with university students.
University of Auckland Architecture students get together to discuss the importance of sustainable practice in their education.
Mitzi O'Brien (5th year MArch(Prof))
I am a 4th year Masters student, going into my thesis year in 2022. I am passionate about installation architecture, and investigating the space in which architecture and art meet. I have been primarily involved in the formation of publications for ‘Unified Peaks’, drawing out and explaining the inspirations behind the project.
Clare Na (4th year MArch(Prof))
Hi, my name is Clare Na, a Bachelor of Architecture graduate from the University of Auckland. I am involved in the screening design of the sculpture, creating various patterns out of recycled plastic strapping. My passion for sustainable architecture is a crucial aspect when designing, hence, helping me to explore this aspect through digital modelling, providing a pathway of addressing innovative designs.
Grayson Croucher (4th year MArch(Prof))
I just completed my bachelors - so I guess I'm an MArch(Prof) Student now, 4th year (woah). Passionate about alternative solutions to architecture relating to cultural identity within Aotearoa.
I have been heavily involved with the 3D modeling of 'Unified Peaks' - Aiding in the process of breaking down components and manufacturing logistics.
How well do you think the current construction/architectural industries are implementing sustainable practice (in education specifically: what have we been taught)? Do you think we are doing enough?
There has been a focus on sustainable practice throughout our education; however, that focus usually remains within the bounds of our sustainability courses, with limited permeation into other core design papers. In terms of the perception of sustainable practice within the industry, taking into account our position as students with limited practical experience, there is a general feeling that there have been moves to implement greater degrees of sustainable practice throughout the industry. However, legislation and regulation for these practices are what we feel will encourage more meaningful change. Throughout the Bachelor of Architecture at VUW there were a variety of technologies introduced to students which looked at bioclimatic design and technology that analysed luminous, acoustics, and thermal environments. Should more importance be placed on what was taught in this subject, and a greater allocation of resources, the depth of the teaching and time permitted to learn these techniques could improve. Projects with sustainability as a key focus included green roofs, solar panels and hydroponic green walls, which were interesting to learn about but were elements we felt less likely to implement in our other design projects. The student's focus seemed to rely on: “If it looks green it is sustainable.”
Did you know that the environmental impact of current building practice is five times greater than what is required to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement ?
There was a general lack of surprise at this statistic. The consensus was that it didn't appear that the industry's current path was projected to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. A key improvement in meeting these goals would potentially be through the development of specific milestones that have a numerical value regarding carbon emissions, as opposed to guidelines. The New Zealand climate in some places isn't as extreme as other places in the world, so we seem to get away with building to the degree that meets the standard instead of using that as the starting point. The only way forward is for legislation to come in that places a legal requirement to meet climate-conscious goals. Money is always a key factor; subsequently, if costs increase due to an improved sustainable building practice, and these changes are not legislated - there is no motivation other than a moral one to meet them. The need to create housing for a growing population is another factor that puts other issues on the back burner. Even in the case of finding affordable methods of sustainable design, it is a matter of allowing innovation to occur, exemplified in the case of the high density medium-rise developments popping up all over Auckland. There seems to be a lack of design time allowing for the rearranging of architectural elements within a development to prioritise quality of life, as opposed to a “one size fits every site” mentality. We have been taught that in the architectural process that there are three factors: design/quality; cost; and time, and that only two of these three can be met.
How do think it can be improved?
University-level teaching in regards to sustainable building practice would be improved if the course content was meaningfully entwined with our other courses. It seems that there is a lack of resource allocation for these departments. The education is there and significant, however, it feels rushed and not followed through into other papers, which reduces its presence in students' design processes. Sustainable goals on a design brief are often viewed as a limitation, as opposed to an opportunity, for innovation. There needs to be a change in our view of sustainability, shifting from a traditional approach to architectural education, refreshing the approach with sustainable practice and future environments considered thoroughly throughout our degree. We should be leaving uni with knowledge of new technologies and practices instead of learning a traditional approach and then graduating only to regurgitate existing knowledge. Passive design is an example of a strategy used throughout our design process, as it is viewed as simply a good design strategy relaxing the label of ‘sustainable design’ attributed to it. Using different materials and innovative building systems requires additional expertise and moves away from comfortable and known building methods.
What is your view on the importance of sustainable practice over the past few years?
Our personal knowledge of sustainability and sustainable practice in the world of architecture has been built upon every year that we have participated in uni. If emphasis is not placed on sustainable alternatives in a design brief, they can fall to the wayside in place of freedom of design. However, moves to introduce software such as carbon analysis tools are in progress. Yet, these tools can be challenging to use, encouraging a last-minute approach to their inclusion in our working processes.
Utopian ideas: In an ideal world what would your industry look like to you ?
In an ideal world, no element of the design/quality, time, and cost triangle would be sacrificed; these factors could all be present. There would also be more time to look and develop material innovation in this utopian world, potentially functioning as a think tank of sorts for the development of new systems, and sponsored by the industry. In effect, creating a resource of knowledge created not just by students but also by those experienced in the industry. Another concept raised was building for end of life, where a large percentage of building elements and materials are recycled or saved. It would be interesting to have the ability to rebuild Auckland from scratch, create efficient transport links, and design desirable medium-high density living that helps change the perception of an ideal living situation from the detached home with a yard. And lastly, the prioritisation of housing as a right, to put a roof over one’s head, as opposed to an investment opportunity.