Cornell Students Study the Biophysical World

Teaching design based on an understanding of human behavior and ecological literacy is one of our goals at the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis, a FIDER-accredited program. One way to achieve this literacy is by requiring all design students to take DEA 422, a design-oriented lecture/seminar aimed at educating design professionals who understand their affect on the biophysical world.

The course’s prime objective is to develop a new worldview founded on a broader sensitivity for life on earth. As part of this learning experience, the students develop their environmental ethics. The secondary objectives are to develop a deeper knowledge of environmental issues, construct conceptual frameworks for analysis of these issues, and demonstrate how ecological knowledge can be applied to design.

The course consists of a series of one-week segments that combine a variety of learning experiences and lead to the practice of ecologically aware design. The emphasis is on sustaining the student’s participation throughout the semester through readings, writings, guided nature hikes, site visits, guest lectures, and guided class discussions. They read “The Green Imperative” by Victor Papanek (Thames & Hudson, 1995), “State of the World 2002” by Worldwatch Institute, Lester R. Brown, ed. (W. W. Norton and Co., 2002), “Reshaping the Built Environment” by Charles Kibert, ed. (Island Press, 1999), and “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn (Bantam Books, 1995), and spend time assessing what they read, creating an eco-sensitivity project, and a real-world green team project.

Last year, we worked with a local community, EcoVillage at Ithaca, helping them with envisioning a second neighborhood that embodies principles of sustainability. This year we collaborated with Cornell University’s own Environmental Compliance Office (ECO) to assist with providing US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accreditation for their new office building.

The course is offered through the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis and is cross-listed with Architecture, but attracts students from all corners of the university, including Landscape Architecture, Hotel Administration, and Policy Analysis and Management.

Jack Elliott is an assistant professor at Cornell University’s Department of Design & Environmental Analysis, in the College of Human Ecology. He served as a respondent at Metropolis’s Teaching Green conference, on May 20, 2002.

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