Ecological Design in Architectural Practice

EPA Grant Number: U915186
Title: Ecological Design in Architectural Practice
Investigators: Pearson, Jason C.
Institution: Princeton University
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: January 1, 1997 through January 1, 1999
Project Amount: $102,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (1997) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Engineering and Environmental Chemistry , Fellowship - Agricultural Engineering


The overall objective of this research project is to formulate, explore, and develop strategies for architectural practice and design that are both ecologically sound and proactively engaged in the improvement of the environment, built (manmade) and natural. The specific objective of this research project is to determine which specific strategies that architects—who are inevitably involved passively in the ongoing alteration of manmade and natural environments—can use to affect this process actively in ways that have a significant impact on the long-term sustainability of both.


The architecture degree program, because of its emphasis on design studios, is similar to a series of semester-long dry runs at professional practice. Each studio provides an opportunity to test different design strategies in projects that gradually become more complex, culminating in a semester of independent design thesis. I have taken advantage of this system to experiment dynamically, in each studio, with different approaches to what might be termed "ecological design"—design that attempts to meet high standards of material sustainability, ecological sensitivity, and energy efficiency—without overlooking the more traditional, but equally important, formal, aesthetic, and representational goals of architectural design. Because the systems, structures, and buildings that I design must respond effectively to the unique environmental conditions of each studio’s given site, the development of flexible and adaptable strategies of design and practice that maintain a consistent focus on environmental improvement and sustainability continues to be the most challenging aspect of my research.

The studio-based design work is supplemented by coursework in the areas of building technology and architectural history, and my research in these areas emphasize the two basic scales of ecological design in architecture: building and landscape. At the building scale, my work in building technology courses has focused not only on the physical materials and components used in construction—production, ease of disassembly, recyclability—but also on how these components can work together systematically to reduce overall energy consumption. At the landscape scale, my research probes the relationship between buildings/cities and their natural environment, and specifically, how aesthetic valuations of untouched, pure nature affect the status of architecture in the landscape.

Expected Results:

Ultimately, this research project will consolidate this ongoing cycle of exchange between studio work and coursework in the final independent design thesis, which will demonstrate and realize the possibilities of effective ecological design practice in architecture through a single, exemplary design project.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, ecological design, architecture, built environment, independent design thesis, sustainability., RFA, Scientific Discipline, Sustainable Industry/Business, Sustainable Environment, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Ecology and Ecosystems, Engineering, Environmental Engineering, sustainable development, green design, ecological design, environmental conscious construction, green building design, alternative building technology, architecture, environmentally conscious design

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 1997
  • Final