A Conversation with Linda Hildebrand


About Linda Hildebrand

Professor Linda Hildebrand studied architecture at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Hildesheim/Holzminden/Göttingen and at the Detmold School of Architecture and Interior Architecture. She completed her doctorate at Delft University of Technology in 2014.

As an outgoing participant of the Kármán Fellowship Program, Linda Hildebrand visited the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability (IoES) at the University of California, Los Angeles, for a 5-week period in the spring of 2017. Her research focus at UCLA was eco-balance assessment and data structures.  

In the interview, she reports on her collaboration with colleagues at IoES and provides examples of the impact of political developments on academic work.

What are you currently researching and in what context is your research important?

The RWTH Junior Professorship “Recycle-Friendly Construction“ is concerned with the impact of the so-called “built environment,” such as buildings, on the natural environment. This is increasingly important, in particular in view of climate change. Using the established methodology of eco-balance assessment, a broad range of influences on the environment can be measured. This is a prerequisite for an efficient assessment of planning decision and for the design of comfortable buildings that are also environmentally-friendly.

What led to your stay at UCLA (specifically your host institution, the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability)?

Over the past years, to promote sustainability in construction, the construction sector has developed various certification systems. While the American building certificate has contributed to raising awareness for environmental issues in the construction sector worldwide, the US and Germany differ in their management of eco-balance data. Unlinke in the US, in Western Europe, data have been systematically collected and maintained since the 1980s. Nevertheless, there are several studies drawing on eco-balance data from the construction sector. This situation has made me curious about the methods used in the US and finally resulted in my stay at UCLA.

What exactly did you do during your research stay and what are the most important tangible results?

At UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, IoES for short, I mostly worked with Professor Deepak Rajagopal, who is passionate about researching and teaching eco-balance assessment. We at RWTH offer lectures and seminars on the topic as well, and so it was highly interesting to gain insights into what my colleagues in the US are doing. The differences of the higher education systems are mirrored in teaching and learning: at UCLA, bachelor’s students are taught the methodological basics for a variety of subjects. This puts the students in a position independently to develop eco-balance assessments. At the RWTH Faculty of Architecture, such basics are taught as well, but emphasis is placed on the strategic application of such a balance and its use in planning. In the US, solving the data problem is part of the pedagogical approach – while we in Germany are able to use databases, the US requires students and researchers to collect their own data.

Are there any plans for further collaboration?

The exchange was fruitful for both parties – currently, we are planning a joint publication.

How do you remember the interaction with students and fellow researchers at UCLA?

It was a very open collaboration. Typically I work with architects and engineers, who are concerned with many topics aside from environmental ones, and so it was really stimulating to work at an environmental institution. All those involved in the project had the same objective, bringing in expertise from various fields of research. It was a very hands-on and pragmatic exchange.

The same applies to my experience with the students. In class and also at special events, such as the Career Fair, where I gave a presentation on RWTH, we had interesting discussions about the differences in the higher education systems of the US and Germany.

In your opinion, is there something German universities can learn from those in the USA and vice versa?

I gained the impression that in the US, it is easier to conduct student projects – there is much less red tape in arranging them. There is also a great openness towards projects with uncertain outcomes, which led to a broad range of projects that were tackled with great enthusiasm. This experience provides impetus for my work at RWTH.

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Can you name a highlight, experience, or moment of the stay, that has particularly stuck with you?

During my stay, the website of the Environmental Protection Agency EPA was subject to a freeze. The political situation in the US has an immediate impact on the research activities at UCLA – there is increasing uncertainty about research funding structures, for example.

On the other hand, fortunately, this results in a more targeted pooling of interests and activities, in California in particular. One highlight and an example of such joint activities was the March for Science, with which members of UCLA and other people protested against the denial of scientific facts.

Professor Hildebrand, thank you for the interview!