Course Development Prize in Architecture, Climate Change, and Society


Submission Deadline: October 14, 2020

Education in architecture and urbanism is well positioned creatively and critically to address the exigencies of climate change. However, pedagogical methods that prioritize technological solutions alone can come at the expense of teaching and research that explore the sociocultural and ecopolitical dimensions of the crisis. This, in turn, ultimately limits the range of approaches addressing climate change in professional practice. Columbia University’s Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture is therefore issuing, together with the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, a competitive call for course proposals on the theme of “Architecture, Climate Change, and Society.”

From history seminars to visual studies and from design studios to building technologies, the wide variety of course offerings at schools of architecture is a testament to the diversity of perspectives, skills, and tools that ultimately comprise quality work in the field. In contrast, the urgency of the unfolding climate crisis—especially as it intersects with demands for environmental and racial justice—can seem to demand a singular focus that is antithetical to humanities-based critical inquiry or to longer-term creative and technical endeavors. We seek the kind of realism, however, that redefines problems and leaves room for the imagination. Successful proposals for this Course Development Prize in Architecture, Climate Change, and Society will include methods and themes that innovate within their institutional setting—asking hard questions of students that are equal in weight to the hard questions being asked of society in the midst of a global pandemic as it continues to grapple with the intertwined causes and effects of climate change.

This proposal is related to a multi-year Buell Center project entitled “Power: Infrastructure in America,” which seeks critically to understand the intersections of climate, infrastructure, and architecture. Objects of intense political, social, and economic contestation, technical infrastructures distribute power in both senses of the word: as energy and as force. Concentrating on the United States but extending internationally, “Power: Infrastructure in America” opens overlapping windows onto how “America” is constructed infrastructurally to exclude neighbors and to divide citizens. But infrastructures can also connect. Organized in a modular fashion as an open access resource for learning, teaching, and acting, the contents of the project website——enable visitors to better understand the complex webs of power shaping our lives and the lives of others. It is in this spirit that the prize aims to contribute to the development of intersectional pedagogy on the theme of “Architecture, Climate Change, and Society” in America today. Change begins with connecting the dots.


Up to five proposals will be selected by the jury for eight thousand dollars in cash prizes and two thousand dollars in travel support to present the winning course proposals at the ACSA109 Annual Meeting in St. Louis, MO. To receive the cash prize and travel support, winners must demonstrate viability for the course at their host institution within two years of the prize’s distribution via a letter from their program’s head administrator. Developed syllabi of winning proposals will be published on both the ACSA and Buell Center websites.


The Course Development Prize is open to faculty at all ACSA member schools. Faculty from Columbia University are not eligible. Courses that have previously been recognized in the Course Development Prize, will not be considered. Courses submitted, but not selected are encouraged to resubmit; however please make note of significant changes to the course proposal.


Submissions will be accepted through an online interface beginning July 2020.

The final submission upload must contain the following:

  1. Course proposal (three pages)—The course proposal should consist of a title, course description, a list of selected readings or other sources, and a work plan for course development and implementation. Proposed courses must be new, or significantly reconfigured if already taught. Please make proposed revisions clear, if the latter.
  2. Faculty bio—If multiple faculty are involved, include all (entire bio submission not to exceed two pages).
  3. Letter of support from the head administrator of the architecture program (one page).
  4. All materials should be submitted in PDF format, with no more than six pages total.


A jury drawn from the Buell Center Advisory Board will review the submissions and determine award winners. Special consideration will be given to proposals that include clearly explained methods and themes that innovate within their institutional setting.


July 2020: Online Submission Site Opens
October 14, 2020: Submission Deadline
January 2021: Winner Announced
March 12-14, 2021: ACSA109 Annual Meeting in St. Louis, MO, "Architecture, Climate Change and Society Course Session"







Adaptation to Sea Level Rise
Mason Andrews, Hampton University 


A two semester cross-disciplinary course focusing on adapting to the impacts of sea level rise in existing urban neighborhoods in sadly soggy southeastern Virginia has been in place since 2014. In the first semester, students of architecture, engineering, and, intermittently, of pure and social sciences, hear lectures from subject matter experts on soils and hydrology, preservation, urban design, public policy, social justice, and more. Simultaneously, community engagement with stakeholders begins, as does a series of design initiatives in which the architecture students and faculty model the processes of studio-based learning. The latter is the subject of a current NSF program study by ethnographers. While student work has been the basis for a $115,000,000 HUD NDRC implementation grant, it is also true that, as in efforts outside academia, disciplinary silos keep professions ill-equipped to work successfully together. In a subject as vast as the planning of adaptation strategies, however, the only path forward is bringing the expertise of a wide array of knowledge types together; there is inadequate time for sequential disciplinary speculation. Next year area professionals will join the design studio as well. It is hoped a new community of practice will emerge modeling effective transdisciplinarity.


Public Issues, Climate Justice, and Architecture 
Bradford Grant, Howard University 


Science, empirical evidence, and some technical solutions about global climate change are well documented and generally known to our upper division architecture students who have taken the required “Sustainability” course. While our students may understand that the world’s warming climate is warming as an existential and profound threat for the future of our environment, we see that our thinking and action on climate change are influenced not only by the science, but by an array of social, and political dynamics. How can architects help the client, the profession, and the public’s understanding of the climate crisis influence changes in policies for environmental equity and propose a climate change response? This is the question of this course. Its goal is to shape students’ understanding of their role as future professionals in the public processes of climate change design policies, environmental justice, and calls for action.

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Unthinking Oil: Public Architecture and the Post-Carbon Imaginary
Gabriel Fuentes, Daniela Shebitz, and Julia Nevarez, Kean University


Unthinking Oil: Public Architecture and the Post-Carbon Imaginary is a cross-disciplinary course to be taught in collaboration between Kean University’s School of Public Architecture, School of Environmental and Sustainability Studies, School of Social Sciences, and the Human Rights Institute (HRI). Its aim is to intersect architecture with the emerging field of energy humanities in order to speculate openly and collectively on the broad political and aesthetic dimensions of climate change. Its guiding premise is that climate change is symptomatic of a deeper crisis of thought that requires transdisciplinary modes of critical analysis to unmask. Our fossil-fueled, petrocultural reality, is not a mere techno-economic problem to be solved by mere techno-economic solutions; rather, it is a deep cultural problem that entwines our social practices and energy uses with politically motivated representations and narratives about nature, modernity, and the environment. Petroculture operates in plain sight—post-industrial society is an oil society through and through. Climate change, then, is a symptom of a global carbon regime that permeates all aspects of our physical, material, intellectual, and affective lives. Change can only come by unthinking this regime and its infrastructures, by constructing new imaginaries of a post-carbon world. Paradoxically, unthinking requires deep thought.

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Design Based on Estimating Ripple Effects of Carbon Footprint
Jeanne Homer, Khaled Mansy, John Phillips, and Tom Spector, Oklahoma State University


We are a group of faculty seeking the integration of the climate action goal of decarbonization into the design studio. We co-teach our school’s comprehensive design studio (required 4th-year studio), in which performance is emphasized as a principal driving force for design development. Students are challenged with the task of making their buildings as resource-efficient as possible. Students are required to seek evidence-based feedbacks to improve the performance of their design, i.e., the structural, energy, and financial performance. Our endeavor is to redefine the educational goals of studio to integrate carbon footprint as the primary measure of performance, which should open the door for students’ creativity in finding innovative ways to minimize carbon emissions due to both operational and embodied energy. The current content and scope of studio enable students to develop the understanding and ability to generate all of the evidence-based data required to evaluate building performance, but this data stops short of estimating the building’s carbon footprint. The next step is to explore ways to develop the studio further, pushing the envelope towards making it possible to estimate the ripple effects of carbon footprint and the (direct and indirect) impact of buildings on climate change.

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"Exist, Flourish, Evolve" — Territorial Care and the Upper Misi-Ziibi
Gabriel Cuéllar, University of Minnesota 


This studio is concerned with imagining how architecture, as a discipline, practice, and material reality, can help uphold the “Rights of Nature.” Exploring this emerging paradigm—codified in the phrase, “to exist, flourish, and evolve”—the studio will define concrete expressions of the ethics of care embodied in the recognition of rights for other-than-human entities. Our subject will be the Mississippi Headwaters watershed, whose ecological communities and dynamics will figure as protagonists in our studio. We will study how the ‘Great River’ propelled Minnesota’s productivity and explore what role it, as a potential rights-bearing entity, might play in reshaping ecological and spatial relations. We will seek to account for biogeochemical interactions irreducible to human agency, while identifying approaches to guide architectural intelligence within present environmental predicaments. We will rely on our discipline’s sensibility for mobilizing documents and precedents, identifying spatial relations, forming systems of coherence, and analyzing material characteristics and form. In parallel, we will chart out architectural efforts and effects embedded in situational contingencies that transpire over time, interact with other forces, and thrive as strictly infrastructural. Acknowledging that “Rights of Nature” are, presently, written aspirations, our goal will be to articulate the architectural dimensions that could support them.

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Changing Minds for a Changing Climate
Sara Stevens, Adam Rysanek, and Kees Lokman, University of British Columbia


Co-taught by a historian, a landscape architect, and a building scientist, this course proposes that design thinking has the potential to reframe the wicked problem of climate change. Weekly structured debates will pose provocations based on a set of historical and contemporary episodes in contested landscapes that position the designer in relation to societal change. Students’ assignments (Debate, Review, Conceive, and Impact) will analyze case studies in order to reimagine the relationship between design and climate change. Divided into modules that highlight different perspectives, the class will include lectures, workshops, and collective assignments intended to produce a small exhibition.

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Architecture and Environmental Orientalism in the Arab World
Faysal Tabbarah, American University of Sharjah


The course investigates the relationship between architectural and environmental imaginaries in the development of post-colonial architecture in the Arab world. The course integrates readings and discussions around Orientalism, environmental Orientalism, environmental history, and colonial/post-colonial architecture in the region. Integrating environmental history methodologies into architectural discourse reveals the relationship between architecture, environmentalism, and colonialism. This framework raises the following questions: What do colonial legacies have to do with environmentalism, and how does this shape Arab architecture? How do contemporary ideologies and practices of environmentalism impact Arab architecture? And finally, what are non-Western designers to do in the face of ongoing Orientalism and the climate crisis?

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A Global Warming History of Architecture Since 1800
Hans Ibelings, University of Toronto


In the last decades, histories of architecture have made a global turn. Now is the moment for architectural history’s global warming turn. If modern architecture is normally understood to have originated in Europe, so does global warming, with the Industrial Revolution igniting both. This lecture course is a reading of the history of architecture since 1800 through the lens of humankind’s increasing ecological footprint.

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Course Development Prize in Architecture, Climate Change, and Society

Design by This is our work

Three people on a kayak passing a for sale real estate sign in flooded area in southeastern Virginia.

2020 Winner: Mason Andrews (Hampton University), "Adaptation to Sea Level Rise"

Group of protesters some holding signs about money for education not war

2020 Winner: Bradford Grant (Howard University), "Public Issues, Climate Justice, and Architecture"

"I don't believe in Global Warming" written in spray paint reflected in flooded groundwater

2020 Winner: Gabriel Fuentes, Daniela Shebitz, and Julia Nevarez (Kean University), "Unthinking Oil: Public Architecture and the Post-Carbon Imaginary"

Various images and renderings including a circulation diagram and a section detail

2020 Winner: Jeanne Homer, Khaled Mansy, John Phillips, and Tom Spector (Oklahoma State University), "Design Based on Estimating Ripple Effects of Carbon Footprint"

Normalized Difference Moisture Index for the Mississippi Headwaters watershed area calculated from multi-spectral remote sensing data. Wetlands and moist areas are shown in blue and dry areas appear brown and yellow.

2020 Winner: Gabriel Cuéllar (University of Minnesota), "'Exist, Flourish, Evolve'—Territorial Care and the Upper Misi-Ziibi

A student writing on a blackboard that has a ven diagram with the categories "Anthro" and "Nature." Students brainstorm behind her.

2020 Honorable Mention: Sara Stevens, Adam Rysanek, and Kees Lokman (University of British Columbia), "Changing Minds for a Changing Climate"

Archival photo from library of congress of two men sawing a log. One man stands on top of the log that is propped up, the other is on the ground. From Kamar ed Din Series: Hand-sawing of Logs into Planks, 1938.

2020 Honorable Mention: Faysal Tabbarah (American University of Sharjah), "Architecture and Environmental Orientalism in the Arab World"

Drawing of steelworks from Tony Garnie

2020 Honorable Mention: Hans Ibelings (University of Toronto), "A Global Warming History of Architecture Since 1800"


Initiative Collection