Op-Ed

The Green Building Movement Has Lost One of Its Unsung Heroes

Kirsten Childs 1944–2016

February 19, 2016

Kirsten Childs, 1944–2016

Photo: Croxton Collaborative Architects
Kirsten Childs, ASID, died on January 13, 2016, outside Philadelphia following a three-year battle with cancer. In her role as an interior designer, Childs was an early leader in the green building movement and one of the first to advocate for the idea that green also means healthy. She was a pioneer in the development of indoor air quality as a core sustainability metric.

Over a thirty-year career with Randy Croxton, FAIA, at Croxton Collaborative Architects (CCA), Kirsten was the force behind several of the very first high-profile green buildings—projects like the 1989 renovation of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) headquarters and the 1993 renovation of the National Audubon Society headquarters. Many consider these two projects to have launched the green building movement; the book Audubon House profiled the latter project.

“Kirsten led the CCA team, and we forged a collaborative vision of architecture and interior design in service to NRDC’s mission,” explained Croxton. “Ultimately, this transformed our collective view of the built and natural environment and became a touchstone for green building movements to follow.”

In the area of green product selections, “Kirsten was the path breaker for what we now have come to demand of product declarations related to environmental and human health,” recalled Vivian Loftness, FAIA, of Carnegie Mellon University. “I remember in the early days, when the Audubon House was being renovated in New York City, Kirsten was the lead voice for the Croxton Collaborative on product specifications. She was relentless, calling each manufacturer and bypassing sales and marketing and product developers to get to the chemists and material scientists behind the products to beg for information on what was actually in each product. She had the expertise to challenge platitudes and the clout to demand full disclosure in the creation of one of the first truly environmentally superb workplaces.”

Kira Gould, the co-author of Women In Green: Voices of Sustainable Design, first met Kirsten while attending graduate school at Parsons School of Design in New York City, and the Audubon House was the project that introduced her to the world of sustainable design. Kira kept up with Kirsten over the ensuing decades and reflected that “she really led the way on understanding the great damage we were—and are—doing to our bodies as organisms by surrounding ourselves with toxins and sealing the boxes tightly. She was nothing short of a pioneer in that area, and I’m sure it amazed her to see progress in recent years.”  

Kirsten also played an important early role in the LEED rating systems. According to Joel Ann Todd, Kirsten led the new Indoor Environmental Quality Technical Advisory Group (IEQ TAG) from its formation. “Her calm, professional manner was always welcome during those often-chaotic times,” said Todd. “The TAG chairs and their committee members were creating this work; there wasn’t a template. Kirsten had the imagination, experience, and strength to provide that early leadership.”

Penny Bonda recalled Kirsten’s role on the LEED-CI [Commercial Interiors] Committee in the late 1990s: “I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that she was the foremost indoor air quality expert of the time. We immediately recognized that her knowledge of IAQ gave her the credibility to guide us to the stringent standards that the Interiors rating system demanded. We worked together for more than 16 years on LEED, and I will miss her friendship, strength, and humor.”

“Kirsten’s legacy will echo in every healthier indoor space that chooses LEED as its roadmap,” Rick Fedrizzi, U.S. Green Building Council CEO and founding chair, told me. “She fiercely and fearlessly urged us to reach for the highest levels of indoor environmental quality, and we are all better for it. We honor her valuable contributions and deeply value her selfless contributions to our movement.”

In 2010, Kirsten received the ASID Designer of Distinction Award, the highest honor bestowed by the American Institute of Interior Designers.

Kirsten Anne Childs grew up in Inverness, Scotland, and studied interior design at Edinburgh University. She began her career in London, then moved to New York City to collaborate on a project with Skidmore Owings and Merrill. She married architect Russell Childs of Norfolk, Connecticut, and in 1973 they founded Armstrong Childs Associates.

After working briefly with Ehrenkrantz Group, Kirsten joined the Croxton Collaborative in 1985 as the director of interior design, where she worked until her health deteriorated due to cancer. She is survived by her second husband, Alexander Grinnell, also an architect, and her children and grandchildren.

Kirsten will be sorely missed by those of us who knew her. Our buildings are better places to live and work in today because of her efforts.

Add new comment

To post a comment, you need to register for a BuildingGreen Basic membership (free) or login to your existing profile.