Choosing a major at the University of Pennsylvania was an easy decision for Jessica Mangin, who already knew in the sixth grade that she wanted to study architecture.
Now a senior at Penn, the Manitowoc, Wisc., native became interested in architecture after her family embarked on a three-year, do-it-yourself project to enlarge their house. The additions included a great room, another bedroom and the basement under the new rooms.
Her family was involved in every phase of the project, from creating the design to doing the construction work.
With Jessica and her sister Brittany listening in, their father, George, a carpenter, and mother, Nancy drew up all of the plans.
“In terms of the building process, they made sure my sister and I were both very engaged,” says Mangin.
She helped with pouring concrete footings, building stud walls, hanging drywall and installing windows. “There probably wasn't a single aspect of the construction process that I wasn't part of, mostly because I really enjoyed it and wanted to help,” says Mangin. “But also I was essentially living on a construction site for three years, so it wasn't as if I could just not notice what was going on around me.”
At Penn, Mangin learned about sustainable architecture and quickly became interested in energy-efficient buildings. The summer after her sophomore year, she traveled to Norway, Sweden and Denmark as part of a study abroad program focused on sustainable design.
This past summer, her interest on the subject led her to Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Through a Climate Action Grant from Penn’s Center for Undergraduate Research Fellowships (CURF) Mangin spent three weeks conducting an independent research project on how energy efficient strategies from buildings up to 400 years old can be applied to buildings today.
“I wanted to explore how these energy efficient design strategies have evolved across centuries, from more primitive, pre-industrial revolution architecture,” Mangin says.
Mangin studied Germany’s energy efficiency standard, Passivhaus, one of the strictest in the world.
Mangin examined several buildings that use energy efficient strategies to meet the Passivehaus standard, including an elementary school with highly insulated walls and triple paned windows, and renewable energy sources such as solar energy.
According to Mangin, “It all starts in the design phase. You can optimize a building by having energy efficient light bulbs and recycled materials, but making a building energy efficient requires energy efficient thinking at the beginning in the design phase.”
In Switzerland, Mangin studied building practices in an alpine village in Vals. She looked at energy efficient structures that had been designed with heavy insulation and with windows located on the south side of the building to take advantage of orientation to the sun to absorb heat.
Mangin’s international research has intensified her desire to become an architect and an advocate for sustainable practice.
“There’s so much work to be done,” urges Mangin. “Getting some people to rally around it in the U.S. and start adopting these technologies is very important.”