Sustainable architecture took her from California to Italy and the U.S. Virgin Islands; now she's working on self-sustaining communities in Seattle.

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Alicia Daniels Uhlig

What do you do? At the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), I support neighborhoods, designers, municipalities and campuses in their pursuit of the Living Community Challenge (LCC) so that their communities are designed and constructed to function as elegantly and efficiently as a forested ecosystem: a community informed by its bioregion’s characteristics, that generates all of its own energy with renewable resources, and captures and treats all of its water. ILFI and partners have been working to create a Living Community Vision for Seattle’s First Hill and Central District neighborhoods. Most recently, Seattle’s Mt. Baker neighborhood registered for the Living Community Challenge to cultivate regenerative design practices to the community scale.

How did you get started in that field? At age 16, I started working in an architecture firm, which led me to focus on a sustainable architecture program at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where my senior thesis resulted in working abroad in an Italian UNESCO World Heritage Site. As a licensed architect, sustainable design led me to practice in California with Van der Ryn Architects, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and most recently, in Seattle with GGLO as principal and director of sustainability.

What’s a typical day like? My work generally includes collaborating with partners piloting the Living Community Challenge, or spreading awareness about the Challenge via webinars and workshops to those interested in transforming their communities and to guide investments at the community scale. Most recently, ILFI has worked with the First Hill area and surrounding neighborhoods to guide community groups, planners and developers to create a more resilient, equitable and beautiful neighborhood. We’re also working with the Yesler Community Collaborative exploring depaving efforts to bring community gardens to public rights of way, such as the proposed entrance at Danny Woo Gardens or King Street’s proposed greenway enhancement, as a strategy of a Living Community.

What’s the best part of the job? I left architectural practice due to a sense of urgency to make a larger impact on sustainable design and environmental policy at a faster rate of change. The best part of my job is that in just a few months, I’ve collaborated with a diversity of people, organizations and design professionals working to accelerate the creation of vibrant, healthy and sustainable communities. Of course, working in the Bullitt Center — a certified Living Building that generates more renewable energy than it consumes, has exceptional daylight and views of nature — is a highlight. It’s living proof of restorative design principles in action.

What surprises people about what you do? That the Living Community Challenge is possible for communities of all scales: It is accessible to new infill projects or existing neighborhoods and campuses. When the Institute launched the Living Building Challenge, it stretched people’s imagination about what is possible. Building on the success of the Living Building Challenge, the Living Community Challenge is helping people reimagine what good looks like in the public realm of our campuses, neighborhoods and communities.

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