2021 Winners

2021 Course Development Prize Winners

in Architecture, Climate Change, and Society

A course proposal competition by Columbia University’s Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture and the ACSA.

2021 Course Development Prize Winners


Columbia University’s Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) announce the winners of the 2021 Course Development Prize in Architecture, Climate Change, and Society. These innovative courses will be taught at architecture schools across North America in the coming years.

These courses seek the kind of realism that redefines problems and leaves room for imagination. The courses will reach out with neighbors to cultivate skills fostering a more resilient society. Faculty will teach interdisciplinary courses learning from vernacular architecture to design affordable, low-tech, and climate-specific solutions. Students will learn to think beyond current modes of professional practice to develop new, just, environmentally attuned standards. Courses shed light on inequities in many responses to climate change for marginalized and underserved communities, allowing students to better prepare for new and needed approaches. The impact of pollution has altered the natural environment; through these courses, faculty will coach students in ways to assist in the repair of communities. Overall, faculty and students will use methods and themes that innovate within their institutional settings to address the intertwined causes and effects of climate change.

The jury selected five courses to receive a cash prize and support to lead their course at their host institution within the next two years. The five winning course proposals will be presented at the ACSA 109th Annual Meeting which will be held virtually March 24-26, 2021.

Gulf: Architecture, Ecology, and Precarity on the Gulf Coast

Matthew Johnson & Michael Kubo
University of Houston

Much of contemporary carbon culture and its environmental consequences can be traced back, forensically or circumstantially, to the U.S. Gulf Coast. The extraction of fossil fuels has made the Texas-Louisiana coastline a global center of oil production, sprawling along the bayous and wetlands of Beaumont, Galveston, Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, and Houston.

While the products of carbon have fueled the mega-region’s expansion, the sprawling oil industry has produced structural inequities in its built environment. Racially segregated “fenceline” communities sit in uneasy proximity to petrochemical plants, subject to the environmental impacts of polluted soil, air, groundwater, and aquifers. Toxic clouds, spills, and other disasters are common in these areas, particularly during extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change. In this context, an examination of the relationship between architecture, urbanism, climate, and environmental justice is urgently needed.

The proposed “superstudio” (a combined research studio and seminar) deals with the history and speculative futures of petro-culture’s long century and its aftermath. We will engage the wicked problems facing individual communities along the Texas-Louisiana coast, from flooding and pollution to toxic development patterns, and propose methods for repairing the discriminatory effects of petro-culture on the broader environment of the Gulf.

Hazard Mitigation + Race + Architecture

Mahsan Mohsenin, Reginald Ellis & Andrew Chin
Florida A&M University

“Hazard Mitigation + Race + Architecture” is a cross-disciplinary collaboration that brings together faculty from two departments at the Florida A&M University: architecture and African-American history. The goal is to provide a cross-disciplinary approach to climate change and recognize Florida’s challenges as ethical and political issues, rather than purely environmental or physical in nature. Every year, Florida is one of the states that is most impacted by climate change through flooding, hurricanes, etc. According to a 2016 US Environmental Protection Agency report, the Florida peninsula has warmed more than one degree during the last century. The sea is rising about one inch every decade and heavy rainstorms are becoming more severe. This is of special concern to minority and underserved communities; specifically, African-Americans, who are often impacted the most by climate change. But as architecture students learn about sustainability, the intersection of race and architecture adaptations are not widely discussed. Architectural responses to climate change include floating or amphibious structures, design for lateral forces, and merging hazard mitigation with architectural design. The goal of this course is to introduce segregation and planning inequities in the discussions of architectural responses to hazard mitigations.

High-Performance, Low-Tech

Image: Ana Sandoval and Michelle Barrett

Liz McCormick
University of North Carolina at Charlotte

The global increase of atmospheric temperature rise, combined with the rapid growth of previously underdeveloped climate zones, presents a growing need for low-cost solutions that serve those without access to advanced technologies. Within the architecture, engineering, and construction industry, high-performance buildings are often associated with expensive, high-tech strategies that rely heavily on complex mechanical systems. New technologies may change the way that one designs, but they cannot replace the basic climate-specific principles celebrated by vernacular architecture. In response, students will explore the vernacular strategies associated with rapidly urbanizing regions in order to translate their character, physical qualities, and thermal capabilities to a commercial scale, reducing the reliance on energy-intensive mechanical systems while developing a new, climate and culture-specific urban identity.

This course mixes historical referencing with physical experimentation to demonstrate performance metrics and explore the ways building systems could engage and empower the occupant. Integrated as dynamic systems, buildings could better react to fluctuating environmental conditions. By combining students from across the campus, this interdisciplinary course strives to bridge the gap between design, performance, and building analytics. In the spirit of affordable, low-tech and climate-specific enclosure systems, this class will employ accessible physical testing methods to make building technology innovation more accessible.

Just Play

Karla Sierralta, Cathi Ho Schar, Priyam Das & Phoebe White
University of Hawaii at Manoa 

“Just Play” is a set of coordinated courses in architecture, landscape architecture, and urban and regional planning at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa that will focus on climate change and design justice. The objective is to explore learning through teaching, and teaching through play. Students will conduct research and design place-based, equity-focused educational games for a five-week course, which will be offered to 12 participating high schools through the Mānoa Academy program, led by the College of Social Sciences. University students will work in partnership with the Honolulu Office of Climate Change, Sustainability, and Resiliency (OCCSR), to build on their 2020-21 Climate Change Open Houses and talk stories. These open houses gather information that will enable the OCCSR to develop equity initiatives for Honolulu’s Climate Adaptation Strategy. Students will integrate the OCCSR’s community input with research to design interactive games that cultivate citizenship skills such as empathy, negotiation, decision-making, and collective action to foster resilient island communities. “Just Play” seeks to engage climate change from an equity standpoint, focusing on social action, empowerment, scenario-planning, systems-understanding, design, and education, reaching beyond technological solutions. It represents a multi-departmental effort to expand our reach as educators and advocates.

Professional Practice 3: Future Practice

Megan Groth
Woodbury University

The direct relationship of the global climate crisis to the built environment—the realm of the architect—means that architects are uniquely positioned to respond to the climate emergency in and through their work.  Unfortunately, the architect’s lack of agency, in part due to the traditional architecture business model, the profession’s codes of conduct, value system, and lack of ethical framework, does not make it possible for architects to act to the degree and with the speed that is required. “Future Practice” asks students to situate architecture practice in the larger context of our communities, cities, countries, and planet and ask: How do we value what we do as architects? What do we need to achieve in practice in order to pursue climate justice? How then do we create new, implementable value systems by which to restructure our work in order to align it with those goals? Using readings from a variety of different cross-disciplinary sources and thinkers, students will be encouraged to think beyond what practice is and into the radical realms of what practice could become in the future.

Honorable Mentions

Living by Water

Amee Carmines & Carmina Sanchez-del-Valle
Hampton University

English Literature and Community Design Issues Joint Micro Seminars on Place and Community

The joint micro-seminars in “Living by Water” focus on the interaction between place and community, particularly at times of crisis. Architecture students in a course on community design collaborate with students in a course on the novel to visualize literary works to create an environment that promotes a critical dialogue, crossing invisible and implied disciplinary boundaries. In the texts, the landscape of communities built and destroyed around constructions of racial hierarchy link to the construction of the narrative. This collaborative inquiry reveals the structures, physical and social limitations, and strategies needed to shelter human beings in ways that enrich cultural expression; and shows how knowledgeable and skilled local communities are about their built environment.

Spaces of Coal

Pep Avilés
Penn State University

Space of Coal + Anthracite Culture

The industrialization of modern states following the Enlightenment ran parallel to the increasing extraction and production of soft coal and anthracite. Coal became the leading source of energy during the nineteenth century as a replacement both for other combustibles (wood) and power sources (water and wind) and contributed in turn to the rapid development of transportation, industry, and—eventually—the modern urban experience. Coal-based capitalism was a global environmental project from the very beginning, affecting the morphology of modern cities as a consequence of iron and steel construction and of the alteration of natural landscapes to accommodate the new infrastructures that industries demanded. Regrettably, economic development triggered climate change and global warming. Although the heyday of coal production in the US occurred around the beginning of the twentieth century—consumption declined steadily following World War II, once oil proved to be a more effective and profitable source of energy—the global impact of past coal mining on the environment has not been reversed: currently, coal still remains at the origin of the majority of global CO2 emissions in the atmosphere, contributing dramatically to global warming.

The Built Environment

Hyon K. Rah
University of the District of Columbia

Climate change, increasingly frequent and devastating disasters, and the built environment are inextricably linked. This calls for a fundamental shift in how we design, plan, and manage the built environment – from self-referential and siloed to more contextualized and systems-based. This introductory course, required for all undergraduate architecture majors and cross-listed within the College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability & Environmental Sciences, takes a holistic look at different scales and disciplines contributing to the built environment along with the social, economic, and environmental interdependencies and influences. Various design, technical, financial, and policy tools and strategies are explored. The goal is to better prepare our students for increasingly complex and challenging conditions and the role of interdisciplinary facilitator architects are required to play.

Are you interested in joining a network of faculty teaching:
Architecture, Climate Change, and Society? 
Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture

Columbia University’s Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture was founded in 1982. Its mission is to advance the interdisciplinary study of American architecture, urbanism, and landscape. A separately endowed entity within the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, it sponsors research projects, workshops, public programs, publications, and awards.

In recent years, the Center has convened issue-oriented conversations around matters of public concern, such as housing, that are addressed to overlapping constituencies including academics, students, professionals, and members of the general public. The Buell Center’s research and programming articulate facts and frameworks that modify key assumptions governing the architectural public sphere—that is, the arena in which informed public analysis and debate about architecture and urbanism takes place. Buell Center projects utilize a variety of formats, such as specialized academic conferences, small meetings, larger public events, and publications, depending on the issues and audience at hand. In all cases, they offer a context for the study of American architecture that brings underlying issues to light and enables architecture’s various interconnected publics to gain a greater understanding of its cultural significance.

The Center’s current project, “Power: Infrastructure in America,” which is framing its support for the Course Development Prize, challenges participants to think about how infrastructure relates to life across a series of intersecting concerns, including democratic governance and climate justice. For more information, see power.buellcenter.columbia.edu.

Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture

The mission of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture is to lead architectural education and research.

Founded in 1912 by 10 charter members, ACSA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit association of over 200 member schools in several categories. These include full membership for all accredited programs in the United States and government-sanctioned schools in Canada, candidate membership for schools seeking accreditation, and affiliate membership for schools for two-year and international programs. Through these schools, over 5,000 architecture faculty are represented.

ACSA, unique in its representative role for schools of architecture, provides a forum for ideas on the leading edge of architectural thought. Issues that will affect the architectural profession in the future are being examined today in ACSA member schools. The association maintains a variety of activities that influence, communicate, and record important issues. Such endeavors include scholarly meetings, workshops, publications, awards and competition programs, support for architectural research, policy development, and liaison with allied organizations.

ACSA seeks to empower faculty and schools to educate increasingly diverse students, expand disciplinary impacts, and create knowledge for the advancement of architecture.