The foundation for Emily Durso’s appreciation of nature began on family hikes around her hometown of rural Stillwater, New Jersey. Walking through the woods with her parents and three sisters, Durso began to understand the relationship between the Earth and humanity, a connection that deepened during the time she spent camping the Appalachian Trail and saw the impact of humans’ activity on the world.

But it was an architecture class she took in high school that showed this technically minded artist how the design of buildings, structures, and infrastructure can play a vital role in maintaining the integrity of the planet for future generations. Durso is graduating this spring with a five-year Bachelor of Architecture degree with an emphasis on sustainability.

“I’m interested in passive house design,” Durso said. “Looking at the operational systems of buildings, their heating and cooling systems, and finding solutions to reduce the carbon emissions, those systems emit fascinates me.”

Durso came to Rensselaer because it offered the opportunity to develop skills in different domains and across schools. She took part in a Design for America competition where she worked with engineers and architects to design various solutions to engage and educate the students at Rensselaer and the community of Troy to reduce plastic waste.

What she liked the most about Rensselaer, though, was the studio culture found in the School of Architecture. Staying up late with classmates, and creating and collaborating on projects throughout the design process, helped to build a sense of camaraderie and community that helped everyone get through the first few years of difficult classes.

Those bonds also helped her and her classmates stay connected through the COVID-19 pandemic. She and her classmates created giant group chats to collaborate on schoolwork and for emotional support as well.

Durso attended Rensselaer with her twin sister, Tessa. They didn’t intend to attend the same school but Rensselaer offered opportunities that attracted both of the Durso students. Durso says she’s only taken one studio class with her sister but it was a huge support to have a friend and confidante from home, particularly in their first semester – a time of transition for most college students.

Durso completed two internships during her time at Rensselaer, was on the Dean’s List every semester, and was a Studio Archival Award recipient. Durso was also named a Harriet R. Peck Prize finalist for her thesis project that offered a solution to educate and inform the public on the need to change to more sustainable behaviors in the building industry.

“We need to stop trying to offer solutions for climate change through architecture; it’s missing the point,” Durso said. “Instead, we need to create this awareness with everyone else around us through more public engagement with issues. Essentially, I think that just like artists create awareness through art, architects can produce awareness about our environment.”

This summer, Durso plans to sit for the Passive House Consultant exam and seek employment at an architectural and engineering firm.