Sheroes of Passive House: Mary Rogero

December 20, 2019

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[Editor’s Note: A highlight of PHIUS’ 14th North American Passive House Conference was the “PH Divas” panel session, featuring pecha kucha-style presentations by seven trailblazers in Passive House architecture. We’re excited to be publishing each presentation in article form on the PH Accelerator. Today’s comes from Mary Rogero, VP of the PHIUS board and Associate Professor and former Chair for the Department of Architecture and Interior Design at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.]

“The Orange” was originally developed in 1957 for the Melbourne Florida Chamber of Commerce. Volunteers would sit inside the little structure and serve orange juice to tourists. My father’s plumbing shop was located right across the street so this was a pivotal landmark for me in my youth and the first structure that got me thinking about buildings.

My father got a kick out of the unusual, so when the family would go on road trips, he stopped at every weird tourist attraction in the Smokies and every roadside oddity. It was what white people did on vacations at that time. We stayed one night in a motel like this and…

…for whatever quirky promise the exterior suggested, the inside never delivered. I can distinctly remember my disappointment as I walked through the door and discovered that the ceiling was flat. I was only 8 but for some reason the integrity of structure really mattered to me.

I earned my Master’s degree in Architecture in 1989 with my then three small kids in tow. I commuted two hours and twenty minutes a day roundtrip to the university. During those pre-cell phones years, I taught my kids how to make coffee for their mother, how to fry an egg for themselves, clean up their own mess and do their own laundry. It was good times…

Inspired by both of my parents, who always told me I could do anything, a colleague and I started our own architecture firm in 1995, within months of becoming registered architects. I remember my dad telling me “Congratulations honey…now you get to work ALL the time!” For 15 years, the majority of our work was all within a one-mile radius of the center of Dayton.

One of our big first projects was the renovation of an old delapidated German Baptist Church in the city that was developed as an indoor climbing gym. Hollowing out what was left of the building, the climb starts from the basement level and rises 57’…climbing in the glow of stained glass windows.

We worked with young energetic, passionate developers, and twice relocate our office to the project site. We were squatters. The Cannery Project was developed as a conglomeration of seven old factory buildings totaling 256,000 square feet of mixed use development with retail on the first floor, and 134 loft housing units on the upper floors.

We finally bought a building of our own, because, hey, being a developer looked like fun! The building was 4 story, 43,000 square foot former factory which we developed as office space and lofts. Our offices were located on the east side of the building on the 4th floor and I lived on the west end of the building in a 3,200 square foot loft on the 4th floor loft. My commute to work was through the elevator.

We also wanted to be contractors, because let’s face it…they were making way more money that the architects were. We collaborated with a group of professors from Michigan that had prepared schematic designs for a house for a local client but didn’t want to do the construction drawings. They hired us to be the Architects of Record and we said, “Hey can we be the contractors too?”

In 2008, everything changed. We were working on a senior housing project in the forever little hippie village of Yellow Springs, Ohio. A community member asked me if I had heard of Passive House. Next I knew, I was sitting with Katrin Klingenberg and learning all about it. I took the CPHC training and was ready to go…but the senior housing funding fell through. Those were tough years and the recession hit firms hard.

Armed with a new area of focus in Passive House, I decided to sell out my shares of the partnership and in 2009 became a tenure-track faculty at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. I set about teaching what I had learned, and was continuing to learn, about Passive House.

I started teaching a Passive House building science course. I had students doing Therm models and case studies and full-size wall mockups. When we put those mockups on display, faculty just didn’t understand why we had moved the vapor barrier. Another faculty member thought I might be dangerous, teaching students things that they would never be able to implement in a firm.

In 2011, I took the 17 students on the road and taught a 5‑week summer abroad studio. We started in Innsbruck at the International Passive House conference and then spent 4 weeks on the gorgeous island of Malta…because you gotta go somewhere. They learned about traditional stone construction in Malta and contemporary practices and tried to figure out how to solve energy related issues in a climate that was not rural Ohio.

In 2013 we started spending a week in Freiburg, touring the largest solar settlement in Vauban and then off to the island of Gozo where students worked on Passive House infill housing in the village of Kercem. You learn a lot about students when you live, work, cook and eat with them for 5 weeks.

In 2017, I started integrating the CPHC curriculum into one of my classes, which offered students the opportunity to become certified Passive House consultants. That first year, I had one highly motivated second year student pass the exam, making her the youngest CPHC in the country. In addition to architecture students, the class attracts engineering and sustainability majors. I’ve even had a business major.

A big shout out to the other schools and professors who are engaged with the CPHC training: Shelly Pottorf, Alison Kwok, Walter Grondzick, and now Jonathan Bean. It’s a great group and we have helped each other out navigating the transition of this professional program into the university format. But we would LOVE to have more university participation.

For the last three years, our students have done extremely well in the Race to Zero and Solar Decathlon design competition. Our projects are all developed using PHIUS standards. It definitely takes a village, so I thank the other dedicated professors and industry partners who help lead this studio.

I continue to practice architecture, taking on select clients. I limit my work to only Passive House projects…and if I can ever get my paperwork in to Lisa White, I can actually finalize a certification. My clients have been great about using their homes as teaching tools for students. I sometimes wish I could do bigger projects, but it’s been extremely satisfying to keep my toe in design and construction.

I’m going to get preachy here, so bear with me, but I know I’m preaching to the choir….I feel very strongly that it is important to cultivate the next generation of leaders in the field. Students today understand the urgency and if we train them the right way now they don’t need to be retrained, like the rest of us probably had to be.

So, take a good look. This is who is going to have to pick up where we leave off. These are the ones who are going to bear the burden, along with their children. We owe it to them to give them every advantage in the field, so HIRE them…show them what you know. Pass on the knowledge, the wisdom, and your expertise.

Editor’s Note: For more wisdom from Mary, watch her TEDx talk featuring a brief history of American kitchen design and tribute to her father.

Author

Mary Rogero
Mary Rogero
Mary Rogero, RA, CPHC®, LEED AP, is an Associate Professor and former Chair for the Department of Architecture and Interior Design at Miami…

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Passive House Accelerator’s coverage of NAPHC2019 was made possible by support from Mitsubishi Electric Trane HVAC US.

Passive House Accelerator’s coverage of NAPHC2019 was made possible by support from Mitsubishi Electric Trane HVAC US.

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