2020/02/15 Remembering GZ Brown

Lived fearlessly, transformed lives, forever transforming architecture

Phillip H. Knight Professor of Architecture, G.Z. “Charlie” Brown passed away peacefully early Saturday morning (2/15/2020) at his home in Eugene, OR at the age of 77 years. He was surrounded by the love of his daughter April, partner Sue, and many friends. G.Z. was a singular and exceptional teacher, dry fly angler, and father. He spent the entirety of his adult life steadfastly pursuing his vision to leave the world a little better off than when he joined it, and he did.

G.Z. Charlie Brown joined the faculty at the University of Oregon Department of Architecture in 1977. Over his four decades at UO, Charlie created one of the most highly respected university-based architectural research labs in the world. Through the Energy Studies in Buildings Laboratory (ESBL), Charlie envisioned transformational ideas and built a capable team dedicated to implementing them. ESBL is Charlie’s legacy, his greatest idea, and it will continue to champion his vision, his mission, and his spirit. Throughout his career, Charlie modeled intense dedication to and relentless pursuit of his ideals. He worked tirelessly to transform design—to innovate design technology, practice, and building operation—to combat climate change.[1]

Brown earned graduate degrees in industrial design (Michigan 1966), business (Akron 1971) and architecture (Yale, 1974), and was a registered architect in Oregon (AIA, 1977). He was a Fulbright scholar in Norway and in Nigeria and spent three years as an assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis before joining the faculty at the University of Oregon.

Charlie first authored Sun, Wind, and Light: Architectural Design Strategies in 1985 which provided the foundation for modern passive design principles, including daylighting, natural ventilation, and night flush cooling. Charlie was among the first authors to describe the challenges that climate change places on architects to design buildings for greater resiliency. He was essential to the founding of what is now the Society of Building Science Educators, which has improved sustainable design education worldwide. In 2002, he helped developed a theory and practice of integrated design that has made possible recent advances in net-zero energy buildings. He was honored by the Architectural Research Center Consortium with the James Haecker Distinguished Leadership Award in Architectural Research (2000). He was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 2006, and selected as a Fellow by the American Solar Energy Society in 2005. He received the U.S. Green Buildings Council 2005 Leadership Award, and the Cascadia Fellows Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008 for his work on sustainable building practices. Brown received both the PLEA Award and the Philip H. Knight Professor of Architecture Award in 2009. He co-founded the Biology and the Built Environment Center in 2010 that has launched a new field of indoor air quality research.  In 2015, U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio read remarks into the Congressional Record recognizing Charlie and his accomplishments[2].  In his final years, Charlie developed pathways for peak-zero energy positive buildings and was working on a book focused on elegant design of windows. His legacy in teaching and research in energy use, thermal comfort, daylighting, indoor air quality, and related design tools for buildings is unparalleled and will persist.

Brown was principal investigator on more than $20 million of externally funded research, including grants with the US Department of Energy, US Environmental Protection Agency, the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, US Department of Education, US Department of Commerce, Bonneville Power Administration, Energy Trust of Oregon, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. During his directorship of ESBL he supported more than 200 graduate research assistants, authored more than 100 research publications, gave more than 100 invited lectures, and provided design assistance in energy-conscious design on over 20 million square feet of buildings internationally, amassing more than 500 consulting reports. Additionally, he developed nine software licenses, including Energy Scheming, and two technology patents.

In his 2017 Festschrift book honoring Brown’s career, former dean of the School of Architecture and Allied Arts and current President at Pratt, Frances Bronet, described Charlie as “a generous and thoughtful colleague, dedicated to excellence and rigor, advising on difficult situations, from collegial interaction to curricular ambitions.”

Bronet continued, regarding Charlie’s commitment to the climate change challenge,

“…he made sure it was addressed and designed for by students and partners committed to precision, creativity, and persistence. He never backed down from these aspirational principles and has guided as a vigilant sage. I am reminded, especially in these times demanding leadership, political savvy and critical inquiry, of Harriet Tubman’s words:

“Be firm in your goals, make little noise . . .take the long way round, build strength quietly, strike swiftly, keep secrets, demand a new level of discipline and live fearlessly.”

Indeed, Charlie, living fearlessly.”

In the College of Design, we are honored to remember Charlie as an unmatchable colleague, mentor, teacher, and researcher. At ESBL, we will fearlessly pursue Charlie’s vision.

Condolences and remembrances can be submitted as a comment below.

Donations can be made to support Charlie’s legacy, vision, and cause here.

This page will be updated with more information about a memorial service in the near future.

Remembering GZ Brown:

Kent Duffy, FAIA and former AFO President, remembers GZ Brown with a heartfelt tribute.

A 2016 interview for a UO Research Award (https://vimeo.com/392264455/10c5fe2321).

A 2009 interview about integrated design (https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=5eYVKNX37lk&feature=emb_title).

2016 UO Research Award for ESBL (https://youtu.be/b0iQgKTPenA).

2017 Festschrift Book (https://esbl.uoregon.edu/festschrift/).

Other Links:




[1] Preface, Transforming Architecture: A Festschrift in Honor of Professor G.Z. “Charlie” Brown.

[2]  Remarks int he Congressional Record, 114th Congress, First Session, October 6, 2015.

New paper published in Buildings journal!

ESBL has a new study out, which was just published in the journal Buildings. This interdisciplinary case-study examined the indoor environment and air quality of a newly-constructed, cross-laminated timber office building in Portland, OR.  Researchers from ESBL, BioBE, PSU, and OSU (including the Tallwood Design Institute) came together to study indoor air quality, building vibration, bacteria in dust, and the experience of building occupants.

Monitored Indoor Environmental Quality of a Mass Timber Office Building: A Case Study

Jason Stenson 1,2,*, Suzanne L. Ishaq 2, Aurélie Laguerre 3, Andrew Loia 1, Georgia MacCrone 2, Ignace Mugabo 4, Dale Northcutt 1,2, Mariapaola Riggio 5, Andre Barbosa 4, Elliott T. Gall 3 and Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg 1,2
1 Energy Studies in Buildings Laboratory, Department of Architecture, University of Oregon
2 Biology and the Built Environment Center, University of Oregon
3 Mechanical and Materials Engineering, Portland State University
School of Civil & Construction Engineering, Oregon State University
Department of Wood Science & Engineering, Oregon State University
Buildings 20199(6), 142; https://doi.org/10.3390/buildings9060142


A broad range of building performance monitoring, sampling, and evaluation was conducted periodically after construction and spanning more than a year, for an occupied office building constructed using mass timber elements such as cross-laminated timber (CLT) floor and roof panels, as well as glue-laminated timber (GLT) beams and columns. This case study contributes research on monitoring indoor environmental quality in buildings, describing one of the few studies of an occupied mass timber building, and analyzing data in three areas that impact occupant experience: indoor air quality, bacterial community composition, and floor vibration. As a whole, the building was found to perform well. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including formaldehyde, were analyzed using multiple methods. Formaldehyde was found to be present in the building, though levels were below most recommended exposure limits. The source of formaldehyde was not able to be identified in this study. The richness of the bacterial community was affected by the height of sampling with respect to the floor, and richness and composition was affected by the location within the building. Floor vibration was observed to be below recognized human comfort thresholds.

ESBL students in BioMimicry Design find inspiration in basking sharks

ESBL grad students Julia May and Alex Balog worked on the Basking Filter project as an extension of their Biomimicry and Parametric Design course taught by Nancy Cheng, Chair of the Architecture Department at UO. With interests in engineering, industrial processes, and filtration, they began to research various filter feeders to see if nature’s wisdom could help inspire a self-cleaning filter. After learning about the Basking Shark and its amazing adaptations, Julia and Alex came to the ESBL to discuss using the wind tunnel to run experiments. Guided by research done at William and Mary, Alex and Julia tested some simple geometries to see if they could create eddies to aid in a self-cleaning process. Last week they submitted their re-design of water treatment plants to a Biomimicry Design Challenge. The treatment plant uses the properties of the filter (mixing and separation) to speed up critical processes, while performing the self-cleaning function.

You can find the slides for their pitch here

Metropolis: Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg on Increasing Demands for Lighting Controls

Director Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg’s interview with Retrofit for Metropolis magazine is published! He is one of a series of experts sharing their insight on the importance of daylighting for human health and comfort.

Check out the article here: https://www.metropolismag.com/design/lighting/the-right-environment-kevin-van-den-wymelenberg-on-increasing-demands-for-lighting-controls-in-2019-and-beyond/


Stop Motion Science: The Light Box Video

Written by Mira Zimmerman and Fiona Curliss

At BioBE, we strive to produce scientific research that is clear and understandable to any audience, not only for interdisciplinary collaboration, but also for scientific education. Those unfamiliar with the langauge and traditional methods of science often get lost in the complexities of scientific publications, and as a result do not delve into the inspirational and astonishing discoveries that the science community offers. This winter, as our Light Box Study concluded, we decided to create a media project that would explain the purpose, methods, and conclusions of our experiment in a way that would be more accessible for everyone.

The student team that created this video included architecture undergraduate Delaney Hetrick from ESBL and biology undergraduate researchers Fiona Curliss, Savanna Lloyd, and Sam Rosenburg from BioBE. Our student team was directed by Sue Ishaq and Jeff Kline, who sketched out the original video plot. Sue is a microbiologist and is managing the BioBE undergraduate researchers. She wanted students to learn how to communicate the findings and methods of scientific research to a general audience and to showcase the creative ingenuity that produced the lightboxes. Jeff, an architect at ESBL and one of the authors of the Lightbox publication, encouraged students to design a “visual conversation” for an interdisciplinary audience. Jeff and Mira Zimmerman worked on the more technical aspects of sound and picture quality. Willem Griffiths from BioBE helped Sue with the video voice-over. This project is a testement to the partnership between BioBE and ESBL and embodies our collective mission for interdisciplinary collaboration between the artistic and scientific communities.

Willem Griffith & Sue Ishaq working on the voiceover

As a team, biology and architecture students worked together learning to communicate the scientific and design aspects of the Lightbox project. They decided to create a video because of the medium’s accessibility and clarity. The video format also provided a chronological framework for approaching scientific concepts. In the process, students learned new skills related to video production, constructing and lighting sets, and editing stop motion video. Delaney said she “learned about the effort it takes to make a stop-motion film as well as how to look at the built environment from a new perspective.”

Students had some difficulty deciding the best way to explain the passage of time while the dust was in the light boxes and how this affected the composition of the dust. After talking through several ideas, they decided that the dust bunnies should change color to show partial bacterial death. They also came up with the idea of representing the passage of time with a day/night cycle shown by the moon and sun. Fiona told us that “projects like this video can be challenging because as a scientist there is a lot of background information you have that you forget other people don’t know, but that’s what made feedback from the team so valuable. While it can be discouraging to rework the concept and storyboard several times, ultimately taking their advice helped us make a better video and helped to develop my science communication skills.”

We hope to continue projects like this that allow everyone to engage with our research.

Without further ado, enjoy our Lightbox Video:

Perspective on the Role of Light in the Indoor Microbiome

Written by Mark Fretz, Sue Ishaq, and Mira Zimmerman

Light is as necessary to the perfect growth and nutrition of the human frame as are air and food; and, whenever it is deficient, health fails, and disease appears… Artificial is but a very bad substitute for natural light… For health, we cannot have too much light, and, consequently, too many or too large window – The Lancet, 1845

In 1845, the Lancet medical journal published a scathing editorial regarding the 100-year old Glass Tax in Britain [1]. The shift towards fewer and smaller windows, to which the glass tax contributed, was having noticeable health effects for those spending more and more time indoors due to industrialization.  Not long after, researchers began studying the bactericidal effects of sunlight [2–4]; quickly realizing the importance of the capacity for sunlight to control pathogenic bacteria, particularly in health care facilities [5, 6]. Since 1877, a large body of research has been conducted on the effect of sunlight [7, 8], ultraviolet light [9–13], and other wavelengths [14–17] on mono-cultured bacterial survival and activity. Human physiology and health fields have explored the effect of sunlight on skin [18, 19], and architects use daylight as a design element to shape space as well as positively impact comfort, energy use and experience of the space [20, 21].  

Even with this history of light-based studies, there has been, to our knowledge, no research conducted on the effect of light on the indoor microbial community. The microbial community found indoors is primarily sourced by outdoor air and microbial occupants [22–24]. Many infectious organisms persist indoors for months [25–27], potentially creating a reservoir that may be spread via direct or indirect contact [28]. The presence of microbial cells and cell components can even enhance the allergic reaction of individuals to pet allergens [29]. The building itself, including the materials found indoors and how spaces are used, can determine whether microorganisms survive or perish, remain or are carried away, and whether our methods of  cleaning for microbial control is effective [30].  The inclusion of windows, the use of different light filters on glass, shading strategies, and outdoor weather conditions can impact the amount and spectra of light which finds its way indoors, and thus how much daylight the indoor microbial community is exposed to (Figure 1).

Figure 1

In the wake of these uncertainties about the indoor effects of light on bacteria, BioBE conducted two pilot studies, one with Pseudomonas aeruginosa colonies and the other with house dust. First, we created “microcosms”, scale structures that would mimic the window size and daylight exposure of a typic office, while maintaining a typical temperature and humidity that one would find in an office setting.  We then placed Pseudomonas aeruginosa (“Pseudo”) bacterial cultures on agar plates inside these contained “microcosms” for a day of total darkness, or natural circadian rhythms of visible light or UV only. Fifteen plates were placed on a gridded pattern in each microcosm to discern spatial patterns of daylight, illumination levels and bacterial survival relevant to architectural space. After a day of treatment, Pseudo colonies that received either light treatment had fewer and smaller colonies of growth than the Pseudo that remained in the dark, and survival was inversely proportionate to how much visible or UV light the Pseudo culture plates were exposed to (Fig. 2).

Figure 2

For our second study, we used homogenized house dust to conduct a very similar process, but for 90 days. The findings remained consistent, with the amount of light inversely proportional to bacterial growth (Fig. 3). Moreover, the dust that received a light treatment contained more bacteria which were “outdoor-associated” than the dust in the dark, which contained more human-associated bacteria (Fig. 4).  This study has been accepted for publication, and is available online  from Microbiome.

Figure 3

Figure 4

While our studies were only preliminary, it opens the doors for more research into the effects of light on the indoor microbiome. There are basic questions which remain to be answered: how quickly does different lighting affect microbial community structure? Is microbial diversity uniformly reduced or do specific taxa survive and thrive? Will inactivated (but surviving) microorganisms grow back at night or when artificial lights are off?  Further research into this practically untouched body of study may provide key insight into building design, lighting, and into the improvement of human health.

To read our publication, click here

NPR’s coverage of our study is also out, check it out here.


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BioBE Receives New UO-OHSU Seed Funding Award

BioBE has received funding for a new project as part of the new University of Oregon – Oregon Health Sciences University (UO-OHSU) Collaborative Seed Grant Program! BioBE’s Dr. Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg, and Dr. Bob Martindale, Professor of Surgery, Chief of Gastrointestinal and General Surgery, and Medical Director of the Hospital Nutritional Service at OHSU, will be leading the project, along with Dr. Brendan Bohannan, Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology at the UO Institute of Ecology and Evolution, and BioBE’s Drs. Ashkaan Fahimipour and Sue Ishaq.

These grants are designed to foster high-impact pilot research between the two universities and to spark long-term collaborations.  The full list of award recipients can be found here.

The project is set to begin in July; “Predicting Healthcare-Associated Clostridioides difficile Infection Probabilities in Inpatient Units” 

Executive Summary

Approximately 10% of patients will be accidentally harmed during inpatient medical care due to healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). These infections prolong patient illness, cause death, and financially burden hospitals and society; predicting when and why HAIs will occur is a key goal for fundamental and applied healthcare science. We aim to gather key data to pilot the development of new statistical and machine learning models, which map patients’ probabilities of acquiring HAIs onto the spatial distributions of living microorganisms from hospital surfaces, using C. difficile infection rates in inpatient units at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) as a model system. Our models will leverage information about in situ distributions of viable indoor microbes across patient rooms, and assembled genomes of C. difficile isolates from hospital surfaces, to probe the hypothesis that the built environment contributes to patient HAIs by inadvertently providing reservoirs of microbial pathogens with particular functional characteristics. Results of this pilot study will provide the empirical foundation for larger-scale future experiments, that will contribute to the refinement of predictive statistical models through the study of more hospital buildings, and investigations of alternate fomites and microbial reservoirs including physicians’ and nursing staff’s clothing, medical equipment, computer keyboards, and personal phones. A coherent understanding of the most salient environmental sources of HAIs could improve the placement of patients, assist in monitoring vectors of concern for infection control, and ultimately guide building design and operation.



BioBE/ESBL Welcomes Mira to the Team!



My name is Mira Zimmerman, and I am the new BioBE/ESBL blogger and web designer! I will be helping with social media and BioBE/ESBL website management.



I am currently an undergrad at the University of Oregon, working towards a Humanities major with minors in Computer Science, Computer Tech, and Multimedia. I have a million different interests, everything from environmental philosophy to surrealist art! I love to hike and I spend a lot of time outdoors, appreciating the beauty of Oregon.

I am very excited to be joining BioBE and ESBL and to have the chance to incorporate myself in the intersections between science and design.

ESBL and TallWood Design Institute awarded grant for acoustics testing facility

We are excited to announce that ESBL, with TallWood Design Institute, were awarded a grant from Oregon Innovation Council (Oregon InC) to create a facility to test acoustics properties of mass timber products.

About the project:

The new testing facility will provide the information necessary to overcome one of the major barriers to the growth of mass timber: acoustics performance. Mass products are growing in popularity as an innovative building material, particularly in multifamily residential dwellings for which they are structurally well-suited. However, these products’ ability to reduce floor-to-ceiling noise transfer has not been tested. Locally sourced testing of mass timber materials would give building owners, contractors, building code officials, and design and engineering professionals the confidence needed to demonstrate that these products are cost-effective and meet performance requirements.


Currently, the only way to test acoustics performance is to ship samples to testing facilities on the East Coast. This drastically increases project costs and construction schedule. Constructing an acoustic testing facility in Oregon will allow the mass timber industry to become a hub for both the development and production of mass timber products for the US and internationally.

While mass timber is the driving force behind the proposal to acquire this facility, multiple other traded sectors and industries in Oregon and across the Northwest would benefit from the facility, including aviation, other buildings material manufacturers such as glazing and curtain walls, façade cladding, masonry, and straw bale.

For more information, see the Business Oregon press release.

ESBL joins UO’s new Institute for Health in the Built Environment


The ESBL is proud and excited to join BioBE and the Baker Lighting Lab as the founding centers of the University of Oregon’s new Institute for Health in the Built Environment! Through interdisciplinary, inter-institutional collaboration, the IHBE aims to support the development of healthy, sustainable buildings and cities for people and the environment.

“The new institute’s mission is to develop design concepts for the realization of healthy and sustainable inhabited space. Faculty researchers aim to do this by forming unconventional collaborations to conduct research where architecture, biology, medicine, chemistry, and engineering intersect, and then translate their findings into design practice with the involvement of a consortium of invested industry partners.”

Read the College of Design’s launch announcement here, and learn more about the new Institute here.