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Profile: Richard Keleher AIA

Name: Richard Keleher AIA
Job title and company: Senior architect, Thompson & Lichtner
Degree(s): BArch Professional interests: The building enclosure, daylighting, low- and zero-energy buildings, mentoring

What are you working on now?

Multiple building enclosures for commercial buildings, including foundation waterproofing, walls, windows, roofs; updating the Building Enclosure Design Guide on www.wbdg.org (the centralized federal website for building construction)

How do you explain to your mom what you do for a living?

My mom is now 96; she doesn’t ask! If she did, I would tell her that I strive to educate clients, contractors and fellow professionals about how to construct durable, weather-resistant building enclosures.

What inspired you today?

A client [who] didn’t listen at first but learned from his mistakes and thanked us for our help!

What architectural buzzword would you kill?

[There are] too many to name! Among them: high-performance buildings (especially LEED buildings) that are not low-energy buildings or that do not properly address hygrothermal properties.

When you’re working, do you discuss or exchange ideas with your colleagues?

Of course. Different people have different experience and expertise. I try to find the person with the most experience with the issue at hand.

What are you reading?

A People’s History of the United States by Howard K. Zinn

Do you sketch by hand or digitally?

By hand. I have learned SketchUp, but [it] still is much faster for me to sketch by hand.

Has your career taken you anywhere you didn’t expect?

Of course. I had no idea that I would specialize in the building enclosure when I started to practice. Mentors have led the way to revelations about how buildings work and the expertise necessary to build them.

Where is the field of architecture headed?

Speaking of commercial architecture, the architect is more and more becoming the leader of a vast team of specialists. When I started practice, it was just the structural, mechanical and electrical engineers. Now it also includes experts in sustainability; energy; geotechnical; acoustic; accessibility; codes; permitting; historic materials; and, of course, the building enclosure. Leadership skills are as important as design skills.

Can design save the world?

Unless we start building (now) zero-energy buildings, climate change will overtake us. It is often said that we cannot afford to do that. Well, it doesn’t take many $50 billion disasters like Hurricane Sandy to pay for zero-energy buildings. And it is only going to get worse, and very fast. The CO2 that is in the atmosphere is not going away. We are at 400 parts per million already, and rising. The earth can only sustain 350. The Arctic ice cap is already 50 percent gone. The 2030 [Challenge] may not be adequate to address this. We need to move even faster.

What do you hope to contribute from your work?

Enclosures that have high thermal resistance (R-value) by their very nature are much higher risk enclosures, since they have less energy passing through them. Energy passing through enclosures is what traditionally dried them out when they suffered a leak. The more we build tight, thermally efficient enclosures, the more we must do them with hygrothermally sensible designs. The Building Enclosure Council that I formed 15 years ago was founded with this issue in mind: raising the performance of our enclosures.

Who or what deserves credit for your success?

You asked above whether my career has taken me anywhere I didn’t expect. I attribute my success with being willing to go where the need was.

Your least favorite college class?

Physics—but it is because it was badly taught. (It was dumbed down for architects.)

If you could give the you-of-10-years-ago advice, what would it be?

Be willing to go where the need that you can fulfill is.

Your favorite Boston-area structure?

The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts

Who would you like the BSA to interview next?

Wagdy Anis FAIA, LEED AP

If you were on a late-night TV show, what would your 30-second plug be?

See what I said above under the question of whether design can save the world.

If you could sum up your outlook on life in a bumper sticker, what would it say?

Love and be open to others. Take risks where necessary. Trust in the process.