Enhancing Critical Sustainability in the Design Studio: An Action Research Project

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Sustainability is a complex and contestable field. The architectural design studio typically frames sustainable design as a technical, performance orientated exercise, often at the expense of contextualised responses which address the conflicting needs of a range of stakeholders. Sustainability is often viewed at odds with “design”, in part driven by teaching structures which outsource sustainability to satellite units, elective modules or specialist consultants.
This paper describes an action research project to enhance integration of sustainability into the architectural design studio. It took place over an academic semester on an MArch course at a leading UK institution. The researcher staged a series of interventions into the design studio through workshops, lectures and tutorials. A cyclical reflective process informed the structure of these sessions led to the development of a model to encourage critical responses to sustainable design.
The findings show that while the workshops were deemed valuable in isolation, developing effective long-term learning for sustainability which enhanced individual design practices was more challenging. Some students were able to adapt the content and methodology of the workshops and integrate this into their own design process. Others, however, struggled to relate the sessions to their studio work without regular input. There were also differences in how students integrated the knowledge created through the workshops; some saw it as a means to clarify conceptual strategies while others used it as an analytical tool.
This research concludes that although the interventions enhanced learning, their effect was limited by the implicit agenda and expectations of the design studio. Framing design as an autonomous activity which is independent, or contradictory, to sustainability was prevalent in the design studio, acting as a significant barrier to change. This paper also presents the resultant model for critical analysis of sustainable design. The findings have significance for architectural pedagogy and the nature of teaching interactions. Structured learning through facilitated workshops and seminars, embedded within the studio, may offer legitimate alternatives to the more common desk-top tutorial and “crit”.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 24 Apr 2019
EventLearning through practice: The AAE conference 2019 - University of Westminster, London, UK United Kingdom
Duration: 24 Apr 201926 Apr 2019


ConferenceLearning through practice
Country/TerritoryUK United Kingdom
Internet address


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