Smart Architecture: Built Environments as Educators


xREZ Art + Science Lab member Aaron Davis is trying to find out how the buildings where we live, work, and play can teach us about sustainability, natural resources, consumption, energy, and the environment. He wants to test the hypothesis, how can designed features and the buildings themselves contribute to educating the people who use the buildings and result in sustainable behavior changes?

To understand how it might be possible for buildings and other built-environments to educate the people who use them, Davis’ research begins with a close examination of LEED building standards.

LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a green building rating system established by the U.S. Green Building Council (, a coalition of architectural firms and nonprofit organizations who wanted a way to promote sustainable building practices.

Davis is examining the latest LEED standards to identify how its main focus areas might correlate with environmental education practices already known to be effective. For example, pulling from concepts in environmental psychology, existing measures of educational programs, attention to intergenerational learning and residential and agricultural learning programs can provide some of the answers he needs.

Originally Davis’ vision was to implement a design using a rephotography app called Project rePhoto which he believed could facilitate interaction with the built environment through repeat photography and participatory sensing, showing people how their spaces change over time.

“The theory says that it can happen. How do we make it happen? What sort of design features, what sort of building features are going to lead to this?”

As the work unfolded, he decided to lay a conceptual and theoretical groundwork as a basis for putting the ideas into practice. His analysis in development focuses on the individual experiences of people interacting with the built environment. He is also combining design theory and green building standards, a synergy he thinks can make a difference in how we think of and use buildings or other built environments.

The theory says that it can happen,” Davis observes. “How do we make it happen? What sort of design features, what sort of building features are going to lead to this sort of thing happen?”

On the practical level, it requires a conversation about the down and dirty of sustainable behavior change. How can people deal with the minutia of the small changes it takes to make a difference every day?

And how can building standards encourage implementation of design features that facilitate the ease of using the space in sustainable ways during its lifespan? In other words, taking the inconvenience out of making green choices, whether at the cafeteria, washroom or parking garage.

If the building that you’re living in makes it easy for you to do these things, all of a sudden it’s not a chore to do it, then perhaps you can start to go a step beyond that,” he says.

Further, how can features not only make it easy and automatic to be green, but also educate people about the reasons for those features, the sustainable construction method used, the changes and choices that reduced the carbon footprint in the construction of the building they frequent?

Davis believes his research has the potential to contribute to the fields of science education, architecture, urban planning and urban design, participatory media and provide a community-level first step in finding sustainable solutions for battling global climate change.

I really do believe that sustainability can be applied in everyone’s work” Davis says. He believes that finding new solutions might not be as effective as looking at existing solutions and focusing on forming relationships between people and programs that can help each other without reinventing the wheel.

“For me, looking forward it doesn’t really matter where I am because I’m always looking to bring in the community and bring in solutions that are already out there.”

Davis plans to continue his research as a thesis or dissertation in the future, continuing to find ways to add sustainability to the list of things considered in building standards. 

Learning Space: Environmental Education Through Our Built Environment

News@xREZ May 12, 2016 by Amelia Jaycen


xREZ Art + Science Lab

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xREZ Art+Science lab forges productive paths that harness the unique creative forces found only at the intersection of the arts, sciences and humanities to open new portals of imagination, knowledge and communication.Our goal: alter the landscape of human endeavor to create transformative impact on our world and our future.

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