Faculty Spotlight: Giorgia Chinazzo

Giorgia Chinazzo

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

  • Where were you born and where did you study (undergrad, grad, post-doc)

I was born and raised in Italy in a small city in the northwest (a hint about my future life?) of Italy called Cairo Montenotte. The area where I grew up is called "the valley" by its inhabitants due to its morphological features but, trust me, there is no more different place than the Californian valley most Americans would think of. Still, "the valley" gave me the curiosity and the drive to go beyond the region's hills to explore new parts of the world. I first moved to Torino, where I obtained my BS in Architectural Engineering from the Politecnico di Torino and a double MS in Architectural Engineering from Politecnico di Torino and Politecnico di Milano. I obtained the double MS by attending the "Alta Scuola Politecnica," a special program for students from the two schools selected based on their academic merits. During the program, I met and worked on innovation projects with some of the brightest people in my educational path, from mechanical engineers to interior designers, an experience that deeply impacted my career interests. During my studies, I also spent eight months in Delft, The Netherlands, as an Erasmus student at TU Delft, and I conducted my MS thesis at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne, Switzerland. I decided to stay in Switzerland for my graduate studies and obtained my Ph.D. in Building Science from EPFL in 2019.

 

  • How long have you been at NU & briefly describe your research program.

I came to NU in 2019 after completing my Ph.D. at EPFL. My research program focuses on buildings and their occupants, specifically how buildings influence occupants' quality of life in terms of comfort, well-being, health, and performance as well as how occupants interact with, adapt, and affect the built environment and its systems. The research program is part of the burgeoning field called Human-Building Interaction (HBI), which lies at the intersection of building science, data science, computer science, and social science. I am currently setting up a Living Laboratory in the CEE Department that will allow the collection of data from the indoor environment and its occupants to study correlations among factors and develop new technologies for creating personalized spaces. I have recently become the Director of the Architectural Engineering and Design (AE&D) program and hope to transform its educational curriculum to shape the architectural engineers of tomorrow. In my perspective, architectural engineers, with their knowledge at the intersection of architecture and civil engineering, are professional figures that are essential in any AEC firm but are largely missing in the U.S.

 

  • What courses do you teach?

I teach two Building Science courses and organize the Professional Development and Architectural Engineering and Design (PD & AE&D) Seminars. Building Science 1 (CIV_ENV 388-1) focuses on the technological aspects of sustainable construction, applying concepts of thermodynamics to understand, for example, how to design the best envelope in a specific climate or how condensation occurs in buildings and how to avoid it with accurate building design and operation. The main goal of the course is to teach students how to calculate the annual energy consumption of a building with analytical calculations. Building Science 2 (CIV_ENV 388-2) applies the technical concepts of Building Science to design a sustainable building using software. The goal is to carry on a project and find the optimal solutions to optimize the comfort of occupants and reduce energy consumption. The PD & AE&D seminars host a variety of speakers from different firms in the fields of Civil Engineering and Architecture in the Chicago area. The goal is to show the students various job opportunities that their degree offers.

 

  • Did you always know you would become a professor? What attracted you to an academic career?

The short and honest answer is "no." When I completed my double MS degree, I was hired by one of the "Big 3" consulting companies in Milan. The day I received the signed contract, I also got an email from my MS thesis advisor at EPFL, who offered me the possibility of staying in her lab as a Ph.D. student. I clearly remember thinking that my curiosity and creativity could not have been fulfilled in a consulting role, so I rejected the job offer in Italy and moved back to Switzerland a few days later. It was the day before Christmas, and I still believe that my decision was one of the best gifts I could have made to myself. To tell the truth, I often dreamed of my parallel and mostly idealized life as a consultant around the world, especially during those tough times during my Ph.D. – but who didn't? I still thank the young me who made the decision that day, allowing me to think outside the box for many years and explore aspects of buildings I would not have considered. There is a long road ahead, and I am so excited I have the privilege to work on what I love!

 

  • What do you consider your most significant research finding or accomplishment thus far?

As I just said, I am very excited about what the future has in store for me. More specifically, I am thrilled to develop the Living Lab in the department in the context of my research and to have the opportunity to shape the educational path of students in Architectural Engineering as the new Director of the AE&D program.

 

On a more practical side, I am very proud of a collaborative project I led with more than 30 researchers around the world within Annex 79 by the International Energy Agency's Energy in Building and Communities program. The research article of our work has just been accepted for publication in the Journal of Building and Environment.

 

  • How do you explain what you do and why it is important to someone who isn't a scientist or engineer?

Think about your daily life. I bet most of it is spent in an enclosed and human-made space, either your home, office, gym, car, or public transport. In developed countries, we spend more than 90% of our time indoors, and the indoor environment tremendously impacts our quality of life, just like the food we eat. I study how the characteristics of the indoor environment, encompassing temperature, light, air quality, and acoustics, as well as the design and technological features of buildings, affect people in terms of comfort, health, and performance. We still do not know many things about such influences, for example, the best lighting conditions to improve your work performance or how the space design affects how much people move in a day. My research field is still new compared to more established ones in Civil Engineering, but I am sure it will soon lead to innovations in the built environment that will revolutionize how we live in our buildings.

 

  • Is there someone or something that has inspired you?

I don't have a specific person or event in mind. I generally get fascinated by people and how everyone's story is unique. I recently came across the term "infinite learner," which I believe fits me very well. With reference to people, I like to listen to them and their stories and learn from them, always trying to understand how I can apply what I just heard and saw to my life. The Ph.D. and Faculty spotlights are an absolute delight for me for this reason!

 

  • What do you do for fun when you are not working?

My two passions are sports and food. I love doing all kinds of athletic activities with some artistic aspects. I used to practice and then teach gymnastics until I was 23 years old. During my Ph.D. I practiced aerial silk, and I did some circus performances in Switzerland. In Chicago, I dance with a group of friends and discovered my passion for yoga. I also enjoy biking along the lake, especially during the summer. I love everything about food: eating, cooking, and discovering new recipes and cuisines. Do you want any recommendations about restaurants in Chicago? Or do you want to know the perfect doses for fresh pasta? Ask me.

 

  • What books are you reading or shows/movies are you watching? 

I recently discovered the Japanese term "tsundoku" (Japanese: 積ん読), which refers to the phenomenon of acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one's home. I think it very well describes my night table situation right now. Whenever I hear about a book I want to read, I cannot resist buying it immediately. In any case, I accomplished to read a good number of books in the past months. I generally read non-fiction books, from politics, economy, and finance to culinary topics, but I sometimes also read some novels. The last novel I read was "The Master and Margarita" by Mikhail Bulgakov, and the next one on my list is "1Q84" by Haruki Murakami.

 

  • Is there anything you would like to add?

I traveled a lot in my life, but I have never been in the Southern Hemisphere until this year. I still remember the awe in realizing that the sun was shining on the North side of buildings – something I teach to my students when analyzing the sun paths for passive strategies but that I never experienced in my life. Finally, if you were to ask me "what is your favorite city in the world?" my answer would undoubtedly be "Chicago!"

 

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