Looking Up: A Series With Armstrong World Industries | Episode 2: Redefining Resilient Spaces

Gensler Design Exchange Podcast
4 min readApr 22, 2021


Guests (L-R): Katie Mesia, Gregory Plavcan, Helen Sahi, Mark Hershey

Given how much time we’ve been spending inside over the past year, we’re focused on the experience of humans in space now more than ever before. The pandemic has taught us how the natural world can bring the global economy to its knees — but also how it can unite us around a common purpose and mission. In this way, 2020 was a wake-up call to how our changing climate has the potential to do the same. It has also taught us how our society and world economy are interconnected, and we must address issues of wellbeing, equity, and sustainability as such. Climate change remains the defining issue of our time, and climate action is a critical part of our focus on health. This includes buildings that aren’t sustainable. Making buildings “healthy” for people and the planet in every sense will be critical, and it will be both an opportunity and an imperative for our industry.

In the second episode of our “Looking Up” series with Armstrong World Industries, a dear client of ours and an innovative global company that provides ceiling and wall solutions for commercial buildings and residential spaces, Katie Mesia, Southeast Region Design Resilience Leader and Gensler Executive Climate Council member, moderates a conversation between Gregory Plavcan, Sustainability Consulting Leader at Gensler, Helen Sahi, Director of Sustainability at Armstrong, Mark Hershey, Senior Vice President of Sustainability at Armstrong, about how our two organizations are charting the course toward a more sustainable, resilient future — for ourselves and for our clients.

CSU Northridge Student Sustainability Center, Northridge, CA

Today, the entire building industry is recognizing the potential consequences and risks from climate change, as companies mobilize to address the negative impacts of the built environment on climate change. Occupants and building owners are beginning to value the benefits of spaces and structures that are both sustainable and resilient — that use less energy, are built with healthier materials, and can adapt to severe weather events. They are driving market demand for sustainable and resilient buildings so much that we are reaching a point at which places and products that don’t achieve design resilience are at risk of becoming devalued — and the bar will keep getting higher.

“When you look at resilience, you have to look at it through the lens of adaptation, look at it through the lens of sustainability. How are we making our products more sustainable, but more importantly, how do our products and systems help our clients adapt to changes that will come?” — Helen Sahi, Director of Sustainability, Armstrong World Industries

As many of our clients strategize for how to align their real estate portfolios with their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals, both Gensler and Armstrong are committed to resilient design solutions that promote health and wellbeing in the built environment. A crucial, but lesser-known opportunity to reduce the carbon impact of the built environment is through material selection. Today, the harvesting, manufacture, and transportation of the raw materials used in building construction — what we call the embodied carbon — accounts for roughly a quarter of annual building emissions and some 11% of global emissions. Together, we have the opportunity to decrease embodied carbon levels throughout the built environment simply by making smart, forward-thinking choices about the materials used in a project.

“It’s impossible to achieve goals like this without everybody playing a part, so it’s all hands on deck. And when you have all hands on deck, you can move the needle very quickly and it becomes very exciting.” — Katie Mesia, Southeast Region Design Resilience Leader, Gensler

Regardless of the type of space, architects, designers, and manufacturers have an opportunity to decrease embodied carbon levels throughout the built environment by the materials they choose to work with. Tackling climate action in our industry starts with making conscious decisions about how the materials with which we build are manufactured and sourced. The built environment and the products in it can help achieve a new era of global wellness. Design is being redefined by sustainability. What distinguishes Gensler and Armstrong is the power of our scale and influence in shaping a positive future. When we embrace impact investing, resource efficiency, and mission-driven goals to decarbonize, we lead by example and guide the way for others to deliver on their promises.

Listen to the first episode in our series with Armstrong World Industries on how we’re reimagining buildings, spaces, and products to enhance health and wellbeing in our return to the office and shared spaces: Ceilings Offer Clean-Air Solutions for a Post-COVID World.

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Gensler Design Exchange Podcast

The Gensler Design Exchange creates a dialogue between design experts, creative trendsetters & thought leaders to discuss how we can shape the future of cities.