Proposal For Engaging Architectural Students With Environmental Issues Education Essay

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Global warming is the main consequence of climate change that is caused due to Carbon-dioxide emissions and the resulting green house effect. Human activities are responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions and buildings play a major role in contributing to this. According to Smith and Pitts, out of about six billion tonnes of Carbon dioxide emissions due to human activities, buildings and construction accounts for almost half of this amount (Smith and Pitts 1997). Thus, Buildings and wide spread development are responsible for a large part of the environmental problems we face today and Building Professionals play an important role in combating these problems. Sustainability in Architectural Design is the main aspect for addressing the current global crisis as the impact of the built environment on natural resources and ecosystems is felt for decades. All this is resulting in an increased demand for architectural graduates with advanced skills and sensitivity towards Sustainable Environmental Design (SED) issues.

As part of the ARM workshop, we have conducted a survey for building professionals to try and evaluate the importance given by building professionals to SED issues. The survey also investigated if sustainability and environmental design form a core part of the practice. The results for this survey indicate that though many practices all over the world understand the importance of Sustainable development and Environmental Design (ED), these aspects did not form the core part of the design process in all of their projects.

Why is it that ED features in the curricula of architectural schools but not in practice? Why is the concern for the Environment passive among architects? To answer these questions, we highlight the barriers to the effective dissemination of ED modules in the schools of architecture. The teaching of environmental science in architecture has been present since the 1970s, though its application in design is still rare. Government institutes and Accreditation bodies have also recently started including SED issues on their agendas. The Royal Institute of British Architects has included a definition of Sustainable Development in its Architectural Syllabus and is encouraging the inclusion of Sustainability and Environmental Design Modules in Architectural Schools in the UK (RIBA 2000). On account of the global concerns and increasing pressure from the government and accreditation bodies, many universities and schools of architecture have included ED in their curriculum, but the effectiveness of these modules has not been tested. The results of the survey for Academics, also conducted as part of the workshop, show that the percentage of ED modules taught is less than 2% of the curriculum in most universities, for which this study was done. Also there is an overwhelming disparity on how these modules are distributed over the length of the course.


Imparting Sustainability at higher education level is essential to increase awareness and knowledge among architectural students so that they are trained to be environmentally responsible in the profession. The underlying concept is to improve the architectural curriculum and develop interesting and effective teaching methods for ED modules that can be easily implemented in Architectural schools all over the world. The goal is to promote the implementation of Sustainable principles in practice by effectively engaging architectural students with SED issues and principles. For the purpose of this study, The University of Mumbai has been considered as an example.

Architectural Curricula And Conventional Teaching Methods:

The Bachelor of Architecture Course at the Mumbai University is for 5 years. The year is divided into two semesters for ease of teaching and bifurcation of subjects, each year consisting of about 9 to 12 subjects having varying weightage. However, the examinations are held at the end of the year. Usually, each semester consists of 20 weeks (30 hours per week) of student contact time at the study centre. This time period includes teaching theory, assigning projects, and assessing work. Little change has been observed over the last few decades in contemporary architectural education all over the world, with the curriculum mainly consisting of two major divisions, applied design units and theoretical units (Rutherford and Wilson 2006). Traditionally, Design Studio Projects are given more importance in architectural schools and in the profession, with specialist modules like structures, services and environmental sciences are only conveyed through lectures. For decades the importance of these specialist subjects has been overlooked and their application has been left to the experts in the individual fields. Students also tend to ignore these issues as they are not incorporated actively in the design process.

"...the achievement of a truly design-oriented integrated 'Sustainable' curriculum is one that still proves elusive, compounded by the nature of the subject itself" (Altomonte, S. 2009)

Environmental Design In The Current Curriculum:

Currently, at the second year level, Climatology is a subject taught in the form of weekly lectures and sessional work. It introduces the Effect of Climate on man, shelter and environment and the factors affecting Human Comfort conditions. It further undertakes study of the Macro and Microclimate, and the Impact of Climate and Buildings on Ecological Balance. It also provides an introduction to key environmental issues that form the basis of ED. At the fourth year level, Environmental Architecture is offered as an elective subject and students undertaking this subject attend lectures on a weekly basis with sessional work used for assessment purpose. The syllabus covers Sustainability and Sustainable developments, Strategies for Passive Solar Design, Rain Water Harvesting Techniques, Thermal comfort, Life-cycle Assessment and Energy Efficiency, Thermal radiation and Evaporative Cooling. The involvement of students in practical applications of these theories and related case studies and analysis forms the core of the sessional work. But the reach of this subject is limited to the students who choose this elective. The current BArch curriculum of the Mumbai University does not include any other direct subjects related to Environmental Design.

Problems Faced In Teaching Environmental Design:

The terminology for Sustainability, Environmental Design, Green Architecture, Sustainable Development, Bio-Climatic Design, etc. is confusing and students tend to misinterpret the meaning of these terms. This results in a general lack of clarity and understanding about SED Principles.

ED has been traditionally considered a part of Environmental Science and is incorporated as a theoretical subject and not part of the design studio project.

There is a general lack of co-ordination between Architectural Design and other related disciplines such as Civil Engineering, Services and Environmental Science, which makes it difficult for the students to understand and imagine the combination of the various disciplines into a building.

Students understand the basics of ED through the lectures but fail to implement these principles in design without the help of the studio tutors as these principles involve many calculations and are full of numbers.

Students tend to ignore responding to the environment when tackling a design problem as generally there are no such specific requirements or criteria for marking, stated by the tutors while formulating the design brief.

Professors and tutors also tend to overlook the environmental issues and give more consideration to design aesthetics during the evaluation process.

All these factors result in the student losing the opportunity to examine and experiment with the various environmental strategies and responses at student level, which leads to the lack of environmental sensitivity and knowledge among architects emerging out of Architectural schools.

Proposed Curriculum And Teaching Methods:


Lectures have been used most frequently as the tool for conveying information to students in a limited time-frame. But lectures alone are proving to be inefficient in the teaching of Environmental Design.

"In architecture, lecturing has become one of the most popular supports to Design, especially in subjects like technology, construction and history. However, sometimes it seems that they [the lectures] have no effect on the Design" (Gelernter 1988).

Variety is needed to maintain the motivation necessary for the effective and efficient learning of Environmental Design. Smith states that the learning of Environmental Education, will improve with the use of learning experiences and relevance of the information rather than presentation techniques and simple exchange of information (Smith 1987) Lectures are good in providing the basic foundation of environmental knowledge but when supported by other means like design studios are more effective. This allows the integration of the lecture data into design projects to help students relate the techniques introduced earlier into practical design ideas and gain a deeper understanding of the subject. Neel states that the integration of design projects and technical subjects works well if the technical design information is relevant to the design (Neel 1969). In a design project variable parameters allow for the students to be able to change one or more things at a time to evolve the design environmentally, which gives the student complete control to implement and experiment with environmental solutions.

Integrated Design Approach:

During the 5 year BArch course at the University of Mumbai, introduction to environmental issues should be started from the 1st year of study, this will set a foundation for the subject of Climatology already taught in the 2nd year. This will also allow for some time during the 2nd year for design based sessional work. This will include simple design problems where students would have to demonstrate basic responses to the climate and environment like orientation, layout and generation of a basic form according to sun, wind direction and rain. The same problem would be given to students with the same requirements and building type, but the site given to different students would be different. For example, for a class of 20 students, the problem given can be designing a detached house for a family of 5 and the site for this can be 4 climatically different sites with 5 students sharing the same site. This would also allow for these 5 students to form a group and discuss and share ideas among themselves. The problem will be treated as a short design problem and will also involve some tutorial sessions.

Finally a presentation will be given by each group about their project, site conditions, climatic data and its implications and basic design responses in terms of form and orientation. This project can also include the study of the vernacular architecture of the city or region given, which will be presented by the groups. This is how the environmental issues can be taught at the basic level. At the third and fourth year level the requirements and complexity of the design problem can be increased to include the issues addressed through the lectures. Also, projects can be designed to involve some problem-solving by students like water management, energy efficiency, incorporating renewable technology, etc. Alternatively, the students can also be asked to work on a design project from the previous year's studio projects to critically analyse and make changes according to the appropriate responses to environmental issues. This will also help develop in the students the critical skills needed to assess a building through environmental parameters.

Complementary Teaching Methods:

Lectures, seminars and workshops by invited experts can also be an effective way of communicating the subject to the students. A workshop or a discussion held immediately following a lecture allows for ideas being clearly understood and leading to better identify the possibilities of implementing SED principles in design projects. Case studies and Site Visits to projects which have been successful in responding to environmental concerns is another way by which students can learn from examples. This method is very effective as it helps clear misconceptions of students regarding successful implementation of environmental design and its contribution to the design process as a concept. It may also help students realize that environmental design is not necessarily anti-design.

Testing And Simulations:

Testing Methods like Ecotect, Heliodon, Artificial Sky, Wind Tunnel testing, etc. are useful in testing the strategies and design ideas of students with respect to light, heat and air. These methods help inform students' decisions regarding specific design strategies and provide meaningful results to indicate their success. These tools should be introduced through the design problems aimed at achieving specific targets like the adequate daylight factor for a specific function or the minimum air flow to allow for natural ventilation, etc. In the current context, the increasing demand for graduates with the knowledge of computer-based analytical tools and simulation software has resulted in the inclusion of these methods in the curriculum of institutions worldwide (Mizban and Roberts, 2008).

Proposal For An Environmental Architecture Competition

- A Competitive Approach to teaching Environmental Design:

7.1 Introduction:

For the University of Mumbai, as a case study we look at The National Association of Students of Architecture (NASA) which was formed in 1957, with over 120 architectural schools in Asia as members, hosts an annual convention featuring architectural competitions, seminars and workshops over a span of 4 days. Within this existing framework which has been successfully reaching out to architectural students for over 50 years, a design competition with the theme of Sustainability and Environmental Design can be proposed in order to engage students from all over the country with Sustainable Environmental Design issues.

7.2 Structure of the Competition:

At the beginning of each academic year (June) the NASA Executive Council will issue the brief for the competition to all the member colleges. This brief will include a design problem based on a specific environmental theme every year for example Water Management, Energy Efficiency, Zero Carbon Design, etc. For this competition every college will be allowed to submit a single design entry which will be developed by a group of students from all the years of the architectural course. Based on this brief, students will have to select a site which shows evidence of the environmental issues mentioned in the brief and work towards developing a design to address those issues. The final design will be presented in the form of printed panels, report as well as an audio-visual presentation during the annual convention held in the month of December. This would give the students approximately six months to work on the analysis and execution of their design proposals.

Expected Outcomes:


The Sustainable Design Competition will act as a boost to the proposed ED curriculum, as a competition would be an interactive platform providing the right motivation to students.

Competitions are an exciting and fun way to engage students in architectural problems as the rewards offered tend to make students more enthusiastic about the work.

As the groups formed for the design competition will involve students from all years of the architectural course, students benefit from learning and interacting with their peers and seniors.

Encouragement and guidance from tutors and experts of the specific environmental fields will ensure a realistic solution to the problem.

Students will learn from the design proposals presented by participating schools from all over the country.

Since the competition is theme specific, students will gain in-depth knowledge about the specific subject rather than learning it as an add-on.

Six months provides sufficient time to do a substantial study of the problem, select an appropriate site and provide a comprehensive design solution that has been tested and analysed.

8.2 Weakness:

The only weakness of this proposal will be the limitation on the number of students from each school participating in the design competition. This issue can be addressed by allowing more than one entry from each participant college.


The competition brief can be made part of the design studio problem given to students as part of the sessional work for the ED module.

In addition to the design competition, the annual convention will also host a series of seminars and workshops related to the environmental theme of the design brief which will be conducted by invited experts from all over the country.


In response to the global demand for architectural graduates, trained to deal with not only creative but also environmental issues, architecture schools worldwide are facing the daunting task of reviewing and revamping their curriculum and teaching methods to incorporate a high level of SED education. A review of the results obtained from the Survey for Academics and the Survey for Building Professionals, conducted as a part of the study undertaken in the workshop, shows that ED taught in architectural institutions is inadequate and inefficient.

The proposed architectural curriculum and the new teaching methodology of combining traditionally used methods like lectures and seminars with workshops, case studies and testing methods, along with an integrated design project can prove to be effective in the education of SED to students through the most important and influencing tool in architectural education- The Design Studio. Students can also further learn and be motivated through participation in Environmental Architectural Competitions organized at a zonal or national level.

The increased engagement of the architectural students with SED issues will not only contribute in the development of environmentally responsible professionals, but will also prove to be a creative inspiration in future architectural practice.