The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture

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fall 2008

ARC 386M:
Topics in Architectural Theory: Sustainable Architecture

Michael Garrison


The intent of this course is to learn to integrate sustainable building and planning principles into the form making process of architectural design. This course is intended to be one of a series of design enrichment seminars that explore in depth the principles of qualitative and quantitative design.


Since the Industrial Revolution, the world has witnessed incalculable technological achievements, population growth, and corresponding increases in resource use. As we enter a new century, we are recognizing the "side effects" of our activities: pollution, landfills at capacity, toxic waste, global warming, resource and ozone depletion, and deforestation. These efforts are straining the limits of the Earth's "carrying capacity" -- its ability to provide the resources required to sustain life while retaining the capacity to regenerate and remain viable. As the world's population continues to expand, implementation of resource-efficient measures in all areas of human activity is imperative.

The built environment is one clear example of the impact of human activity on resources. Buildings have a significant impact on the environment, accounting for one-sixth of the world's freshwater withdrawals, one-quarter of its wood harvest and two-fifths of its material and energy flows. Structures also impact areas beyond their immediate location, affecting the watersheds, air quality, and transportation patterns of communities.

Within the United States, buildings represent more than 50 percent of the nation's wealth. New construction and renovation activity amounts for approximately $800 billion, representing 13 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and employs ten million people. The building sector consumes 45% of the annual U.S. energy use; 70% of the annual U.S. electrical generation use, and produces 48% of the annual U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The resources required to create, operate and replenish this level of infrastructure and income are enormous and are diminishing. To remain competitive and continue to expand and produce profits in the future, the building industry knows it must address the environmental and economic consequences of its actions.

The recognition is leading to changes in the way the building industry and building owners approach the design, construction, and operation of structures. With the leadership of diverse groups in the public and private sectors, the building industry is moving toward a new value in its work: that of environmental performance.

The industry's growing sustainability ethic is based on the principles of resource efficiency, health, and productivity. Realization of these principles involves an integrated, multi-disciplinary approach--one in which a building project and its components are viewed on a full life-cycle basis. This "cradle-to-cradle" approach, known as "green" or "sustainable" building, considers a building's total economic and environmental impact and performance, from material extraction and product manufacture to product transportation, building design and construction, operations and maintenance, and building reuse or disposal. Ultimately, adoption of sustainable building practices will lead to a shift in the building industry, with sustainability thoroughly embedded in its practice, products, standards, codes, and regulations.


The course content will: survey the principles of environmentally sensitive design and planning, review case studies of "green building" applications and explore various concepts for integrating sustainable planning and building principles into the form making process of architectural design. The process includes: an analysis of bioclimatic design principles; design with climate; integration of passive heating and cooling systems; water conservation planning; waste systems; and the basis for specifying sustainable building materials.


The course will have four components, including: 1) regularly scheduled lectures; 2) a series of reading assignments; 3) class discussions; and 4) two research papers. Note the five components compliment each other. The lectures and readings are offered to provide the basic "information" of the course. The class discussions should explore the implications of the topics considered in the lectures and readings. Finally, the paper assignments are meant to encourage student synthesis of the course material and challenge the student to pursue further research and implementation of sustainable strategies in design and planning.


There will be two papers or written documentation and evaluations of proposed designs or case study examples of Sustainable Architecture set forth in the course lectures and readings.

The first paper is a team (team of 2) project that should explore sustainable communities. The typed research paper should be approximately, 2000 words in length and include both: GOOD quality graphic examples of your research topic, and thoroughly documented case studies of your research topic. The paper is due Sept. 25, 2008 and should also include the precedent studies of either prefabricated buildings and or sustainable buildings.

The second paper is a class project composed of several groups of two team members each. The project for all the team members should explore concepts of sustainable building in relation to a proposed “greening of the main campus at the University of Texas at Austin”. The typed research paper should be approximately 4000 words in length and include both: GOOD quality graphic examples of your research topic, and thoroughly documented case studies of your research topic. Your paper will be due December 1, 2009. And you should prepare a presentation to the class during the final week of class.

These papers will worth: 25 points for paper one, 10 points for your participation in class discussions, 50 points for paper two, and 15 points for your presentation of paper two.

All papers should be left in the instructor’s faculty mail box no later than 5 PM on they day that they are due. Papers more than one class period late will be lowered one letter grade for each class that the paper continues to be late.

Class attendance in this course is mandatory and absences from the class unrelated to course work will generally have an adverse effect on the student's final grade in the course.

The University of Texas at Austin provides upon request appropriate academic accommodations for qualified students with disabilities. For more information contact the Office of the Dean of Students at 471-6259.

If you have a conflict during office hours you may make an appointment with the instructor at 471-0185 or via e-mail at mgarrison@mail.utexas.edu.