Architecture student wins prestigious new sustainability fellowship

A UC Berkeley architecture student and his faculty mentor are among 11 teams, chosen from top higher-ed institutions around the world, for the first-ever Schmidt-MacArthur Fellowship. The new award focuses on the design of sustainable products and processes, for what is termed the “circular economy.”

Antony Kim, a CED graduate student,  will work on a project already in its early stages — designed to make sustainable architecture more accessible for low-income households, while also furthering the country’s move toward energy independence.

Architecture grad student Antony Kim describes his project.

“Essentially, I am developing the policy tool that would make the use of daylight and high-efficacy lighting profitable for low-income housing developers,” explains Kim.

He will have support from architecture professor Galen Cranz as he refines his ideas for updating and expanding California’s “utility allowance calculator,” a tool used by the California Energy Commission to reflect the cost of operational energy in project financing.

Kim project is highly interdisciplinary, he notes, using social science, engineering and design to develop performance-driven policies.

“Antony’s work reflects the creativity and passion that is the foundation of the college’s ongoing focus on sustainability and activism through design,” says Jennifer Wolch, dean of UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design.

The new fellowship is a partnership between the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in Great Britain and the U.S.-based Schmidt Family Foundation, established in 2006 by Wendy and Eric Schmidt, the executive chair of Google. It will officially begin with a series of seminars in London, June 17-21, which the fellows, along with international experts from design, engineering, business and other fields, will attend. The final projects will be completed next summer.

Fellows were chosen from participating universities in the United States, the United Kingdom, India, France, The Netherlands and Italy. They will stay in touch throughout the year, sharing their work through a Ellen MacArthur Foundation website. The winning UC Berkeley team was chosen from among eight on campus that vied for the fellowship.

“Addressing problems through the lens of the circular economy,” says Wolch, “gives the teams the chance to radically rethink the design of products, components or systems to generate value.”

Kim, whose background is in industrial technology, has worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and is a U.S. Air Force veteran. He has conducted neuroscience research on lighting and human health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute. He’s also a formally trained chef who specializes in baking and pastries.

Not surprisingly, Kim was attracted to the Schmidt-MacArthur Fellowship’s wide-ranging, interdisciplinary approach.

“Most other fellowships are very pigeon-holed in one specific area,” he says. “That’s not who I am. I’m not completely a social scientist or engineer or designer. I’m a person who wants to consider the whole system before the individual parts.”