UA Has a Design for Architecture's Future
The historic underrepresentation of sustainable design in construction is one universal challenge that the UA's College of Architecture, Planning & Landscape Architecture is working to address.

By La Monica Everett-Haynes, University Relations - Communications
March 21, 2016


Students work on projects under the guidance of laboratory manager Paulus Musters in the College of Architecture, Planning & Landscape Architecture, where the Sustainable Pedagogy has been implemented.
Students work on projects under the guidance of laboratory manager Paulus Musters in the College of Architecture, Planning & Landscape Architecture, where the Sustainable Pedagogy has been implemented. (Photo: FJ Gaylor)

In a move to address the worldwide challenge of the building sector contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, a new University of Arizona architecture curriculum has been launched to focus exclusively on integrative sustainability. 

Launch of the curriculum, the Sustainable Pedagogy within the College of Architecture, Planning & Landscape Architecture, or CAPLA, makes the UA School of Architecture the only one of its kind in the nation with a fully integrated curriculum offering immersive training — not just one or a few courses — on issues related to sustainability.

"Many accredited architecture schools in the U.S. have in recent years begun to introduce sustainability courses as electives for the design curriculum, or have introduced an upper-level studio focused on sustainability," said Shane Smith, an assistant professor of architecture.

"But we are unique in the approach of developing a pedagogy focused on the formal integration of focus areas within each design studio across the curriculum," Smith said.

Positive outcomes of the UA Bachelor of Architecture curriculum are so promising that the pedagogy was honored in the fall with a Crescordia Award, considered the "Academy Awards" of the environmental community.

"I'm proud of the work our Sustainability Pedagogy Committee has done to make this idea a reality," said Robert J. Miller, director of the UA School of Architecture, who initiated the idea in 2013. That led to the launch of the Sustainability Pedagogy Task Force within the school.

"CAPLA has assumed a position of national leadership in integrating environmental considerations into every aspect of architecture education," Miller said. "Our students will be better prepared to confront some of our most challenging global issues."

A Solutions- and Future-Orientation to Design

"Informally, sustainability has always been an important part of the academic culture at CAPLA," said Janice A. Cervelli, dean of the college.

The UA faculty was motivated to address sustainability in a more integrated way partly because of U.S. Energy Information Administration statistics indicating that the business sector — the residential and commercial sectors, combined — is accountable for about 45 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., according to 2010 figures.

Based on the International Living Future Institute's "Living Building Challenge," the Sustainable Pedagogy trains students in a sustainable design practice by incorporating instruction on concerns related to issues that include water, energy, environs and wellness.

Thus, in addition to learning about sound design, students learn how to design with energy consumption, water scarcity, water cycles and the use of materials in mind.

Likewise, students must take into consideration the ways humans interact with and respond to their built environments, with a keen focus on wellness, and they also must be attentive to cultural practices, as related to the continuity of the build environment — two unique and often omitted topical areas, Smith said.

Also, students are evaluated for the sustainable performance of the designs they create throughout the program.

"Arizona has been recognized nationally as a pioneer since the early 1970s," Cervelli said. "Having now codified that knowledge into the Bachelor of Architecture curricula, we can impart information in a very exacting and consistent way and assure that all our students graduate with a comprehensive understanding of how the built environment can positively impact the planet."

Implementing Outcomes to Sustainable Living

Ultimately, the pedagogy is meant to enhance students' professional ethics and infuse values of sustainability in instruction. It also is meant to provide students beyond their time at the UA — with the first graduates set to step off campus in 2019 — with the knowledge base to shape design with sustainability.

Important outcomes of the Sustainable Pedagogy thus far include an invitation for the Sustainability Pedagogy Committee to present the curriculum integration at the "Living Future's unConference: Truth and Transparency," to be held in Seattle in May. 

Also, students and faculty are engaged in a zero-waste project within the college, integrating the use of material reuse in the design studio practice.

For example, compost collection containers have been placed throughout the school. Also, "free tables" have been added in the school's design studios, offering a collection space for reusable materials — such as chipboard, task board, museum board and balsa wood pieces — that students then employ for other projects. Thus, instead of consistently purchasing new materials for students' coursework, students are now more readily reusing and recycling materials.

"We are focusing more holistically on waste outcomes in the college, and we are developing strategies to implement changes in the design studio," said Siriporn Trumble, a School of Architecture lecturer.

Another outcome of the new pedagogy is that students serve on the school's Sustainability Pedagogy Committee, which aligns with the UA's 100% Engagement initiative.

"Often, the concept of sustainability in architecture is seen from a quantitative approach: Are you calculating energy and water consumption, for example? But how do you design with those concepts in mind? It's much more integral," Smith said. "And it's not just about the environment. It's also about cultural and social shifts."


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Patti van Leer

UA School of Architecture