How sustainability can be promoted to students

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Buildings themselves account to 40% of carbon emissions due to the use of mechanical methods of heating and cooling. In the current global scenario, commercialization and modernization have bowled over the minds of the society. The society is blinded to the impact on the environment and fails to value and prioritise things correctly. Everyone is aware of the current crisis of global warming and climate change but only a few act on it. Environmental concerns have become secondary or rather in many cases do not even exist.

Among all professions, architecture has the unique power to establish a relationship between humans and the environment. In the current scenario of climate change, the role of architecture in controlling and combating climate change is undeniable and crucial. "Architects and engineers have it in their power to reduce building-related carbon emissions by at least 60% which translates to 1.35 billion tonnes of carbon." (Smith and Pitts 1997) Building designs produced so far have evolved mainly out of client requirements, the architect's concept or the prevailing building laws and regulations. With environmental awareness on the rise, many architectural institutions claim to follow a sustainable approach to their designs but only a few successfully manage to address and integrate environmental considerations within their design framework. Thus as rightly stated by Altomonte the promotion of sustainability in the design of the built environment is a key factor for addressing the challenges that mankind faces in response to finite resource availability, ecological deterioration and climate alteration (Altomonte S. 2009).

Sustainability in architecture can be promoted at two levels:

At university where graduates are imparted the knowledge and skills for laying the foundation of their career

At practice where architects through their designs can act as agents promoting sustainability to their clients

CURRENT SCENARIO AT UNIVERSITIES

A Survey for Academics was conducted within the Architectural Research Methods module at the University of Nottingham (United Kingdom) as a part of the European Action EDUCATE (Environmental Design in University Curricula and Architectural Training in Europe) program. For the purpose of my research I would like to concentrate on the following questions:

Does Sustainable Design represent a core part of the academic curriculum of your institution?

Does your institution invest adequate resources in the teaching of Sustainable Environmental Design?

Are students are adequately encouraged to explore Sustainable Environmental Design in your institution?

Is there resistance in your institution about the integration of Sustainable Environmental Design in design studio?

CURRENT SCENARIO AT PRACTICE

A similar survey was conducted for building professionals.

Does Sustainable Design represent a core part of the design approach of your practice?

While employing architects /graduates your practice requires skills in Sustainable Environmental Design?

Should Sustainable Environmental Design should be included in the curricula of architectural education?

The findings from the survey suggest that:

Sustainable design does not form the core part of the academic curriculum for majority of the institutions surveyed whereas it does form a core part of majority of the practices surveyed.

Apprehension by academics on commenting about their institutions investment in resources for teaching sustainable design as well as on integration of sustainable design within the studio module.

Apprehension by practitioners on commenting on their criteria for employing architects/graduates in their practice.

Conversely, majority agreed that students in their institution are adequately encouraged to explore sustainable design.

Unanimous agreement on the inclusion of sustainable environmental design in the academic curriculum.

The findings from the surveys highlights one main issue -

Inorder to encourage students to explore sustainability, what efforts are being made by universities? Are these efforts sufficient to motivate the students?

Sustainability is a vast topic and has many and implications. It has to be understood in full respect to be successfully executed. Therefore, it should be tackled at the roots of the profession itself in order to ensure a sustainable built environment. The roots of the architectural profession lie at university level where young graduates are trained to be conscious of their surrounding environment and are moulded to think creatively and sensitively. "….nowadays the professional market demands graduates of architectural disciplines endowed with a number of competences that range from creative design and visualization skills up to detailed technical and environmental competence." (Altomonte S. 2009) Every year universities worldwide produce hundreds of graduates who are the future of this profession. Thus, in my opinion, universities and architectural schools possess the power to promote sustainable environmental design.

AIM

The need for introducing sustainable design within the curriculum has been recognized by architectural schools worldwide and environmental design and energy efficiency in buildings has been taught in architectural schools since many years. But these mostly take the form of independent lectures, optional course modules or seminars and schools have not yet been able to successfully integrate sustainable environmental design as a core part of the curriculum. Due to this fragmented approach students do not get enough opportunities to understand and explore the subject and thus are not inclined enough to design sustainably at academic level and later on in their practice. In many cases the teaching methods adopted by schools are not inspiring enough and therefore students develop a repulsive attitude towards the. "A new pedagogical methodology has consequently to be developed in order to overcome existing educational and professional barrier and act as a communication platform that facilitates the transfer of knowledge between sustainability related building sciences and creative design in the architectural curriculum." (Altomonte S. 2009) Thus, there is a need to initiate a change in how sustainability is taught and delivered in architectural schools.

"The holistic nature of the matter suggests that it is necessary to fully integrate sustainability in the architectural curriculum, not as an add-on to every single part……..Sustainability should be at the core of the theoretical, technological and studio based module." (Trebilcock M. 2008)

This essay aims at critically analysing the existing methods employed by architectural schools for dissemination of sustainable environmental design and proposing a solution for effective promotion of the tools and knowledge for students at academic level that can support the design of sustainable architecture in practice.

The University of Mumbai is taken as a prototype for my research proposal.

ARCHITECTURAL EDUCATION IN MUMBAI

Architectural education in Mumbai is delivered as a 5-year degree program accredited by the Council of Architecture structured on the syllabus proposed by the University of Mumbai. The five year degree is mainly based on project work supplemented by lectures on humanities and technical subjects. Students are introduced to the concept of environmental design through the climatology subject in the second year. This is lecture based module which is assessed through sessional work and is independent of the studio module. At the fourth year level Environmental Architecture is introduced as an elective module where students are introduced to the concept of sustainability and sustainable developments with emphasis on developing strategies for passive design, thermal comfort, lifecycle assessment, rainwater harvesting techniques, thermal radiation and evaporative cooling.

CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE EXISTING TEACHING METHODOLOGY

Integration of environmental architecture happens only at two stages namely second and fourth year. A partially integrated approach is followed in both these stages where the contents are delivered through lectures and seminars and assessment is based on sessional work.

These lecture courses and seminars are independent from the design studio module. Thus, students seldom incorporate knowledge gained from these sessions within the working of their design projects. Lack of emphasis on environmental design on the part of the studio tutors also causes students to neglect addressing these issues and invariably resulting in designs that do not respond to environmental issues. "In addition, more often than not, design studio projects are complex and time-demanding, to the extent that students are not able, in the temporal span of a semester, to achieve a mature and in-depth analysis which includes awareness and comprehensive implementation in design of technical and environmental mandates." (Kock, et al., 2002)

A fragmented approach to delivering sustainable environmental design in the architectural curriculum results in gaps within the learning process. Inclusion of environmental architecture as an elective and not as a compulsory module provides students an opportunity to opt for other subjects and thus very few students are exposed to the ideas of sustainable design.

Unavailability of appropriate tools for teaching environmental design for example heliodon, artificial sky, etc. and insufficient trainers with knowledge of computer aided design softwares like ecotect, TAS, etc. also are potential hindrances to promotion and implementation of sustainable design within the curriculum.

PROPOSAL FOR ALTERATION OF CURRICULUM AND TEACHING METHODS

In order to overcome the barriers identified in the existing curriculum it is first and foremost necessary to introduce sustainable environmental design as a compulsory module that is spread over all 5 years of the undergraduate curriculum. Also it is essential to introduce innovative and interesting methods of delivering the knowledge to students that will help maintain their interest and increase their curiosity and enthusiasm for the topic.

"New pedagogic paradigms are required to produce graduates endowed with holistic competences including environmental knowledge related to sustainable design." (Stevenson, et al., 2009)

Architectural education in Mumbai is spread over 5 years thus providing an adequate timeframe for dissemination of sustainable ideas. The proposed method for promotion of sustainable environmental design in the architectural curriculum is broken down as follows:

Learning from Existing buildings

Learning from Critical Evaluation

The Integrated Design Approach

Experiential Learning-by-Doing

Incentives

Learning from Existing buildings

At first year level students from different educational backgrounds join architecture and need to get familiarized with the various aspects of the field. At this stage it is important to stimulate their creative abilities and enable them to develop the ability to critically observe and analyse the built environment. As their minds are getting accustomed and moulded to the underlying aspects of the profession, it provides the best opportunity to introduce ideas of sustainability and concerns for the environment thus developing an interest and inclination towards the topic.

Sustainable environmental design can be initially introduced as a lecture based module where students are provided a basic understanding and are familiarized with the terms involved. This then will double up as a case study project where students will have to document and analyse an existing sustainable building with respect to construction type, materials used, strategies adopted, etc. "The architectural precedent is recognized as an important source of knowledge in the design process because it embodies tacit knowledge from previous design experience." (Trebilcock M. 2008) Learning from existing examples will enable students to understand how environmental strategies can be implemented in design without compromising on aesthetics.

For the Architectural Design module, students will have to undertake the simplified design of house which will be altered later in the second year to function environmentally.

Learning from Critical Evaluation

This module will be distributed over the second and third year. Projects undertaken by the students in the first year for the architectural design module will be re-evaluated on the lines of environmental architecture.

"It is also important to encourage students to emphasize reflection, critical self evaluation of their work in order to take full ownership of the challenges of sustainability and increase their enthusiasm for environmental design." (Stevenson, et al., 2009)

At this stage students will be encouraged to test physical models using tools such as heliodon, artificial sky, etc. These testing will open up new possibilities and help the student understand the implications of factors such as light, heat and air. This will help students rectify mistakes in their design decisions based on their response to the environmental issues of the site. This module will also be supported by lectures and seminars that will be in conjunction with what is taught in the studio module.

Similarly, a design project undertaken by the students in the second year will be re-evaluated in the third year for environmental issues. In the third year, students will be introduced to computer aided testing tools like ecotect, TAS, etc. Students are expected to test their design with the assistance of both physical model and computer simulation. In the lecture module, students will also be introduced to the ideas of post occupancy evaluation, calculation of carbon emissions, etc. As the complexity of the design project increases gradually students will be trained to effectively handle design issues with environmental solutions.

The Integrated Design Approach

With a fairly fragmented yet integrated approach followed in the above mentioned three years, the students in the fourth year will be expected to consider environment strategies at the formative stage of their architectural design project. Lessons learnt so far will have to be effectively incorporated within the design framework. Assessment will be based on creativity and execution with considerable weightage given to suitable environmental strategies incorporated in the design and response to site. The knowledge and skills acquired by the students so far will equip them to tackle environmental issues along with design requirements. This will help students in their fifth year where they will have to undertake a design dissertation on their selected topic. They will be expected to demonstrate their creative skills while at the same time demonstrate their sensitivity towards environmental issues.

Experiential Learning-by-Doing

In addition to the above mentioned methods, there is a need to motivate students and develop in them a passion for the environment. In many cases it has been proved that practical knowledge provides much more than what theoretical knowledge can provide.

A series of workshops will be organised by the school every year which will aim at delivering the knowledge through the 'experiential learning-by-doing' approach.

A workshop will typically be 6-day training program which can be held at the school itself or as a site visit to a sustainable development for example Auroville, located in Tamil Nadu, India which is recognised for its research into sustainable technologies. These workshops will include theoretical sessions supplemented by practical demonstrations and site visits. Seminars on corresponding topics will also be delivered by experts in the field. Students will be engaged in construction of sustainable prototypes using local materials and technology. Theoretical sessions will address topics on environmental crisis, construction and choice of building material, rainwater harvesting, waste water management, etc.

EXPECTED OUTCOME FROM THE WORKSHOP

The workshop is an intensive training program where students are led to focus on environmental issues and possible solutions by demonstrating suitable examples.

The practical demonstrations will be highly informative and engaging at the same time where students will learn from experience which will have a lasting impact on their minds.

Such workshops encourage students to critically think and reflect upon the issues they are learning.

The workshop will provide an interactive platform where students would gain invaluable knowledge from interactions with each other and experts in the respective fields of environmental design.

The students will also benefit from the experience of working on live projects which will be useful in developing the skills and attitudes for future professional practice.

The workshop will be useful in understanding the application of materials and functioning of the building on site.

The workshop will prove to be an exciting and innovative way of delivering the required knowledge and tools of sustainable environmental design to the students.

OPPORTUNITIES

Small competitions in the form of design esskey, quizzes, etc. can be held during the workshop inorder to evaluate how much the students have grasped from the workshop.

The workshop can be clubbed with the architectural study tour held every year for students thus ensuring that it is attended by majority students.

The only constraint to the proposed workshop is that this method is expensive and depends on the willingness of the school and students to invest in.

Incentives

Incentives in the form of scholarships or placements at renowned architectural firms practicing sustainability should be introduced. Design projects from the fourth and fifth year will be assessed for environmental response. Prospective students will be rewarded for their sensitivity towards the environment along with handling other design issues. This method will help maintain the interest and competitive spirit among the students to produce effective environmentally compatible design solutions.

CONCLUSION

Architecture needs to constantly evolve around important parameters such as the client, building laws, environmental laws, materials, climatic conditions, etc. There is an urgent need to bridge the gap between what is taught in schools and what is followed in practice. Changes in the profession need to be recognized by academics and vice-versa.

The role of recently graduated students is crucial in bridging this gap. Young graduates are open to new ideas and are flexible in adapting to current situations. Potential graduates can bring enthusiasm and innovation to the workplace with their ideas and knowledge. With the development of teaching tools these graduates are exposed to new technologies and softwares that can aid design visualisation and thus bring about successful solutions.

It is thus necessary to restructure the existing rigid architectural curricula and make it more flexible, integrated and interactive, one that enables the student to cultivate a creative approach along with an awareness and sound understanding of other subjects. Proposed modification in the curriculum and teaching methods as discussed in the essay will contribute towards achievement of the above educational targets and help create potential graduates who environmentally sensitive and can use their skills and knowledge to promote sustainability in this profession.

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