Alumni & Giving

Helena Zambrano

Helena Zambrano


What kind of work are you doing?
I’m an environmental designer specializing in architectural and high-performance design.

What led you to your current position?
After I graduated from MEBD, I started working as an architectural designer. But what I learned in the MEBD program allowed me to go a step further and integrate environmental building design with architectural design. Since then I’ve transitioned to a position as the Sustainability Coordinator of my firm. In this role I’ve developed the sustainable design process and the Sustainability Action Plan (SAP) for my office. The sustainability team, which I lead, has since grown with the addition of a sustainability designer.

What attracted you to the firm or position?
I was attracted to the firm’s flexibility and openness to new ideas. In this position, I get to work on many project types and project scales and learn about many different aspects of the built and natural environments, as well as the well-being of humans within the built environment. It involves finding solutions to challenging questions that require a lot of research on diverse topics such as materials chemistry, innovative engineering systems, renewable technologies, etc.

How did your studies at the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design prepare you for your work there?
My training from the MEBD program allowed me to “push the envelope” through evidence-based design, including daylighting analysis, energy modeling, computational fluid dynamics, and post-occupancy evaluation. Since it was the first time the firm was able to do building performance simulation in house, I started helping other project teams to do these types of analyses. That’s how I transition to my sustainability coordinator position.

What courses, studios or instructors had the greatest influence on your work or thinking?
Daylighting Design with Naree Phinyawatana and Jessica Zofchak
Environmental Design Lab with Bill Braham and Brian Phillips
Integrated Building Design with Ali Malwaki
Six facts, Six Scales with Billie Faircloth
Building Diagnostics with Michael Henry

What was the best part of studying at the Weitzman School? In Philly?
I really enjoyed my time in Philadelphia. Philly is such a culturally and historically rich city and is also very diverse. Penn’s urban campus is beautiful. I especially enjoyed the richness of the Fisher Fine Arts Library, Locust Walk, and the fact that it is so close to Philly’s vibrant center city.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Doing architecture, leading a larger sustainability team, solving even more challenging questions as the design teams grow in their knowledge of high-performance buildings, and conducting original academic research that bridges knowledge from other professional fields through the lens of architecture in order to help advance the profession.

Are you keeping in touch with classmates, students or faculty?
Absolutely. I forged very good friendships with my classmates and faculty, and I keep in touch with most of them. I regularly meet with classmates at various green building conferences throughout the country. I have had the good fortune to share the podium with one of my professors at an AIA National Convention where we both received a COTE Top 10 award, and as a chair of the AIA San Antonio COTE, I have had the opportunity to invite some of my professors and mentors to lecture in San Antonio.

Any words of advice for prospective students?
Enjoy being at Penn. The Weitzman School has so much to offer, it is a very intellectually stimulating environment.  Learn as much as you can from both, professors and students alike.

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