Agents of Architectural Change
by Alison Kwok
Architecture students are told to consider issues of energy, environment, and occupant health as they learn to design. Yet the profession lacks a widespread tradition of evaluating buildings. Students rarely investigate actual buildings, conduct post-occupancy surveys, or evaluate the successes or failures of design ideas.
By contrast, medical students don't learn solely through textbooks: they're required to study and evaluate actual human bodies. Why expect less from those students who will house human activities? Where is the solid knowledge base that matches design intent with actual building performance?
In addition to theory, students need to learn about the science of buildings. They must know how to take measurements — of temperature and luminance, for example — of real environments and to integrate that information with architectural design.
To better prepare future teachers and architects as stewards of the built environment, I have initiated a project called "Agents of Change" to teach architecture teachers how to make such evaluations and to pass along these skills.
Key to the Agents of Change project are teams of teaching assistants and faculty from all over the United States. Through this project, they will learn how to teach with a case-study approach to building evaluation, and together they will form a critical mass of change agents at their home institutions.
The Agents of Change project is based on the hands-on approach to learning initiated by the Vital Signs Curriculum Materials Project, which encourages students to take a detective's-eye-view of actual buildings to identify building performance and compare it with design intent.