Teaching Sustainable Design at Cal Poly Pomona: Hands-on and Hands to Build

July 30, 2015
Session R1B: Sustainable Design: From Course to Community — Room 105
9:00 am  -  10:00 am

It is necessary to equip designers with the knowledge and tools to optimize building performance and reduce our impact on the environment. This paper discusses a series of design studios and seminar courses at Cal Pomona that aim to educate future designers implementing hands on and design, build, evaluate methods, while at the same time helping communities in need.

The students in the studio design the project to a conceptual level, while the students in the seminar continue its development with emphasis on designing, building and testing the passive and active systems in the project. Work from these courses has been presented in several conferences and received multiple awards including an Honorable Mention in the EPA P3 competition in 2007, the 2008 NCARB grand prize, and the 2012 Educate Award, in addition to the NCARB Grant in 2011 and the Designing Futures Grant in 2013, both in the USA.

In the design studio the students strived to design low cost, environmentally friendly buildings for communities in need. During this process students received input from local architects and engineers, and sometimes received paid internships at local firms to develop construction drawings for the projects. Projects have included affordable houses in Pomona, San Diego, Tijuana and Venezuela and a Community Center in Tecate, Mexico. Students balanced and combined technical tools such as energy simulation with community interviews and site visits. Client and community participation was an important part of the process and meetings with the communities allowed the students to better understand their needs and aspirations.

In the seminar courses the students designed, built and tested different systems to improve comfort and reduce use of non-renewable resources. These included rain water harvesting system, low cost solar hot water, variable insulation-shading window; low cost passive cooling systems such as roof ponds, radiators, cool towers; and passive heating systems such as direct gain systems, Trombe wall systems, and water wall systems. The goal was always to achieve low cost and ease of construction with local materials and labor, generating income that stayed in the community, promoting economic development through job creation. Because of their low cost and possibility of integration with local technologies and materials, they are viable options in many countries, helping to create buildings that are very affordable, respond to the needs of the community and are adapted to local context, promoting an alternative form of vernacular innovation different from developed countries with a carbon based economy.

In most cases the length of the courses made it difficult to have a detailed development of the ideas and systems, however, more than 300 undergraduate and graduate architecture and regenerative studies students have benefited from a heightened awareness of real-world problems while several communities benefited with the projects.