2 April 2020
By María Benjamínsdóttir
Delighted to welcome Maria to our KLH team!
Tell us a bit about your background?
I was born just south of the Arctic Circle, in a little Icelandic fisherman’s town, but have been migrating southwards ever since. My parents’ careers took me south to the Icelandic capital, then further south to Oslo in Norway, and in 2009 I flew to the sunny shores of England to study Civil Engineering at the University of Bristol.
After graduating I moved to London, where I started work as a Civil Engineer for a couple of years, before transferring to Structural Engineering. Despite my specific technical role on projects, I found my interest leaning towards the larger systems of material flow and supply chains – I became increasingly aware of and concerned about the negative environmental impact of the construction sector’s huge consumption of materials.
This led me to a structural philosophy of favouring minimal intervention and the careful use of sustainable, natural materials. I hope for a return to a world where we truly value our material resources, and only use just the right amount to achieve the project objectives – even if this means a solution that looks different to what we first imagined!
Where did you first hear about KLH sustainability?
Kirsten won’t remember this, but I actually first met her many years ago when she hosted a breakfast talk during Green Design Week around 2015/2016. I was incredibly inspired to hear someone talking about the topics that I felt were missing from my day to day work. Little did I know that I would later end up working as part of her team, and I couldn’t be happier!
What made KLH sustainability stand out for you to work for?
KLH’s vision for sustainable design surpasses ‘box ticking’, and acknowledges that each project must be seen with fresh eyes. The team can provide a multi-perspective outlook as it is diverse, knowledgeable and values good communication and relationships.
The balance between project work, research and knowledge sharing means that the conversation is always moving forward. The climate crisis can only be tackled by working together collaboratively, and KLH encompasses this.
What is your current role at KLH sustainability?
I will be joining as a Senior Sustainability Advisor, drawing upon my experience working in a technical role for over half a decade. I bring with me knowledge about structural materials and their embodied carbon, as well as the design of sustainable drainage systems. I look forward to work with the team to expand my knowledge further into fields I’ve been less involved with in the past, such as energy and building physics, and supply chain management.
How do you see yourself going forward within KLH Sustainability?
I am interested in the idea of circularity of materials within the built environment, and I am keen to be part of developing systems for ensuring that building materials stay ‘in the loop’. The idea of ‘urban mining’ fascinates me, as this would turn the whole design process on its head – rather than the material procurement being the result of a design, the design would have to be based on the available materials.
Circularity in the built environment also encompasses water, and how urban landscapes can be designed to retain the water by mimicking the natural water cycle. I’m excited to be able to continue to think about water, as this is something I have missed since transferring from civil to structural engineering.
What does sustainability mean to you?
I had to re-start this paragraph a number of times, and maybe that is a good indicator of what sustainability means to me – it is not a simple story.
To design and live sustainably, we have to understand the story of materials from their point of extraction from the earth, to their return to the environment.
In natural systems, no waste is produced, and all by-products of one process return to the environment as food for another. Human systems often return unwanted materials in the form of waste. We are the only species that does this. Sustainability would be to mimic the natural cycle of creating no waste.
The story of a material’s lifecycle also encompasses the encounters made by the material along its journey. This includes the working conditions of people that form part of the supply chain, the environmental effects of the material being removed and transported away from its origin, and its social value creation once reaching its goal. Sustainability is ensuring that people and the environment do not suffer from the commodification of material.
For me, sustainability always comes back to how we define our system boundaries. When we are talking about a climate crisis, we have to expand our system boundaries such that they encompass the whole earth.
Fundamentally, I believe sustainability is about moving away from a philosophy of seeing humans as separate from and above nature, and remember that we are, in fact, a part of it.