Columbia College Revamps Architecture Curricula Around Sustainability

As I shift sustainablog towards more of a Midwestern focus (though, again, that won’t be exclusive), I realize that I want to avoid it becoming “all Chicago all the time.” But came across another great story out of the Windy City tonight, so I’ll take that risk.

According to Chicago Journal, Columbia College will launch redesigned graduate programs in Architectural Studies and Interior Architecture in the Fall that focus on sustainability. While I’ve taken note of a number of new programs at colleges and universities that focus on green issues, this change seems a bit unique in that it’s incorporating sustainability into the traditional programs, rather than creating a separate track for them.

“This is a prime time for us to jump aboard,” said Joclyn Oats, director of architectural studies and interior architecture programs at Columbia. “It was sort of driven by what is expected by current practice.”

All of the courses in the redesigned curriculums teach students to emphasize sustainable solutions from the beginning of the design process. Students can choose to focus on one of four specific track areas, including sustainability in general, adaptive reuse, museum design, and furniture and exhibit.

Oats, who has been heading the redevelopment process, said that because of LEED certification mandates by city government and incentives given architects and designers who produce sustainable projects, it was time for Columbia to educate students on environmentally conscious design before they get into the field.

“It was time for us to be accountable and to make sure our students understand that they are custodians of the environment,” Oats said. “I think it will give them an edge over students studying interior and architectures, because they’ll already come with the background and skills.”

What’s encouraging here is that the administration and faculty for this program have decided that sustainable design isn’t a niche; rather, it’s a field of knowledge that all graduates in these disciplines should master. LEED accredited architect Marina Panos of VOA Associates tells CJ that she believes this will become the norm: “I think that eventually all architectural schools will require classes in sustainability for their own accreditation.”

As exciting as new programs in organic agriculture and renewable energy technology are (and they’re very exciting), I think this development is really important: for at least this one program at one school, green is the mainstream. If cities and states continue to mandate LEED certification, or other green building criteria, that trend should continue to accelerate. Hopefully, it starts to spread into other curricula, also… engineering schools, anyone?

Photo credit: Josh Hawkins

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