Penn State professor named founding director of Global Building Network


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Esther Obonyo, an associate professor in Penn State’s College of Engineering, has been named director of the Global Building Network (GBN). She will be working as part of the Institutes of Energy and the Environment.

The GBN is an initiative of Penn State and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), which aims to advance building science, construction processes and building management in order to create an international framework that will make buildings more sustainable, more efficient and healthier for people.

“The silos and fragmentation within the built environment that continue to have a negative impact on the sectors’ productivity across the globe have a lot of similarities with the state of agriculture in Pennsylvania before programs such as the Penn State Ag Extension emerged,” said Obonyo. “The GBN is a high-performance building-centric outreach and extension platform for research in the public good and education for citizens within an interconnected and interdependent global context.”

She said Penn State is ideally suited to nurture inventions and innovations focused on improving the efficiency and sustainability of buildings.

“Coupled with the convening power of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), Penn State’s exceptional strengths in the science and education of building construction provides an excellent testbed for developing strategies and innovations designed to accelerate the transition of built environments into a more regenerative sector,” she said. “The University is a living laboratory especially well-placed to devise buildings more responsive to what tenants, building owners and operators need while also ensuring harmony with natural systems.”

Obonyo’s passion for improving the built environment is fundamentally driven by the commitment to making life better for diverse people in the context of creating sustainable practices across the entire construction value chain.

“The way we have designed and developed buildings over the last century has resulted in walls that leave many people feeling isolated,” she said. “In addition, these divisive walls encouraged unsustainable overconsumption of resources. In sharp contrast, high-performance buildings, which are designed in harmony with the natural systems, encourage us to live in more connected communities and promote responsible resource consumption habits even as they improve our quality of life.”

The Global Building Network aims to advance building science, construction processes and building management in order to create an international framework that will make buildings more sustainable, more efficient and healthier for people.

At the heart of GBN is a focus on a collaborative approach to mitigating the destructive consequences of climate change. According to Obonyo, meaningfully addressing the immense scale of building-related contributors to climate change will require cultivating and nurturing institution-to-institution partnerships at the global scale.

“For the last three years, I have contributed to strategic initiatives that are focused on building partnerships with globally distributed institutions through the portfolio of activities that I manage within the Office of the Vice Provost for Global Programs,” Obonyo said.

For two decades, Obonyo’s work has focused on buildings globally. For example, upon graduating from the University of Nairobi in 1998, she was hired as a construction engineer where she helped complete a 30-day emergency retrofit project for the U.S. consulate in Nairobi, which had been devastated during a deadly terrorist attack. Subsequently, she worked as an industry-based researcher as well as an innovation analyst with Balfour Beatty Group, both in the United Kingdom. Finally, during her transition to Penn State, she served as a Jefferson Science Fellow and senior policy adviser for the teams managing the U.S. Agency for International Development portfolio for construction and university-based science partnerships.


Share this story:

facebook linked in twitter email


Megan Lakatos

Esther Obonyo headshot

Esther Obonyo, associate professor of engineering design and architectural engineering at Penn State, has been named director of the Global Building Network, an international initiative aimed at making buildings more sustainable, efficient and healthier for people. IMAGE: PENN STATE



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