• Monday , 11 November 2019

Climate Change and the Architectural Design Studio, TU Dublin

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The 3rd of May, 2019 was a groundbreaking day for the Dublin School of Architecture. All classes were suspended while an eccentric vibe of enthusiasm was palpable throughout school corridors. Studio projects were put aside for a greater cause: a new climate change agenda.

Students and staff of the TU Dublin School of Architecture gathered together over some pizza and coffee (sustainable cups only!) to discuss the ways in which the DSA can address climate change and redesign its teaching programme towards one that places an emphasis on a responsible and sustainable design approach.

Climate change is here. Now more than ever, the pressure is on architects to lead the change in sustainable thinking. While the nZeb requirements for 2020, alongside the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, are important vehicles in these changes, it is a change in mindset – both of professionals and society – that can have the greatest impact. Architectural education is a medium through which this thinking can be altered, and actions propagated. The DSA is about to undergo a major shift and adopt a responsible approach to how it schools its students.

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The workshops kicked-off with great energy and enthusiasm, with exciting ideas emerging from all years. The questions posed to both students and staff were focused on the architect’s responsibility to society and the environmental challenges of now and of the future, as well as topics within the discipline that could be incorporated into design studio; aiding graduates in being more responsible and better able to tackle climate change. These questions sparked a number of interesting debates on how this could be achieved.


First-year lecturers and students reinforced the feeling that architectural design studio must establish a strong foundation for students, focusing on the development of skills, critical thinking, and ethics. They raised issues around ‘reuse and repurpose’ i.e. using what we already have in our environment, instead of always reaching for the new. Reuse is fundamental to any sustainable approach; be it from entire buildings or sites, down to the materials they consist of. This theme may also allow influence related issues of densification, modern commuting, ways of living, and sustainable construction. Suggesting a careful and critical examination of existing buildings and places, through studying and drawing, can encourage alternative approaches to architectural design, one based on reusing/reviving/repurposing our existing building stock.


Second- and third-year students touched upon holistic master planning, upcycling waste materials, biodiversity/site richness, social resilience and social sustainability, green construction technology and vertical projects.

Fourth-year students delved into the topic of legislative changes, designing reformative systems in politics, economy, and architectural education. Many recognised the issue that students will prioritise whatever academia recognise as being important, and that students will incorporate stronger, more daring ideas on sustainability if staff demand it and grade accordingly. Students recognised that sustainability initiatives are often left aside for the sake of design aesthetics, not just academically but equally in the profession as a whole.

‘There should be a defined school stance. The only way to build is sustainable. Students shouldn’t be able to make exception to being sustainable in the drive for aesthetics. Similarly, we shouldn’t praise and reference projects that don’t consider the environmental impact.’

Fifth-year thesis students concluded that we must set our own individual climate agendas and targets within each design studio brief. We must look at efficient use of typologies, spaces, and hybrid-programmes through site analysis – sustainability is not just reuse and recycle. We must adopt a cradle-to-cradle design, consider sustainable disassembly, use of local materials, the wider contextual impact, and how our projects can give back to the community.

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Changing mind-sets and attitudes towards climate change was a core objective throughout the entirety of the event. To quote Dorte Mandrup, speaking at the IAF New Now Next lecture series: ‘we can read, write and talk about sustainability, but we can change very little in our environments as long as our clients and society are not thinking sustainably.’

This workshop will define the next academic year for the Dublin School of Architecture, demanding that it stands firm in leading the change in architectural education across Ireland. The response to climate change debated at the event will have a major say in adopting a sustainability approach across all teaching modules and school management.
DSA has allowed its students to speak and will now represent their call to provide a robust foundation for a more socially and resourcefully responsible architecture.

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