“Students are told to ignore existing building” – Survey reveals education gap in retrofit

The survey of more than 400 students based in the UK revealed significant gaps in teaching about the circular economy and how to reuse existing buildings, with 26 per cent claiming more focus was needed on the topic.

Alarmingly, a sixth of those surveyed (17 per cent) said retrofitting is a priority at their school, with one respondent saying: [their] Students to “ignore” the building that is currently on site. “

Another said, “I’ve never had experience with a retrofit project.”

Other anonymous comments from the survey included: “Some teachers are still happy that people are constructing new buildings using virgin materials. There is no teaching about reuse, retrofitting or circular economy during teaching hours.

Another student added, “There are adaptive reuse projects in the studio, but the technicalities and details are not covered as much as the new design.”

“Most units do not have reuse and modification at the core of their agenda,” said a student at a top-ranked London school.

However, the survey shows that students are more likely to be taught about the broader topics of climate emergency, sustainable design, and carbon for life.

According to 27 percent of those surveyed, sustainability underpins every aspect of their undergraduate courses.

Teachers openly said “sustainable architecture is ugly”

One participant said: ‘Almost an entire unit focused on reading about the climate emergency in the first year. [It was] Fascinating and motivating to be a part of.

Another added:[These topics are] I basically talked about nonstop, which is fine. However, it is often spoken of at the expense of other important considerations. For example, students continue to place hydroponic farms and the like in places where it would not make any economic sense.

Figures show that four percent of students still do not receive any tuition fees in the field of sustainability and more than two-thirds believe that teaching in this field can be improved.

Of the respondents who were dissatisfied with their schools, one said:[These topics] It’s discussed in some capacity in our environmental technology unit, but there’s no mention in tutorials or reviews. These issues should drive design but we are rarely taught the basics and it is very difficult to drive sustainable design with knowledge we don’t have!

“I’m not sure it’s even on many teachers’ radars to be honest.”

Another added: “The teachers explicitly said stop [focusing on this area] “Sustainable architecture is ugly.”


Carl Meddings, MArch Program Leader for Sustainable Architecture at the Center for Alternative Technology

These survey results are really interesting and disturbing.

It’s nice to see that some of the responses say this ‘supports everything we do’, but it’s disappointing that 73% of the responses acknowledge there’s more to do. Much more than that in some cases.

Changes to courses and curricula within universities can be a very slow process. The climate and biodiversity emergency is now a major topic and architecture schools are paying more attention to these issues, but they clearly don’t feel the urgency they need.

Sustainability is not a plus

Sustainability and all associated thinking is not an add-on. It must be at the heart of architectural education if we are to equip future practitioners to be the change-makers they will need to be. We need to do architecture differently and explore the issues much more deeply. It’s really a matter of values. If architecture is anything, it is a manifestation of our species’ relationship to our planet. Environmental concerns are part of the architectural humanities, architectural design, and architectural technology. It’s a big issue, a community issue, it’s about flexibility and equality and fairness.

We must also be careful about how current architectural practice (which operates as it does in the prevailing neoliberal political system) affects architectural education. This, along with widespread “Greenwash”, can obscure the values ​​we might aspire to. Groups such as the Student Climate Action Network (Stucan) and Decolonise Architecture do a great job in this regard, acting as a mirror to the profession.

Much of the future architects’ work would be with existing buildings

The question about retrofitting is more troubling. Schools often shy away from design exercises where renewal and reuse are explored. There is no escaping the fact that our construction stock needs to be upgraded to meet our commitment to zero carbon targets. Much of our future architects’ work will work with existing buildings. The current education of architects in this field occurs mainly in practice. There is certainly room for innovation in architectural education around retrofitting, reuse, reappropriation, and the circular economy. Just as important as working with what we have, we must also recognize that we must work closely with “who” we have. The occupants of our buildings and communities are key to achieving truly transformative adaptation.

Many of these issues are areas of exploration (student-led, usually) at the Part 2 level, but the foundation should certainly be in Part 1. University courses are fertile ground for exploring alternative ways of thinking and should provide students with essential tools for construction analysis and design. Currently, ARB is considering focusing its attention on Part II courses in the process of changing prescribing procedures. This is framed in terms of creating different avenues in the profession and extending access to unrepresented groups – which is not a bad thing and something the entire profession should work for and advocate for – but at what cost? It is a matter of concern, given the results of this survey, that it appears that the ARB prescription in Part 1 will be gone.

Pierce Taylor, Unseen Studio

In relation to the buildings themselves, environmental thinking is a very difficult thing to teach in the context of many courses, requiring more specific projects rather than general projects. With our students we always try to work on real sites with real buildings and real materials, which means it’s much easier to work with finite elements and understand that materials are finite and real and can drive design decisions all the way through a project.

When materials and projects are abstract, it can be difficult to develop integrated proposals that look carefully at resources. On a slightly larger scale, it is dangerous to speak of building design as a “solution” to the environmental crisis because it appeals to the arrogant nature of architecture and architects’ desire to be the hero. Integrated approaches where architecture interacts with the world have never been more important, hence my tension with paper projects that don’t conflict with decisions based on the world’s challenges in terms of client and cost. and resources.

Perhaps the troubling aspect of the survey is that it suggests that in many schools, environmental thinking is “discrete” from design – or even an “exclusive” consideration that can drive everything abstractly rather than being an essential part of every decision.

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