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Rising Star: Raheela Khan-Fitzgerald

Words:
Isabelle Priest

Hands-on designer and developer of award winning emissions reduction tool at Hawkins\Brown and champion of sustainability

Raheela Khan-Fitzgerald is a RIBAJ Rising Star 2020.
Raheela Khan-Fitzgerald is a RIBAJ Rising Star 2020.

Architectural assistant, Hawkins\Brown
Part 1: 2015  Part 2: 2018

For someone who has always enjoyed making things by hand and as a printmaker in her spare time, Raheela Khan-Fitzgerald’s achievements in architecture are surprisingly high tech. She grew up in Kenya and did her A levels in Britain before studying at Glasgow School of Art, which she chose because Charles Rennie and Margaret Mackintosh are among her architectural heroes for how they designed every part of their buildings down to the cutlery. For her, architecture is ‘all encompassing’ and she combined academic study with practical experiences, like working with Roots Architecture to design and build a stage using salvaged wood.

Khan-Fitzgerald’s interest in sustainability has been constant. After Part 1, she went to work for Thread Architects in Sheffield, a new firm with its main focus on self-build. There, as well as designing, she became involved in co-living timber construction. She completed her Part 2, again at the Mack, because she really believed in its course and for the opportunities its sustainable research group MEARU offered, and then went straight to Hawkins\Brown in London where her interest in the practical expanded again. She had become more aware of the practice from cycling past its Park Hill project on the way to work during her year out. She liked the sustainability credentials of the scheme in its reuse of the concrete structure and aim to minimise embodied energy.

 

‘Fiestadromo’, Khan-Fitzgerald’s final year project set in Madrid which was awarded the Glasgow City Council Charlie Cochrane Medal in 2018.
‘Fiestadromo’, Khan-Fitzgerald’s final year project set in Madrid which was awarded the Glasgow City Council Charlie Cochrane Medal in 2018.

Perhaps expecting to work on individual building projects with a similar ethos, she was instead thrown straight into the Hawkins\Brown Emission Reduction Tool (H\B:ERT).  Referee Louisa Bowles, head of sustainability at the practice, says Khan-Fitzgerald was instrumental in developing it into a downloadable plug-in for Revit and helped it to launch. The tool compiles information about whole life carbon emissions for materials in projects, based on a background database that includes extraction, manufacture, waste, maintenance and end of life, presenting numerics visually so that designers can make informed, carbon-literate decisions. The hope is that it will enable architects to have early conversations about the issue with clients and that it will lead to projects with lower embodied energy. In 2019 Khan-Fitzgerald was given Hawkins\Brown’s research bursary develop it further, work which won the practice the AJ100 Best Use of Technology Award and ‘demonstrates an expertise beyond her years of experience’ says Bowles. It is partly Khan-Fitzgerald’s ability to adapt, take on new challenges and be so diverse in her skills that made her stand out to this year’s judges. 

She has also volunteered personal and professional time to the London Energy Transformation Initiative (LETI), co-authoring the chapter ‘Rules of thumb’ of the Embodied Carbon Primer. This fed into the Climate Emergency Design Guide, published in January, which has already been downloaded 30,000 times from 120 countries. ‘Winning an award for Hawkins\Brown is quite an achievement,’ says judge Asia Grzybowska. 

Fellow judge Klaus Bode says: ‘She is doing a lot collaboratively to address climate change, including the communication of it as a key design driver. If more architects did this kind of work, it would put me out of my job.’

  • H\B:ERT is a plug-in that helps users understand the embodied carbon of a project.
    H\B:ERT is a plug-in that helps users understand the embodied carbon of a project. Credit: Hawkins / Brown
  • Credit: Hawkins / Brown
  • Credit: Hawkins / Brown.
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How would you most like to improve society through architecture?

I would like to improve the way we live and interact with our environment through architecture, which will in turn benefit society at large. This could be through better daylighting; using passive systems such as capturing the sun’s heat through controlled solar gain; or venting a space through stack ventilation. I would love to encourage the protection of wild space and species through more use of natural materials and beautifully designed details that highlight a snippet of nature even within built-up cities.   


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