Ecological design is rapidly becoming a staple in architecture school. Its various names—sustainable, “green,” and environmental—all refer to the objective of designing buildings that have a smaller carbon footprint, from construction materials to functionality post-occupancy. Acronyms like HVAC and PV are now part of the mainstream architecture lexicon. These approaches are not globally applicable, however. For example, in tropical climates, the use of such technology is both impractical and ineffective. Additionally, the carbon footprint resulting from producing these devices and systems can be significant.
The National University of Singapore (NUS) Department of Architectureis addressing these very issues. Founded in 1958, the Department of Architecture is oriented towards architecture for Asia and the tropics. Kenneth Ho, Design Director and Co-Founder of Hopscape Design + Architecture and NUS alumnus, says, “Everything here [in the U.S.] is about sustainability like HVAC or solar panels. But there, sustainable architecture is passive. For example, when you build a house, it actually breathes because you build it off the ground, the air circulates through the floor and then out through the roof. Because it’s a tropical climate, you have to do this. NUS is one of the leading schools in teaching this in Southeast Asia. Its become a hub for neighboring countries who send their students to study there to learn about this.”
The school offers several degree programs ranging from B.Arch to Ph.D., which all address the unique economic, climate, and historical issues of Asia. In so doing, the school firmly rejects the idea promoted in western schools that architectural solutions are universal. The curriculums at NUS show that this is patently untrue. From the environmental—tropical to conditions such as borderless economies (i.e. economies that engage in free-trade across national borders and have little or low tariffs) to historical issues that include post-coloniality, designing for Asia is a decidedly different endeavor than those trained in North America and Europe might think.
Two of the degree programs that focus specifically on ecologically-oriented architectureas it should be understood and practiced in Asia, include the Master of Science and theMaster in Architecture. The research-based Master of Science in Integrated Sustainable Design or MSc ISD is a full-time, year-long program. Here, students learn that thinking about the issues surrounding the built environment are fundamental to the design process. The goal is to understand and promote a sustainable built environment. The program focuses on four broad areas of investigation beginning with the Asian Context, which “asks what it means to design and build for Asia.” That means that students learn not just about design or environmental modeling programs, they must also understand cultural, social and economic factors as well as the unique regional environmental conditions. In Master Classes, trips abroad, and in the studio, students expand on their knowledge about scale, on an individual building level as well as an urban level. An emphasis on critical thinking, learning how to ask the right questions at the outset, complements this holistic approach to design.
The Master in Architecture, Design Technology and Sustainability MArch(DTS) approaches sustainability and design from a construction and management perspective. This is also a full-time, one-year program that trains students to produce ecologically responsible buildings and large-scale urban spaces and developments. It is no mistake, then, that outside the studio, dissertation, and Architectural Practice, the curriculum has only two other courses: Renewable Energy and Architecture and Special Topics in Architecture. Clearly this program is committed to educating students in the fundamental relationship between technology and sustainability.
To bolster the work students do in their degree programs, NUS has the Center for Advanced Studies in Architecture (CASA) to further research by collaborating with industry professionals as well as hosting conferences and lecture series. It’s directive is to “promote advanced research, training and resource in architectural design, design technologies, and urban and landscape studies and critical studies in history and theories of architecture,” in four different arenas.
Each of those areas highlight the unique conditions that arise from the history, economy, and environment of Asia. Those areas include Design Technologies, which explores sustainable urban development in an Asian, tropical context. History, Theory and Criticism investigates Asian Modernity through cultural identity, post-coloniality, and subjectivity alongside architecture and space-making. Urban Studies, focuses on High Density Asian Cities, focusing on the distinctive characteristics of Asia, such as habitation and mobility. Landscape rounds out the last of the research cores. And for those interested in working more directly with CASA, students can pursue either a research oriented Masters of Art (Architecture) or a PhD (Architecture).
For admissions to these graduate programs, students must have a BArch. For those students who did not receive their Baccalaureates at NUS, a preparatory course is mandatory. Estimated annual tuition is S$16,700. Total annual expenses including room and board come to roughly S$23,000. Different financial aid options including tuition fee loans, subsidies, and work-study are available to international students.
Sherin Wing is the writer of ArchDaily’s Architecture School Guides. She received her Ph.D. in the Humanities at UCLA and resides in Southern California. You can follow Sherin on Twitter (and send her tips) @SherinWing.