Natural, Human, and Building Ecologies
J. Kobet, AIA, continued from previous section
enrich the formal learning experience, we must continue to expand environmental
education by promoting an equitable emphasis on each of the three ecologies:
natural, human, and building.
Existing designs that recognize natural systems and include features that
make them visible and accessible should be recognized as pioneers in the
march toward more comprehensive and effective learning environments. In
addition to these valuable works, we need to do the following:
- Construct an
environmental education approach that fuses the three ecologies.
The basic constructs of each are alluded to in contemporary K-12 education,
but the connections are not put forth in an integrated manner. Course
competencies and evaluation metrics do not require a comprehensive understanding
of the connections between them. Most state environmental education
standards, in fact, do not formally recognize the built environment
as an integral part of the core curriculum. Unless this is changed,
the inclusion of built environmental issues and topics will be very
long in coming.
- Recognize trends
toward physical learning environments that are not located in traditional
schools. Increased flexibility, changing technologies, performance based
learning, etc., are all compatible with the goals of built environmental
education and learning environments that are an extension of the curriculum.
The tenets of sustainable design range from global to local concerns.
Understanding the ecological footprint of a school, however the
school is configured or defined, is as important and valid as basic
energy concepts and recycling programs. Certainly there is more to learn
from how and where a school obtains its resources and disposes of its
waste than from collecting cans. Too often this study is relegated
to environmental "clubs" and extracurricular activities. The
K-12 learning sequence should be retooled to include the introduction
and development of what the built environment is about.
- Include all
stakeholders in the exploration of the physical environment as an extension
of the curriculum. The
lessons from the pioneer schools that include rainwater harvesting and
sundials should serve as the foundation for a much more comprehensive
and robust approach to using school facilities and community learning
venues as an extension of the curriculum.
Learning environments premised on teacher/student ability to
rearrange space and equipment to suit a variety of learning or program
needs should consider involving the same stakeholders in other potentially
more meaningful ways. For instance, a well-designed computer network
capable of such things as multi-tasking and individual and group learning
configurations is a good starting place. A computer network that enables
students in a cluster to monitor energy flows through the school or
learning community in real time has a great potential for learning and
instruction. Information gained from the simple
tracking of energy, material, and nutrient flows through the school
could be incorporated into everything from traditional math classes
to the social sciences and economics. A school with static light
shelves to optimize daylighting and control unwanted solar gain has
value in explaining solar geometry and diurnal cycles. Allowing students
to adjust exterior shading devices in response to seasonal changes has
even greater value. Fabric awnings and other kinetic devices designed
and constructed by students that define outdoor learning spaces and
provide shelter have another, distinct set of learning opportunities.
- Expand the number
and diversity of subjects benefiting from a comprehensive built environmental
education curriculum. Vocational education programs focusing on building
trades can easily include a broad band of information pertaining to
green building practices. Building science and construction trade courses
that include green design concepts are an obvious place to start. Facilities
defined by architecture that illustrate simple machines and solar and
lunar geometry can provide a stimulating environment for teaching math,
physics, and the sciences. School grounds that
include community or school gardens can impact food service, culinary
classes, and biology courses in ways that include active student participation
- Continue to seek
ways that make visible how buildings function and how they are connected
to the greater community and environment at large. Exposed structural
systems carry specific opportunities. Color-coding truss members to
indicate compression and tension can enhance the understanding of statics
and the resolution of structural forces. Cable trays and access flooring,
where appropriate, can serve to make visible how building services are
distributed. Waste management can include on-site composting of organic
materials and recycling programs run by student organizations. Implementing
an allergy-free, nontoxic cleaning regimen holds a myriad of opportunities
for a healthier learning environment and learning modules focusing on
human ecology and physiology. Art programs that utilize non-toxic supplies
and environmental themes, and chemistry classes that practice microchemistry
can reduce negative impacts on the environment while increasing environmental
awareness. Food service that promotes community-supported agriculture
and local food purveyors can forge meaningful relationships with the
community that students should know more about and become part of.
In order to accomplish
the goals of moving toward an integrated approach to environmental education
and architecture as an extension of the curriculum, several things must
- School administrators
must advocate for changes in the existing curriculum, course requirements,
and evaluation methodologies. Agencies that set education standards
must recognize the importance of understanding the built environment
as a matter of social and economic responsibility. Those who teach or
deliver education services should promote built environmental education
through available channels: parent/teacher organizations, environmental
education consortiums, conferences, and other public forums.
- Teacher education
programs and ongoing education requirements that include material specific
to an understanding of the built environment are essential. Teachers
willing to adapt their teaching practices and course offerings to take
advantage of architecture designed to be an extension of the curriculum
are critical to the using of high performance green schools effectively.
Teacher training and internship experiences should include built environment
- Foster partnerships
in designing school facilities that enable a more thorough understanding
and knowledge of course content, education standards and delivery methods.
The design professional responsible for the physical facility is a partner
in the development of the curriculum. The teacher, in turn, will benefit
from a working knowledge of what design professionals do.
- Make architecture/curriculum
development ideas a priority. Ideas discussed in charrette that never
make it into the design are lost opportunities. Building features such
as rain water harvesting, landscaping for energy conservation and wildlife
habitat, the site as an arboretum, etc., are only valuable if they are
fully integrated and implemented cost effectively.
- Forge partnerships
that will enable the outcome of the design process to be as comprehensive
as possible. Some of these may already be in place. With others, it
may be necessary to educate the potential partner about the purposes
of the project. For instance, building control suppliers may be willing
to supply the software or programming skills to monitor energy systems
in real time in a classroom setting. Conservancies or local gardening
clubs may be willing to participate if they have the master plan explained
in a way that satisfies their mission and yearly budget.
The goal of the integration
of architecture and environmental education is to empower learners to
make informed decisions about the built environment and its impact on
themselves and the natural world. If we are to win
the race between education and disaster, it is time we revise the current
education paradigm to include a greater awareness and knowledge of the
all of the environments we create. It is the only way we can preserve
the one that sustains us.
enrich the formal learning experience, we must continue to expand
environmental education by promoting an equitable emphasis on each
of the three ecologies: natural, human, and building"
Learning with tools
the ecological footprint of a school, however the school is configured
or defined, is as important and valid as basic energy concepts and
recycling programs. Certainly there is more to learn from how and
where a school obtains its resources and disposes of its waste than
from collecting cans."
J. Kobet, AIA
President, Sustainaissance International
Kobet, AIA is President of Sustainaissance International, (SI),
a multidisciplinary architectural consulting practice focusing
on sustainable design and development and environmental education.
He has completed projects or is currently engaged in work in North
America, Central Europe, Africa, Haiti and China.
career combines 23 years of green design and architecture for
the chemically sensitive with a parallel career in teaching. He
is a member of CEFPI and is assisting several schools with various
aspects of high performance green school design and the US Green
Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design
(LEED) building rating system.
He is active
in the US Green Building Council and the AIA National Committee
on the Environment. In addition to his professional practice Mr.
Kobet is a member of the Carnegie Mellon University School of
Architecture where he teaches a studio and an elective in Sustainable
Design and Development.
is the primary author of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Guidelines
for Creating High Performance Green Building, and has written
or contributed to scores of articles and book chapters on the
subject of high performance architecture, sustainable design and
built environmental education.
5140 Friendship Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15224