What is sustainable design? How do you do it? And how do you know when you have succeeded? With the mainstream acceptance of the green building movement, an increasing number of buildings are promoted as examples of green or sustainable design. However, many “green” buildings do not live up to even basic expectations for resource efficiency, are expensive and accessible to only a small fraction of the population, create environments that are unhealthy, have life-spans that are short-lived due to their inability to adapt to changing end-user needs, and fail to create a meaningful sense of place or community.
Defining sustainability requires accounting for the complex interaction of cultural, political, economic and ecological issues encompassing each project. And, it requires understanding how intervention at the scale of a single project can work to support outcomes at the scale of the street, neighborhood, district and beyond. This course begins by setting the context of the present crisis and the complex interconnections that exist. We will then attempt to dismantle the preconceived, incorrect understandings of “green” design and develop appropriate, fundamental principles for a sustainable built environment through a critical examination of existing sustainability metrics and rating systems. Throughout the semester, the course will establish knowledge of sustainable design principles through exploration of central concepts (e.g. resource efficiency, environmental responsiveness, adaptability, life-cycle assessment, place / placelessness), case studies of innovative projects, software tools, and self-directed research. In addition to Los Angeles, a range of urban (and urbanizing) locations across the world will serve as laboratories for investigation. The final third of the semester will be spent examining how specific sustainability performance objectives and strategies can be applied to develop innovative and holistic architectural proposals.