Designer Profile: Architect/Activist Julie Torres Moskovitz

Julie Torres Moskovitz has always felt that she was an activist first and an architect second. Even before training as an architect, she was active in environmental groups on her campus, so it was only natural that she should become the first architect to design a Passive House certified home in New York City. Since then, her book on Passive House, The Greenest Home, and her teaching career centered on environmental technology at Parsons, Pratt, and the New York City campus of Syracuse University have actively informed her work as work as an architect. She is the Principal of Fete Nature Architecture, a Brooklyn-based firm that works on residential, institutional, research, product, landscape, nonprofit, and commercial projects.

 The Tighthouse Brownstone in Brooklyn, NY.

The Tighthouse Brownstone in Brooklyn, NY.

Passive House is a rigorous set of design standards for energy efficiency that originated in Germany. These standards reduce the home’s environmental impact by creating an airtight space that does not require extra energy to heat or cool. Julie explains, “I got into it. At first it seems like, when you attend a Passive House conference, that they’re all drinking the same Kool Aid, and it’s a little scary like a cult, but it’s just about energy efficiency, it makes sense, it’s good building practice. It becomes impossible to not do it.”

Julie encourages the architecture community to embrace Passive House standards and advocates for policy action. Passive House has been common practice in Belgium since 2005. While we may not be the vanguards in this movement, local and state governments around the country are now getting up to speed. New York City recently passed Local Law 31, which requires public buildings to be 50% better energy performers than standard buildings. Building Passive House buildings on a large scale costs no more than traditional buildings. Apartment complexes and other large projects can easily be built to Passive House specifications. In twenty years, Julie says, all new construction will meet Passive House standards.

 The Tighthouse Brownstone in Brooklyn, NY.

The Tighthouse Brownstone in Brooklyn, NY.

Julie’s activism work extends beyond Passive House. She is on the board of the Street Vendor Project, which advocates for the thousands of New York City Street Vendors, many of whom are immigrants and people of color struggling against stringent laws and outdated practices. She participated in the Build it Back program, which helps communities hit by Hurricane Sandy.  After our interview, she rushed off to a meeting for the NYC Loft Board, which facilitates the conversion of commercial/manufacturing spaces to residential spaces. She also found time to design furniture for a pop up shop on the topic of menopause, and seems unlikely to stop anytime soon. Hopefully, with Torres Moskovitz leading the charge, New York City and then the United States will be on a path to net zero.

All photos courtesy fnarchitecture.com

 Plans for the Street Vendor Center, where street vendors can house their carts and experiment with organic, locally sourced ingredients.

Plans for the Street Vendor Center, where street vendors can house their carts and experiment with organic, locally sourced ingredients.

Sarah Suzuki