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Professor Koen Steemers: oration

Read Professor Dr Sukumar Natarajan's oration on Professor Koen Steemers for the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in March 2017.


Vice-Chancellor, it gives me great pleasure to introduce to you and to the congregation, Koen Steemers, Professor of Sustainable Design at Jesus College, Cambridge.

Professor Steemers began his journey here at Bath as an undergraduate architecture student. Unlike most others institutions in the UK that were - and still are - offering a BA in Architecture, Bath pioneered the BSc in Architecture, with the firm belief that architecture is not just a liberal art but rather sits at the intersection of the liberal arts and sciences. In many ways, Koen Steemers is the perfect embodiment of this renaissance spirit, a spirit that shines through his research and his practice as an architect and consultant.

From Bath, Koen went to Cambridge to complete his MPhil and PhD, where he rapidly established his reputation for research excellence and leadership. He was appointed Head of Department at Cambridge from 2008 to 2014, where he oversaw a resurgence in architectural research and a trebling of funding turnover. Under his leadership, Cambridge’s Department of Architecture achieved the highest research quality ranking out of all ‘Architecture and the Built Environment’ departments in the UK in the Research Assessment Exercise of 2008.

Koen’s impact on the field of architecture has been significant and, in recognition of this, he was named one of “the 50 most influential people in UK sustainability” in 2012 by the highly respected Building Design magazine. Koen has authored several books spanning a range of subjects within the field of environmental design, a number of which have gone on to become classic texts in the field. Max Fordham, another luminary who has close connections to Bath, said of Koen’s 2004 book Environmental Diversity in Architecture that “the book is so important [it] should have a place at every practitioner's elbow”.

In addition to his influence on practice, he has significantly advanced the state of the art through his pioneering research. He has attracted, as both principal and coinvestigator, over £13M in research income during his career to-date. These are linked to the publication of more than 200 journal and conference articles, with a focus on low energy sustainable design. His research spans the design of individual buildings to urban and city-scale planning and covers topics as diverse as natural ventilation, daylighting, forecasting energy demand, microclimatic analysis, thermal comfort and, more recently, health and well-being. This has resulted in over 5,000 citations and an h-index of 31.

Those of you who understand these metrics will know that these are extraordinary numbers, certainly for this field. Koen’s reputation is international, as attested by his role as consultant to UNHABITAT (the United Nations Human Settlements Programme), as well as numerous appointments as examiner for undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral programmes.

He has contributed to our department here at Bath as the first external examiner for the MSc Architectural Engineering: Environmental Design, which is one of the most successful MSc programmes in the Faculty of Engineering and Design. He is also the Director of Cambridge Architectural Research Ltd., a “Cambridge Phenomenon” company.

Through all this, Koen carries with him the pioneering ethos of sustainable design that was embedded during his undergraduate years at Bath. He has also inspired and trained a generation of students, amongst whom I’m pleased to count myself. Many of these students have themselves gone on to highly successful careers in industry and academia, not just here in the UK but all over the world. Koen’s influence on the field of architecture is, therefore, both wide-ranging and indisputable.

Vice-Chancellor, I present to you Professor Koen Steemers who is eminently worthy to receive the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

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