Building design process expert to join architectural engineering


By Jamie Oberdick

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Nathan Brown, a researcher focused on improving design processes to create efficient, people-friendly buildings, will join Penn State‘s Department of Architectural Engineering in July 2019.

“Nathan is a leading scholar in the field of design of building structural systems,” said Sez Atamturktur, the Harry and Arlene Schell Professor and head of the Department of Architectural Engineering. “His research is revolutionary as it considers not only the energy efficiency in long-term building operations but also the initial energy demand of producing and transporting the building materials to construct the building. Such a holistic approach that integrates various building functions–heating, cooling and daylighting–into the structural design process is what is needed to achieve ultrahigh-performance buildings.”

Brown‘s research involves the early building design process and how to effectively use simulation and other computational feedback to make better decisions about how a building looks and functions.

“Over the past 20-30 years, we have become good at simulating building behavior, in terms of how much structural material is needed, how it uses energy and even how people might feel in a space,” Brown said. “However, in many cases these simulations occur after key decisions about building shape and systems have already been made. I work to explore, develop, validate and apply new computational design tools that use simulation and optimization to help guide architects and engineers in making these decisions much earlier in the process.”

Brown notes that buildings affect human life in multiple ways that are both measurable and not directly quantifiable. We spend considerable time indoors, so well-designed buildings are important for human well-being. In addition, buildings are responsible for a significant percentage of total energy use, and have a measurable impact on the environment.

“There are exciting new possibilities for the building design process to mitigate negative environmental impacts and improve human experience,” Brown said. “I hope to enable designers to engage with the technical aspects of buildings by using data-driven design techniques while still having the flexibility to bring human intuition and values to the process.”

To move this work forward at Penn State, Brown will create an interdisciplinary research group to understand the early design process. This would enable a variety of perspectives, and apply optimization and artificial intelligence for design of building systems, whole buildings and even entire neighborhoods. He envisions developing computational tools that will enhance the conversations between various specialists and stakeholders that are part of any building design process.

“Since Penn State is such a vibrant research institution across many departments, I also hope to build meaningful relationships with related fields, including engineering design, architecture and data science, to find potential research collaborations and understand how they might be beneficial,” Brown said.

Along with his research, Brown has plans to add to the department‘s curriculum after he joins the Penn State faculty.

“In addition to expanding our department‘s research portfolio, Nathan will introduce a wide range of courses on design optimization for buildings that incorporate relevant programming and visualization techniques into our undergraduate and graduate curriculum,” Atamturktur said.

Brown comes to Penn State from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he recently received a Ph.D. in building technology and worked in the Digital Structures group in the Department of Architecture. He completed his master‘s degree in building technology at MIT, and earned his bachelor‘s degree in civil and environmental engineering at Princeton University.

Brown‘s industry experience includes assisting with building retrofit projects for Elevate Energy, an environmental services organization based in Chicago, and working for BuroHappold Engineering in Boston while a graduate student. He was the recipient of the 2016 Structural Engineering Travel Fellowship from the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Foundation.

“I am excited to work with faculty who have a wide variety of expertise in many subfields related to the advanced design and construction of high-performance buildings,” Brown said. “And I am also looking forward to interacting with students in such a high-quality program, who have a strong grounding in the fundamentals of architectural engineering and are additionally interested in learning more about computational design.”


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Megan Lakatos

“I am excited to work with faculty who have a wide variety of expertise in many subfields related to the advanced design and construction of high-performance buildings.”
—Nathan Brown



Widely acknowledged as one of the top Architectural Engineering programs in the world, the Penn State AE Department is dedicated to providing outstanding academic excellence to all of our students. The AE program is focused on preparing students and conducting research in the design, engineering, and construction of building projects.

Department of Architectural Engineering

104 Engineering Unit A

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802

Phone: 814-865-6394