Faculty Research Profile: Empowering tomorrow's leaders through sustainable housing solutions

Author: Benson Kinyanjui

From South Bend to Seoul, Associate Professor of Architecture John Odhiambo Onyango, leads his students by example as he encourages their academic exploration. 

Onyango's deep passion for community sparked his research that focuses on fostering sustainability through architectural building technology. This includes the study of how the built environment affects and influences the environmental health, the mental health, and the physical health of community members. As a founding member of the Zero Energy Mass Customization Network (ZEMCH)–which is one of the world's leading organizations in researching the delivery of socially, economically, environmentally, and humanly sustainable built environments–Onyango has made sustainable architecture his expertise.

His latest published research, “Sustainability of Traditional Architecture," is aimed at creating a model that will aid in better understanding the energy use demands in traditional buildings while taking into consideration the complexities. His research awards have a combined project value of more than $550,000 including his current projects, which have a combined value of $2 million.

This year, Onyango also published a book titled Participatory Design Thinking in Urban Design Education, and has written 10 collaborative chapters in edited books on energy use, climate change and indoor thermal comfort, of which six were posted at the ZEMCH 2013 International Conference in Miami. He currently has four papers in review for publication, and is working several other publishing projects. 

Seoul Housing Forum -  Image of Professor John Onyango Presenting
Professor Onyango presenting at the Seoul Housing Forum

This research has taken Onyango around the world with presentations in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Turkey, and recently, South Korea. He has delivered 14 peer-reviewed conference presentations and has received invitations to review numerous papers for conferences across the U.S. and in Thailand. He also leads an interdisciplinary laboratory at Notre Dame, BUILD+PERFORM@ND, that addresses sustainable placemaking, energy and the promotion of human health, dignity, and integral development through the built environment.

Onyango is a registered architect in the United Kingdom and in Kenya, and has various capacities as a senior architect, project manager, and CAD designer in numerous firms. He has worked with Yong Pak & Associates, Niles Bolton Associates and Nile Inc. Environmental and Construction in the state of Georgia, as well as Michael Blash Architects in Idaho. He also worked with Renfrewshire Council and Julian Bicknell & Associates in the UK. In his earlier years, he worked with several leading firms in Nairobi, Kenya, including Symbion International Architects & Interior Designers and Triad Architects. With more than 100 architectural projects completed in private practice, he still makes time to engage in pro-bono community work.

Onyango holds a doctor of philosophy degree in architecture from the University of Glasgow, United Kingdom; a master of architecture degree from the University of Notre Dame, a Certificate in Professional Practice & Management in Architecture in the UK and a bachelor of architecture degree from the University of Nairobi, Kenya.

As an educator, he has served as an assistant professor and director of post professional programs in architecture at the University of Miami, as a lecturer at Queens University, UK, and as a teaching assistant in the Mackintosh School of Architecture, Glasgow School of Art, UK. He has provided thesis and dissertation advice, served in a PhD examination committee for doctorate students. His role as supervisor has benefitted five Master of Architecture students, and four Master of Science students with theses in sustainable design, bringing his research to life.

As a testament to Onyango's inspiration to his students and colleagues at the School of Architecture and across the campus, he was awarded the 2023 Notre Dame Black Excellence Faculty Award at the Celebrating Black Excellence Dinner, sponsored by the University of Notre Dame Student Government. The award inscription states “Recipients embody the excellence we see every day in aspects of professionalism, leadership, and achievement.” 

Professor Onyango Visits Kenyatta University, Kenya 2023
Professor Onyango (left) pauses for a photo while working at Kenyatta University in Kenya.

Professor Onyango is considered a mentor and ardent supporter of his students at the School of Architecture. He is instrumental in recruiting international students to the school by providing academic guidance during the application process. He goes a step further by providing guidance on immigration and helping students acclimate to their new environment. His continued accomplishments and achievements make him an invaluable resource in the field of sustainable architecture and consequently, to the people across the globe who are impacted by his work.






About the Author

Benson Kinyanjui holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture and a bachelor’s degree in architectural studies from the University of Nairobi in Kenya. He is currently pursuing a master of science in historic preservation at the Notre Dame School of Architecture.