Blog Post

Katrin Klingenberg Earns Highest Honor from Alma Mater

Phius Project Certifier Al Mitchell recaps the Ball State University Alumni Board awards dinner, where Phius Co-Founder & Executive Director Katrin Klingenberg received the Distinguished Alumni Award.

I recently had the distinct pleasure of heading to my alma mater in Muncie, Indiana, to celebrate our very own Katrin Klingenberg as she received the Ball State University Alumni Board’s highest honor: the Estopinal College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) Distinguished Alumni Award

The awards dinner included recognition of selected alumni to honor his or her accomplishments in the fields of architecture, planning, landscape architecture, construction management, and interior design. The nomination prompt for the distinguished alumni award states: 

“This award recognizes an Estopinal CAP graduate with 36 (or more) years of experience, and who has spent their career within either the design and construction industry, the built environment, their community, or society-at-large. The Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes consistent accomplishments and significant impact over their entire career. Alternative career paths and accomplishments will be equally considered.”

I cannot think of another CAP graduate more deserving than Katrin. While she has not practiced architecture in the purest sense recently, her impact on those who do, the quality of the built environment, and now the way building energy policy is written can not be understated. 

The original mission of Phius, making passive building mainstream, was no small goal. Yet, through significant personal sacrifice, diligence, and commitment, Kat has made these strides possible. Many other recipients of this award are working at larger design firms or have had significant influence on their local design and construction businesses, but it is the systems change and influence that she has been involved in that best fills the “consistent accomplishments and significant impact over their entire career” portion of the brief. 

Frustrated with the way buildings were being built, Kat pushed passive building design in a cost effective way by building those first homes in the Champaign-Urbana area. When the limit of impact was reached, she did not rest on her laurels, she pushed further and started teaching others, and building the organization that is the modern Phius. Through this means, she could have more influence over the industry, and make meaningful change on a scale not possible when running a traditional design firm.

Each recipient was asked to give a short acceptance speech, relating to how his or her time at CAP influenced their careers. Many thanked professors for their personal growth and development and better understanding of design thinking. Kat thanked two professors specifically, Carole Tiernan and Sonny Palmer. This couple took Katrin under their wings, and most nights from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. would sit on the kitchen floor and work through design thinking exercises with her. She explained that coming from her educational background in Germany, where the technical and building science fundamentals were instilled, this design thinking freed her. Exploring these frameworks freed her to think at different scales, and apply that building science background in a new way – a way to make systems change. In discussing this further on the car ride home, Kat explained that this framework of innovative design thinking built on a foundation of technical competency would be her vision for the future of practice and education for architecture, and the most direct path to better the built environment.

When it comes to the significance of impact, and improvement of the practice of architecture, engineering, and design, I can think of no person I have met more deserving of this award than Katrin. I think I speak on behalf of the entire passive building community when I offer her a heartfelt congratulations.