Designing With Purpose: Paige Russell '18

Author: Natalie Ambrosio '17

Russell Headshot

With a merging of the left and right brains and a call for beautiful, yet structurally sound designs, architecture embodies balance in a myriad of ways. Paige Russell (’18) doesn't really know why she became interested in architecture in fourth grade, but she knows why she’s committed to it now. She loves this combination of different ways of thinking, and she reaches beyond architecture’s traditional bounds to ensure it is used for a positive purpose.


With just 14 days until the thesis deadline, the fifth year architecture studio was already full of weary students in different stages of sleep deprivation. Yet Paige cheerfully took a break from her 3D designing in Google SketchUp to chat with me about her pursuit to combine her passion for architecture with her value of sustainability. “The built environment is such a large part of the negative effects to sustainability and I wanted to figure out how I could study architecture and still do good for the environment,” she explains.


Notre Dame’s classical architecture program – heavily rooted in the study of precedent – does promote sustainability subtly by teaching students to design buildings that last. Designing with an eye for beauty and function, the students learn to examine the area around the building site to ensure that the new structure will add to the existing space. However, when Paige joined the sustainability minor during her sophomore year, she was excited to round out this knowledge with more direct approaches to sustainability.


With the other “archies” in Notre Dame’s five year program, Paige spent her third year in Rome, studying architecture in the streets of this ancient city and across Italy. Paige returned to Notre Dame with a new appreciation for its majestic buildings. “Coming back from Rome I was re-enchanted with campus,” she says. Her eyes widen with excitement as she explains her favorite spot on campus, right next to the basilica. Here, if you look straight up along the building’s edge, it resembles a piazza (a classic Italian square) and “you feel like you could be anywhere,” Paige explains.


Paige’s diverse pursuits all reflect this appreciation for Notre Dame’s campus: she interns at the Notre Dame Architecture Office which oversees campus architecture, she designed a Collegiate Gothic campus in Detroit for her architecture thesis, and next year she’ll head to Chicago to work at HBRA Architects, a firm with a wide portfolio including college campus and urban design. While she was fully immersed in designing a “mini-village,” for her architecture thesis, her sustainability capstone took Paige deeper into Notre Dame as she explored the feasibility of installing green roofs on Notre Dame buildings.


Russell Projectpresentation

“Every building has a roof but we tend to only put green roofs on newer buildings,” Paige says. After spending last summer in Chicago, which is “kinda like the Mecca of green roofs” Paige began wondering why this energy-saving innovation only adorned newer buildings. She found that there are two main arguments against living roofs on Notre Dame’s old buildings: the belief that there are no flat roofs in Collegiate Gothic architecture (the style of Notre Dame’s campus and another motif of Paige’s passions) and that there are no living roofs on pitched roofs.


For her capstone Paige systematically discredited these arguments and also explained the wealth of benefits from green roofs, including improvements to environmental, social and economic sustainability. The earth lodges of the Great Plains Indians and the Etruscan round tombs both had pitched living roofs. “If they could do it back then, we could definitely do it,” Paige asserts. Next came the argument that traditional Gothic buildings lack flat roofs.


Designed by famous Gothic architect, Ralph Adams Cram, South Dining Hall (SDH) has two large flat roof portions. Structuring a solid argument, Paige listed a slew of technical characteristics that define Gothic architecture, including parapets and statues, with all adorn SDH. Using the United States Green Building Council’s energy calculator, Paige determined that installing a green roof on top of SDH’s rubber membrane would make the roof 20% more efficient. Likewise, the Rockne Memorial is also a Collegiate Gothic building and its roof is entirely flat, providing space for green roofs to make the building about 30% more energy efficient. Living roofs also offer cost savings over their life cycle since rubber roofs have to be replaced more frequently.


By consulting Notre Dame’s architecture library, talking to people at the Architecture Office, engaging a professor who studies green roofs and speaking with her advisor, John Mellor, Paige determined that there shouldn’t be any structural issues in adding green roofs to Notre Dame buildings. While she went into this project genuinely curious about the feasibility and economic impacts of installing green roofs on existing Notre Dame buildings, Paige was thrilled to discover that it would actually save the university money to install green roofs, and it is certainly feasible.


As well as turning in a written report, Paige presented her findings to the Architecture Office and received a positive response. This was very rewarding for Paige, who enjoyed minoring in sustainability because it let her study sustainability through her own passions, adding a layer of moral good and lasting impact to her studies. As she says, “They might not install [a green roof] tomorrow, but maybe the next time it needs to be replaced they would consider it.”


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