What background brought you to NASA? The economy was a major factor. I began in the private sector and, during a recession, I found myself looking for work. I saw an opportunity with a contractor at a NASA facility. I thought it would be a place to spend a few years and then return to private practice. Instead, I found opportunities there to really understand a client, and that led me further and further into NASA. I eventually became a civil servant and got to manage an increasing portfolio of facilities and people who manage facilities.
What's under your purview? About 43,000 people work in various facilities, in project management, engineering, test safety, and administrative roles. They add up to about $23 billion worth of constructed assets.
What are some of the more interesting facilities? Ones that test or track spacecraft as they fly. Some of the facilities that are used for the construction of complex scientific payloads are quite remarkable, difficult to describe if you've never seen them. But clean rooms and wind tunnels are fascinating for even the casual visitor.
Where does one start planning these types of facilities? Obviously there are no graphic standards for these things. We evolve the prior facilities that we're seeing as most successful and, on rare occasions, we begin with a fresh, clean sheet of paper.
In NASA's history, what connections exist between their facilities and their mission of space exploration? Apollo was one of those moments that required us to build a tremendous number of facilities. About a third of our buildings were built in five years in the 1960s. Afterwards, we were developing shuttle facilities. Now we're moving to Constellation, the vision for space exploration announced in 2004. Each start for a new human spaceflight program tends to have its own logic and requires a rethinking of our facilities asset base to make sure it's right for what's coming.
How are NASA's facilities responding to the movement toward green buildings? As an architect, I am interested in sustainable design and practices for managing facilities. As a federal planner, I have the luxury of being the proposer of the plan and part of the organization that funds the plan. Many of the tools to advance a sustainable agenda are more concentrated within my federal-sector role than they might be in a private-sector role. The challenge is that because so little is being built new in the federal sector, we spend a great portion of our resources modifying what we have.
Are rocket scientists and astronauts more difficult to deal with than typical architectural clients? [Laughs] Clients are clients, and they can be very challenging. Even earth scientists may not always be sympathetic applying sustainable principles to the design of buildings they will occupy if they feel they have to make a choice between extra features or sustainable design. One of the challenges is dispelling the myth that sustainability is necessarily more expensive.
You've worked as an architect, planner, and client. How can we have more fruitful conversations to produce better buildings? There should always be a partnership between client and architect. An architect is more than a hired gun. An architect is a consultant who helps an organization form their physical reality. There are long-term implications of making the right choices, so an architect is held to a pretty high standard. What I've noticed most in my federal practice is that the follow-through, the need to understand the long-term performance in a facility, is higher when your career is based around the idea that you are going to continue to serve a given subset of the world—called, in this case, NASA. My challenge is to ensure that we choose architects and planners who are sympathetic to that when we consult with folks from beyond our agency.
Title: Facilities planner
Organization: National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Other: Toufectis has worked as a facility planner with NASA since 1991, recently moving to the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C., to coordinate the Facility Master Planning Program.