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August 06, 2012

Five Minutes With Vamshi Gooje

As the Building Sustainability team’s energy expert, Portland Associate Vamshi Gooje has a hand in nearly every project. From the large scale Las Vegas CityCenter in Nevada to the 8,000-sf Bosarge Family EducationCenter at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, Gooje analyses the environmental impact of projects and how to make them more sustainable. “My role is to help clients make the right decisions early in the design phase,” he said. Gooje, who is a LEED AP BD+C, is proficient in a range of energy simulation programs, including eQuest, EnergyPlus, Ecotect and Radiance. He also manages LEED and green design projects. Gooje holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University’s School of Planning and Architecture in his native Hyderabad, India and a master’s in building design from Arizona State University in Tempe. Gooje’s family had been land developers in Hyderabad, which sparked his early interest in architecture. But it was his move to the United States in 2001 that ultimately led to a career in building sustainability. “In India, we have limited resources and everything has to be sustainable,” he said. “It is a necessity, not a choice. But when I came to the United States for my graduate studies, I saw the amount of resources that were being expended. That triggered my interest in sustainable building and my desire to get involved.”

Name one project you are currently working on and one thing you learned from it?
I am working on multiple projects, and since every project is unique, each is an opportunity to learn something new. But there is a project that I am working on now that is very interesting. It is the Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School, a 350,000-sf vocational high school in Danvers, Mass. We are providing sustainability consulting services, and one of our recommendations was to make the building itself a teaching tool. Many of the school’s students are learning about mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems. So the idea was to design multiple, fully operational mechanical systems within the building, giving students hands-on experience with practical applications. For example, we are combining high efficiency boilers with co-generation engines, micro-turbines and fuel cells. Usually we will use one or at the most two types of systems within a building, but with this project we are putting in every type of system that there is. When I was doing the initial energy studies, it was interesting to see how the systems would interact, yet deal with energy loads accurately. What’s great about this project is that we are assisting the owner in monitoring performance during occupancy. So not only will we know how these different systems interact with each other, but also how they will perform.

What are your areas of specialization?
I am pretty knowledgeable about building performance, energy and daylighting simulation programs, which look at everything that affects a building from its carbon footprint to utility costs and occupant comfort. I don’t think I have mastered all of the programs yet. The industry is always evolving, and it is good to keep learning.

How can you serve as a resource to others in the company? What can you offer to your colleagues?
For the eight years that I have been with Fore Solutions, I have been the energy and daylighting expert, and I continue in that role since the merger with Thornton Tomasetti. Our skills, expertise and capabilities in energy and daylighting services can be expanded into our other practice areas. We have been working with the Building Skin and Building Performance teams about integrating our services into their projects. So if anyone has questions regarding energy, daylighting and performance monitoring, thermal comfort issues as well as what goes into LEED certification, I can be a resource.

What is the one tool/technique that you can’t live without?
I would say Microsoft Excel because that’s when all my raw data visualizations happen. Usually I work with tons of data sets, and Excel spreadsheets help me to organize that data and pinpoint issues in the project easily. Without it, I would eventually come to a standstill. And it is a simple enough tool that I can build my own macros and get what I want. It is impressive that Microsoft can create such an incredible tool like Excel. But on the other hand, they are also responsible for MS Word, which can be annoying.

What industry-related topics interest you most right now?
I am very interested in commissioning and building performance monitoring. Not so long ago, there was a push for the market transformation to high-performance buildings. But now the question being asked in industry circles is, are these buildings really performing as they were designed to? High-performing buildings are one thing in theory and another in practice. It all comes down to the actual performance. That said, I have been gathering data on all of our projects. The goal is to study the root causes of discrepancy between the calibrated-simulated data and actual data. This will inform the building operator to pinpoint any operational changes and equipment malfunction, and meet the performance goals.

What’s the best advice or tip that you’ve received during your career?
An architect that I worked with long ago said there is no detail small enough to ignore, and that has stuck with me. This is especially true when working with numbers. Every detail matters and as you get deeper into a project, it becomes harder to make changes if something is left out early on in the process. When a small detail is ignored, it also makes it difficult to figure out what and where the problem is.

Is there anything that you would like to work on that you haven’t had the chance to yet?
We have been talking to Jonatan Schumacher (director of advanced computational modeling) about integrating our energy and daylight analysis into Grasshopper. The ACM group has been using Grasshopper for structure and skin projects, and we would like to explore the full potential of it from a sustainability standpoint. We were a small group in Portland, and it is exciting to interact with our colleagues in other offices and see the level of talent that we have across the firm. There is so much we can learn from our colleagues. They are doing great work on some of the coolest projects on the planet.

Vamshi Gooje Off the Clock

Hobbies: “I teach meditation as a volunteer for the nonprofit organization Sahaja Meditation, which I have been doing for a long time. I also enjoy woodworking. I built our bed frame, a bookcase and some side tables. Next in line is a shed to house our riding tractor. And recently, I have developed an interest in permaculture.”

On the nightstand: “We have a 22-month old baby, so the opportunity to read doesn’t happen often. But I am trying to read a field guide to native wildflowers. We are doing landscaping on our property and I want to understand what survives with the least amount of maintenance and what the native species are.”

Favorite food and app: “I am a food junkie, and Portland has a lot of great restaurants. I particularly like seafood, and Lobster Shack in Cape Elizabeth is my favorite spot for its fried food and location. My favorite iPhone app is Shazam. It takes any tune and tells me the name of the song and who the singer is. It enables me to expand my music library.

Favorite vacation spot: “Maine’s Acadia National Park is my favorite vacation spot, especially in the winter when there aren’t many people there. And in the summer, my wife and I have a secret beach spot within the park that we try to visit every year.”

Secret life: “I walked to my kindergarten, primary, middle and high schools. I took the commuter bus as an undergrad, and I biked to my grad school. Ironically, now that I am working in Building Sustainability, I’m commuting by car about 14 miles each way. But I do drive a hybrid vehicle, which gives me 60 miles per gallon.