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Architecture Now: A History of Sustainable Architecture

As we move further into the 21st century, architects, planners, landscape architects and the general public are increasingly concerned with climate change, environmental degradation, energy and water consumption and the role the built environment plays in contributing to or addressing these issues. Buildings consume almost 40% of the energy used in this country. The way we access buildings, the materials used to construct them, the demands of users within the building all require the earth’s increasingly precious resources. So how did we get here? How did our built environment evolve to require so much energy, water and so many resources? It is easy to think that our environmental concerns regarding architecture’s role in the environment are new to society. However, environmental worries are not new. This course explores the history of sustainable architecture with a look back to vernacular building styles and passive design strategies that addressed climatic factors. We will investigate the Industrial Revolution as it transformed buildings and transportation and study the varied responses to the degradation of the natural world through the Arts and Crafts Movement and writers and thinkers of the 19th century. We will contrast our study of early environmentalists and their ideas for the built environment with more mainstream efforts of architects and designers of the 19th and 20th centuries, including Frank Lloyd Wright and le Corbusier, to better understand the formation of architecture’s historical cannon and the environmental outliers who critiqued the dangers of the ‘Machine Age.’ We will then explore more accelerated trends of the 1960s and ‘70s that paralleled the birth of modern environmentalism in the wake of exposés such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Finally, the course will conclude with an examination of recent ideas surrounding ‘green’ buildings such as LEED certification and the Living Building Challenge. Understanding the history of the built environment offers a powerful lens for understanding our environmental future. Such history shows us our mistakes and successes and will help us move forward thinking critically about how we can live in the future. “History is not everything, but it is a starting point. History is a clock that people use to tell their political and cultural time of day. It is a compass they use to find themselves on the map of human geography. It tells them where they are but, more importantly, what they must be.” John Henrik Clarke The course will include guest speakers, lectures on Mondays and Wednesdays, and discussions about readings on Fridays (in Dickinson 109). There will be a mid-term and final, and two written assignments: one a short, written response and the second, a longer research paper.