For over a decade the Ecosa Institute has advocated a radical departure from the traditional approach to teaching design. Ecosa is located in beautiful Prescott, Arizona, and offers semester long Certificate Programs and for-credit study in Regenerative Ecological Design (RE-Design). As a comprehensive overview to sustainable and ecological design, Ecosa’s four month program explores the many ways in which design can solve the environmental challenges of the 21st century. Systems focus, architecture, planning, landscape architecture, industrial design, and other design-thinking disciplines are unique problem-solving tools that have the potential to create a healthy, just and sustainable world. We use nature as a model for our curriculum, therefore it is complex, recursive and diverse.
The mission of the Ecosa Institute is to restore health to the natural environment, and thus the human environment, through education in design. Our vision is based on synthesizing the ethical and ecological values that are critical to the health of the environment, with the vitality and dynamism of the design arts.
The Ecosa Institute was founded in the belief that a new design philosophy informed by the natural world is critical to the future survival of our species. The design of human environments has always had a transformational impact on human societies and the natural systems on which we depend; the environments we create change the way our societies perceive the world.
Only by bringing a very different approach to design education can we do more than pay lip service to the concept of sustainability in its broadest sense. Ultimately an understanding of a greater goal must eventually be shared by our whole culture – that of creating an ecologically regenerative society. This requires that in addition to the aesthetic we must consider social, economic and environmental responsibility as the context within which design functions.
Complexity is an innate attribute of this new philosophy– it is inherently messy, ambiguous and in many ways the antithesis of current educational models. We believe the current form of education must be completely restructured. This is a ‘radical’ suggestion, from the Latin for ‘root’, as we are attempting to understand and address the underlying structure of our problems. We are a society that continually band-aids symptoms rather than addressing root causes. Only by solving the root problems that underlie the many challenges our society faces will we be able to find permanent solutions.
Education for Sustainability
An operational model for teaching sustainable design
- How is the role of the designer essential in contributing to a more sustainable world?
- What fundamentally matters in educating designers?
- What does “the designer as a leader” look like?
- How can the design profession counter its tendency towards marginalization, fragmentation and specialization?
Only by bringing a very different approach to architectural and design education can we do more than pay lip service to the notion of sustainability in its broadest manifestation. Ultimately we need to educate design students not only in the technical skills essential to the practice of their profession, but also to imbue them with an understanding of a greater goal that must eventually be shared by our whole culture – that of creating a sustainable society. This necessitates going beyond the aesthetic to address questions of social and environmental responsibility which can then provide guidance for a new philosophy of design.
Complexity is an innate attribute of this new philosophy– it is inherently messy, ambiguous and in many ways the antithesis of architectural education. Developed through a long history, the teaching of architecture is still, in the most part, based on the Beaux Arts model. The design of the building is the central focus of the learning process and, while in some instances this has broadened to include other aspects, the project is generally the central locus of design education. The project is theoretical, the budget rarely considered, and the client is the professor whose central criteria are the formalistic success or failure of a particular design aesthetic. An architectural student from turn of the century Paris suddenly transported to many of our architecture schools would feel right at home. It is in this climate that we are attempting to introduce a whole new way of perceiving the world.
In my view, the current form of architectural education must be completely restructured. This is a ‘radical’ suggestion, from the Latin for ‘root’, as we are attempting to understand the cause of our problems. We are a society that busily band-aids symptoms rather than sorting out root causes. An obvious example of this tendency is our transportation system. A road becomes congested (symptom) so we add more lanes (solution) then more cars are attracted and we return to congestion (the symptom gets worse). The root causes are the wrong urban patterns coupled with the wrong transport system, yet any attempt to change the causes is viewed as a radical position. One tenet of sustainable design is to solve the real problem and not just the symptoms. Only by solving these root problems will we be able to permanently resolve the symptoms.
Want to read more? Download the Ecosa Institute Educational Philosophy (PDF).