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School of Design professor and renowned architect James Timberlake was nominated by President Barack Obama to serve on the National Institute of Building Science Board of Directors last month. The board promotes the construction of safe and affordable facilities in the country through advances in technology and sustainability practices.

Timberlake, who graduated from PennDesign in 1977, along with fellow 1976 PennDesign graduate Stephen Kieran, started the award-winning architecture firm KieranTimberlake, which is dedicated to sustainable design, in-depth research and education.

The firm designed the Engineering School building Levine Hall on 34th and Walnut streets, which has an actively ventilated curtainwall — the first of its type in North America. The firm has also designed academic buildings across the country, including at Middlebury College and Yale University.

Every spring, Timberlake and Kieran joint-teach a Masters research laboratory in PennDesign that takes its students to Dhaka, Bangladesh to do research on water and housing problems.

The Daily Pennsylvanian asked Timberlake about his philosophy on architecture.

The Daily Pennsylvanian: How did the firm begin? What is unique about it?

James Timberlake: Stephen Kieran and I worked together with Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi from the mid to late ’70s to ’80s. In 1984, we decided to form a partnership and start the practice. What any architect wants to do when they start their own firm is believe they have ideas that are not necessarily getting fulfilled by the work experience where they’re at. In the case of Stephen and me, we had a deep interest in architecture and in research and design. That has been the underpinnings of the practice since day one and continues to fulfill the firm to this day.

DP: What do you mean by research and design?

JT: Architecture balances both art and science, both intuition and analysis, research and design. Design with research puts equal terms on the notion of a gut instinct and on data and real science. Architecture is a balance of all those elements. From day one, Stephen and I believe very strongly that architecture should be underpinned by research.

DP: How did Penn help you in your career?

JT: It was completely worthless. No, I’m kidding. Being at UPenn at a time when the architecture school was heavily influenced by Louis Kahn — a well known and respected architect in Philadelphia. I think Penn, with the rigor of Kahn’s influence, along with younger faculty, practitioners and others in the planning and landscape architecture disciplines really formed a basis of education.

Penn — being in Philadelphia, being a piece of the Ivy League and the resources that brings, being highly respected internationally in the design profession really opened our eyes to the possibilities of what architecture could become.

DP: What is unique about Levine Hall?

JT: Our commission came in 1999. They wanted something that really reflected education in the 21st century, a glass building where people could engage with its inner workings in a very different way than with most university buildings that are opaque with punch windows. That became a cornerstone of some of the new buildings in the engineering quad.

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