Teaching Green at ICFF 2002

The annual Metropolis conference, held Monday, May 20, at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York in conjunction with the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, included a wide range of people to get at the issues of ethics, aesthetics, collaboration, and nomenclature that permeate the subject of design education and the profession that is its context.

Hillary Brown of New Civic Works, who was integral to the production of New York City Department of Design & Construction’s High Performance Building Guidelines, framed the issues. “We must be accountable, think ecologically, and understand what that brings to design, and embrace our aesthetic loyalty to nature.”

Vivian Loftness, professor and head of the Carnegie Mellon University department of architecture described a series of next steps that schools can take to improve their sustainability curriculum. These steps included getting schools of architecture and engineering to rewrite their mission statements, hire and tenure environmental education professionals, and promoting multidisciplinary research at schools of architecture, interior design and engineering.

“Architecture is an art and a science,” she said. “Somewhere along the way we lost the science, and we must bring that back.”

Colin Cathcart, of Kiss + Cathcart Architects and an educator at Fordham University, noted that, “For a corporate audience, LEED [the U.S. Green Building Council’s building rating system] is a great button to push. But to approach the education of architects and other designers through LEED would be a disaster. We need to approach it through first principles-rain falls, sun shines, mud happens. These are central to getting the sensual spaces that are architecture.”

Annie Pearce, an engineer and educator emphasized that Georgia Tech University didn’t want sustainable design to be a specialized degree. “We want it integrated seamlessly into the curriculum, like safety.” She also noted that “students learn best by doing, and we need to push for more hands-on learning.”

At the Rural Studio , learning by doing, and connecting that doing to the people and community around you, is fundamental. Andrew Freear, a professor at the Rural Studio said, “We don’t think of this as sustainability. This is just about place-based, resourceful architecture imbued with accountability and creativity.”

Jean Gardner, professor, and Michael Morris, studio instructor, both at Parsons School of Design, pushed the nomenclature issue as well. “What we’re calling sustainability now is what architecture is,” Gardner said. “This is not another category. This comes out of your core being. Architecture has always been about negotiating with the universe, until the last 150 years. Since then, we have not been negotiating in a way that will keep us on this planet.”

More than 150 designers, students, and educators attended Teaching Green. More information about the conference is available online.

The conference was sponsored by Interface Flooring Systems and supported by George Little Management and the International Contemporary Furniture Fair. The Metropolis survey was sponsored by BlueBolt; results of the survey will be available online. Complete coverage of the conference, including excerpts from more of the 20 people who spoke, will also be available soon.