Architecture IUG student named undergraduate thesis award winner

Holly Zimmerman in front of the Stuckeman Family Building
Holly Zimmerman graduated from the College of Arts and Architecture with her bachelor of architecture degree on May 6 and is on track to complete her master of science in architecture in spring 2024.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Holly Zimmerman, an architecture integrated undergraduate-graduate student in the Stuckeman School at Penn State, was named the winner of the Department of Architecture's 2023 Paul M. Kossman Design Thesis Award for her project that focuses on designing the walls of a building to be more energy efficient and comfortable for the building's occupants.

Zimmerman graduated from the College of Arts and Architecture with her bachelor of architecture degree on May 6 and is on track to complete her master of science in architecture in spring 2024.

“This thesis design project proposes examining the layers of a wall, separating them and varying their anatomy to provide a more comfortable indoor environment,” said Zimmerman. “The project learns from and adapts traditional wall theory to modern stick-built construction, allowing for a dynamic use of interior space based on the occupants' desired definition of comfort.”

She said she decided to focus on the wall section, specifically, in her thesis because she feels it is a key aspect of design that is often neglected or overlooked in building design.

“We use walls to design spaces but often consider walls to be homogeneous poche space. I was very interested in exploring those layers and their potential,” she said.

Zimmerman was inspired by energy modeling software that can illustrate the performance of a wall section, and she wanted to explore applying the software to a larger area of the building design.

“I was also inspired by the works of Philipe Rahm in exploring thermal gradients through space for different activities, and discussions on passive design strategies (which utilize natural sources for heating and cooling rather than purchased energy) within a building,” she said.

Pep Avilés, assistant professor of architecture and Stuckeman Career Professor in Design, and Darla Lindberg, professor of architecture, were this year's thesis instructors. Benjamin Kou, senior associate with Sasaki, delivered the Kossman lecture.

“Holly's work challenged the practice of thermal comfort supplied to programmed space by considering how radiant comfort (warming or cooling) can originate from the walls or surfaces surrounding a space to supplement activities in the space,” said Lindberg. “That kind of design logic advances passive design by seeing opportunities for ambient comfort from the wall's performance through materials, constitution and design. I look forward to where she takes this next.”

A native of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, Zimmerman said she is grateful to Avilés and Lindberg for their support and that she is honored to have been recognized among her peers as the 2023 Kossman Prize winner.

“Winning this prize motivates me to continue my work and my efforts to integrate energy efficient, sustainable efforts with the design of buildings,” she said.

In her final year of her master of science studies, Zimmerman will be working with Lisa Iulo, professor of architecture and director of the Hamer Center for Community Design, to improve the performance of the wall section through retrofitting existing single-family homes.

The annual Kossman Design Thesis Award is presented to the most deserving fifth-year student in the professional bachelor of architecture program for excellence in design based on their senior thesis, as recommended by the faculty and the jury to the head of the Department of Architecture.

Named for 1949 Penn State architectural engineering alumnus Paul Kossman, the thesis competition began in 1990 and has since become a coveted award among fifth-year architecture students.

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Schools and Departments: Department of Architecture, Stuckeman School
Unit Research: Hamer Center for Community Design