant Program supports small, focused research projects proposed by CRTKL employees by investing $50,000 to support research projects across the firm. The microgrants recipients, selected from a pool of 34 total applicants, were awarded for their excellence by a global expert jury from academia and the design industry.  These individuals and teams will spend the next four months investigating their research topic, supported by internal mentors, the Research Fellows and guided by curriculum sessions led by the expert jurors.

Microgrants are an opportunity for us to develop new knowledge that covers a broad research agenda. The program is meant to be a safe space to ideate, fail safely and directly implement findings into our projects, business or culture. We are looking for the next big idea, insight or small adjustment that enables us to change the way we think.

Today, we’re talking to Amir Lofti, Khalid Al-Tamimi, and team April Coover/Harry Vicci/Tess Hurry about their research projects and the road ahead.

Amir Lofti: What is the relationship between mass timber and neighborhood carbon emissions?



Khalid Al-Tamimi: Would improving the thermal comfort of outdoor urban environments in Dubai ensure their functionality all year round?



April Coover/Harry Vicci/Tess Hurry: What is the regional, environmental impact of a corporate office and its people (500+) relocating to urban and rural centers within Texas?



Tell me about how you came to choose your MicroGrant topic.

AL: To me, it was important to pay attention to two major factors. The first of these is climate change. Mass timber can play a huge role in reducing the carbon emissions as a renewable and locally available building material in PNW. The second factor is post-pandemic living and working environments. I wanted to explore what the built environment can look like in the post-pandemic era with all the quarantines and work-from-home policies. It is essential to explore the benefits of using mass timber in creating spaces with more connection between humans and nature.

KA: The topic I decided to conduct my research on is one that has been extensively discussed in the Dubai office. Many clients that approach us with ideas to develop new retail destinations typically ask us to investigate incorporating an outdoor component to their projects– keeping in mind functionality all year round. However, looking at the climate, available precedents, and various other factors, having such a component can be challenging and not economically viable. This results in a shift in the project direction and we tend to end up enclosing and internalizing everything, which, on a sustainability level, isn’t the best approach. For me, I feel that there is a potential in having these open-air areas, but we simply don’t have the data to back up and any design decision that supports such environments. What guarantees that a space would be cooler if we did this? We have an answer, but it is either not tested or simply the research isn’t there to put things in perspective for our clients. Moreover, the topic is not new, but, for this region, it is definitely under researched.

AC/HV/TH: There is a lot of movement of corporations.  As part of the workplace practice, we get the opportunity to work with many of them to help shape their space strategies as a result.  Residing in a city, that existence and growth is largely based on the very idea of the movement of corporations, so we wanted to study the impacts a little further.

How does your idea contribute to a more sustainable and resilient industry?   

AL: I believe mass timber can play a huge role in reducing the carbon footprint of our buildings and cities in the near future.

KA: If we ever do work around this issue, we will likely see a rise in more sustainable outdoor environments in this region– and generally in cities that are typically warm. Coming up with design strategies or new materials that ensure thermal comfort all year long with minimal to no need for electricity and major cooling equipment would help us reduce the carbon footprint of such spaces, while still ensuring good quality design and successful urban environments that are comfortable for people.

AC/HV/TH: We are hoping that understanding impacts on the environment– from the physical space we provide to house a workforce combined with the impacts of individuals of the workforce (relocation) to support that.  Sometimes, buildings are built for tenants that enter into a lease that, often times, isn’t all that long term or encompasses the full occupancy of the building.  The tenant vacates, the building is still there, the communities have still grown.  How can understanding the outcomes influence more resiliency in decision-making and better adaptable solutions to respond to these decisions?

Who does your idea impact the most?

AL: I think this research can help communities develop awareness of the potential sustainable benefits of mass timber and the building industry in general.

KA: I like to think that it would really benefit the people we design for, the people of the city, who, in the case of Dubai and its wider region, tend to wind up in malls all summer with limited access to the outdoors due to unbearable weather conditions. From there, it is a loop: with better open-air spaces, the footfall increases—which, in turn, brings in tenants benefiting the owner/client.

What’s the importance of this program at CRTKL? 

AL: This research can help CRTKL establish itself as one of the pioneers in the emerging building technologies. It also strengthens our commitment to the environment and sustainable design and could pave the way for future potential mass timber projects.

KA: Good design is backed up by thorough research. For us as designers with a mission to improve people’s quality of life, we can only achieve this goal with successful design that uses data and facts to guide it and be more tailored to the people it serves. The MicroGrant program complements this mission by giving us the opportunity to access this data, derive an understanding from it, test it and have a safe space to experiment with it since the results aren’t always known. Having the opportunity to delve into such topics would help broaden our understanding of the built environment and develop effective solutions to modern day problems– serving our ultimate goal to achieve truly human-centric designs.

AC/HV/TH: Being part of CRTKL, a large organization, we are faced with these decisions for our workforce.  As a company focused on resiliency in our practice and in our actions, it’s worth a focused effort for understanding ourselves as well as our clients.