Environmental Design in University Curricula and Architectural Training in Europe (EDUCATE)

Lopez de Asiain Alberich, Maria; Altomonte, Sergio

Widespread awareness of climate change – together with the requirements of new regulations – is triggering professional demands for architects with advanced skills in sustainable environmental design. Regrettably, several pedagogical barriers hinder the comprehensive implementation of environmental sustainability in higher education curricula, whilst regulatory bodies have been slow to contributing towards the effective promotion of sustainability in professional practice. In response to these challenges, the EU-funded Project EDUCATE (Environmental Design in University Curricula and Architectural Training in Europe) has been built on a consortium of European partners –also supported by Chambers of Architects, building professionals and associations of educators – to facilitate the integration of sustainable environmental design in university curricula and in the practice of architecture, disseminate know-how and exempla of best practice, and propose the harmonisation of educational systems and qualification prescriptions in Europe.



The promotion of sustainability in the design of the built environment is a key-factor for addressing the challenges mankind faces in response to finite resource availability, environmental deterioration and climate change. Buildings are accounted nowadays for around half of worldwide energy consumptions, significantly contributing to global warming and the alteration of natural ecosystems.


In such context – and in consideration of the growing ecological/energy awareness required by new regulations in the construction sector (e.g., the European Directive on Energy Performance of Buildings, European Commission, 2003) – the role of higher education as a means of comprehensively introducing new generations of architects to the principles and practices of sustainable environmental design is becoming highly significant, although this faces a number of pedagogical and professional barriers (Altomonte, 2009).


The need to initiate a change in the training of building practitioners that supports the successful implementation of environmental considerations in the practice of architecture – including issues of climatic design, choice of materials, construction techniques, passive and hybrid strategies, resource efficiency, reduction of impacts, etc. – is mainly triggered by three factors:

  • Current building practice has been slow to consistently respond to the demands of enhancing sustainable environmental design within a creative architectural discourse;
  • Existing accreditation and qualification criteria established by professional bodies do not always succeed in contributing towards the systematic promotion and diffusion of environmental sustainability in architecture;
  • University curricula have shown to be relatively ineffective in comprehensively integrating sustainable environmental design in the education of students of architecture.

To respond to these challenges, the mission of EDUCATE is to “foster knowledge and skills in sustainable environmental design at all stages of architectural education, aiming to achieve comfort, delight, well-being and energy efficiency in new and existing buildings within a culturally, economically and socially viable design process" (EDUCATE, 2009).




The objectives of EDUCATE aim to:

  • Deconstruct pedagogical barriers to the integration of environmental sustainability within creative architectural design;
  • Define a curricular framework which bridges sustainability-related technical information and the design studio at different levels of education;
  • Develop an intelligent Portal on sustainable environmental design that facilitates such integration and supports Continuing Professional Development;
  • In concert with Chambers of Architects, propose homogeneous criteria for accreditation of curricula and professional qualification, establishing the level of knowledge, skill and competence in sustainable environmental design expected of architects;
  • Disseminate know-how and exempla of best practice amongst students, educators, professionals and the public, fostering change of behaviour and expectations.




EDUCATE is built on a consortium of seven European partners:

  • University of Nottingham (UK, Coordinator);
  • Architectural Association School of Architecture (UK);
  • Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium);
  • Technical University of Munich (Germany);
  • Department DATA, University of Rome La Sapienza (Italy);
  • Seminar of Architecture and Environment (Spain);
  • Budapest University of Technology and Economics (Hungary)

The Action – started in June 2009 – has also received the support of Chambers of Architects in participating countries, of internationally renowned building professionals in the field of sustainable architecture, of experts of cognate disciplines (e.g., education, engineering, information technology, ecology, etc.) and of associations of educators and practitioners.


Throughout its 36 months of duration, EDUCATE (Fig. 1) aims primarily to consolidate the international state-of the-art of curricular structures and professional demands, conducting an exhaustive analysis of the state of play in terms of environmental education at university level and of the requirements for professional qualification as established by competent bodies. This task includes an overview of education literature and contemporary pedagogical theories and practices. In addition, the level of knowledge and requirements of environmental design within architectural firms is ascertained, so as to identify strengths and weaknesses of existing pedagogical methods, extrapolate exempla of best practice and define an agenda for sustainable architectural education that responds to the demand of enhancing environmental design in buildings.


At a following stage, the work concentrates on the development of a flexible curricular framework enabling the adoption of principles of environmental sustainability at different levels of education. Inter-, intra- and extra-disciplinary contributions to a restructured pedagogy are explored, together with the appraisal of applied/experiential learning, new pedagogical tools, e-learning, etc. Concurrently, in collaboration with professional bodies, the requirements of the professional market are benchmarked and pedagogical objectives and competence of environmental sustainability requested at the various stages of architectural training are identified.

Combining these activities with the creation of a broad knowledge-base of sustainable environmental design (issues and principles, applications and case studies and tools), the project aims to propose an underlying conceptual framework to a curriculum enabling the successful incorporation of principles of sustainable design at every stage of progression towards professional qualification. The proposed curricular framework is constructed in accordance with the Bologna structure of higher education, thus embedding environmental sustainability across undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate education.


The outcomes of this stage of work are tested at participating institutions during the subsequent phase of the project, to measure the success of the pedagogies devised.


In the development of these activities, partners are set to exploit a purposely-built interactive Portal on sustainable environmental design so to consolidate information and facilitate exchange of know-how and remote collaboration amongst staff and students, whilst external professionals are involved in interactive education.


In the following phase, the partners appraise and validate the results obtained in terms of learning outcomes and achieved educational objectives and compare the developed pedagogical provisions with the state-of-the-art of higher education so as to facilitate the adaptation of the curricular framework to different backgrounds, cultural contexts, teaching approaches and environmental targets.


Finally, a set of conditions for accreditation of academic curricula and criteria for professional qualification to be implemented by regulatory bodies is proposed, establishing the level of knowledge and ability in sustainable environmental design expected of graduates at every level of their education. These criteria are set to have a prescriptive nature, but still allowing some flexibility for them to be potentially embraced by regulatory bodies and academic institutions in different countries.




EDUCATE is set to obtain the following results:

  • Improved learning outcomes of architecture students as incorporating environmental principles in architectural design. This will be measured on: trends in students’ grades in design subjects that integrate environmental/energy-related modules; increase of students’ satisfaction on educational provision; and feedback from academics, external examiners and validation authorities.
  • Adoption of the proposed curricular framework and qualification criteria by academic institutions and professional bodies worldwide. This will contribute to deconstruct the pedagogical barriers to the integration of environmental sustainability in higher education and in the practice of architecture, and will fill a ‘gap’ in current qualification prescriptions, as reflected in the loose requirements of most regulatory bodies concerning the implementation of sustainable environmental design in the training of professionals.
  • Dissemination of knowledge, increase in awareness of sustainable practices by architects and change in behaviour by the public, with measurable impacts on the achievement of environmental objectives, locally and globally, in terms of energy efficiency, CO2 emissions and management of resources.


Innovative aspects


EDUCATE aims to provide a ground-breaking platform for implementing sustainable environmental design as a creative factor in the education and practice of architecture. Such platform will strongly contribute to the development of innovative pedagogical methods in the training of professionals and will promote exchanges and reinforced cooperation throughout academic and professional. This will contribute to the enhancement of the “European Higher Education Area”, one of the main objectives of the Bologna process seeking to create a more comparable, compatible and coherent system of higher education in Europe.




The results of the testing of the pedagogy will be compared to international educational structures and systems to guarantee the transferability of the outcomes obtained. The curricular framework will in fact be characterised by sufficient flexibility for it to be adapted to different contents, backgrounds, educational structures, environmental targets and teaching approaches. Further to this, transferability of the results of EDUCATE will also be promoted by the public nature of the EDUCATE Portal, which will disseminate know-how, methodologies, contents, etc. and also foster interaction between educators, tutors, students, professionals and the general public on themes of sustainable environmental design.




The EDUCATE Action is funded by the European Agency for Competitiveness and Innovation (EACI) of the European Commission under the ‘Intelligent Energy Europe’ Programme 2008. Further information on EDUCATE – including freely downloadable documents and reports – are available on www.educate-sustainability.eu


  • Altomonte, S. (2009). Environmental Education for Sustainable Architecture. Review of European Studies, 1 (2):12-24.
  • EDUCATE (2009). Mission Statement. Action Kick-off Meeting, Nottingham, 7th July 2009.
  • European Commission (2003). Directive 2002/91/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2002 on the Energy Performance of Buildings. Official Journal of the European Union, 4 January 2003.
  • Lopez de Asiain Alberich, M. Environmental Training of Architects: towards a teaching syllabus based on Architecture and the Environment. Doctoral thesis at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) within the programme “Energy and Environment Research Fields within Architecture”. 2006
  • López de Asiain Alberich, María. Extrapolation of European Experiences in Environmental Architecture Teaching Programmes. International Conference on Engineering Education in Sustainable Development, EESD2004. D. Ferrer-Balas, K. F. Mulder, J. Bruno and R. Sans (Eds.). Ó CIMNE and UPC Barcelona, 2004


More information about this good practice can be found at GUNI.HEiOBS

About the author

Dr Maria Lopez de Asiain Alberich works as an architect after graduating at the University of Seville. She holds a MA in Renewable Energies and the Sustainable City at the International University of Andalusia (2003), and a European PhD cum laude in “Environmental Teaching in Architecture” by the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (2005). In 2006 she was awarded the Environmental Young Prize (Premio Joven Medioambiente) by the Complutense University of Madrid for best environmental research at national level. She has participated in several research projects nationally and internationally, such as the Certification System for Sustainable Architecture and Urban Planning in Andalusia, UNESCO Programme EURONETRES, etc. She has been a member during 2004-2006 of the ACEU Net (Curricular Environmentalisation of Higher Education) in Spain and Latin America.


Dr Sergio Altomonte is Associate Professor and Course Director of the Diploma in Architecture at the University of Nottingham. He is a registered Architect (DipArch, Rome La Sapienza) and holds a MPhil in Architecture and Sustainable Development (Lausanne, EPFL) and a PhD in Environmental Design (Rome, La Sapienza). He has initiated and participated at various national and international research projects in the field of architecture and sustainable development and currently coordinates the European Action EDUCATE.


  • UNESCO. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
  • The Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP)

Sponsored by

  • Generalitat de Catalunya. Ministry of Business and Employment. Department of Research and Universities
  • Generalitat de Catalunya. Ministry for Foreign Action and Open Government