A duty to address the 'ordinary'

November 5, 1999

The article "Why engineers must go back to nature" (THES, October 29) raises a number of important issues for educators across a whole range of subject areas. A couple of observations...

First, case studies of "star" buildings developed by leading-edge industrial practitioners are important in demonstrating how (and often how not) to implement sustainable design. Such examples, however, are far removed from the everyday experience of the majority of practitioners, who are faced by many complex challenges and conflicting demands. Sustainable design may not be at the top of their or, more importantly, their clients' list of priorities.

Yet many "ordinary" practices have demonstrated that small but collectively significant improvements can be made through their attention to detail. Their designs provide excellent examples of how to implement an environmentally responsible approach to design and engineering. For example, significant reductions in waste on site are being achieved simply through careful detailing and specification. Yet these practices rarely claim to be "green" and are often overlooked by researchers. This is a pity since their subtle (and rarely published) work holds just as many lessons for students as do the high-profile projects.

Second, I would agree that sustainable design must be integrated throughout the whole course structure and not be taught in isolation. From personal experience, such an approach is possible, although it places considerable pressure on course leaders and the course team simply because the vast majority of textbooks, legislation and current practice tend to endorse the familiar practices. This places additional pressures on the preparation of course material and the need to incorporate cutting-edge research into programmes across all subject areas and at all levels.

It is far easier to say than to deliver, since it requires the commitment of all lecturers, regardless of professional background or subject specialisation. But it is being done.

Students are our future, they should be capable of challenging and shaping future practice. But to do so needs a balanced approach that addresses the "ordinary" as well as the "extraordinary". As educators we have an enormous responsibility in this regard, and the appointment of visiting professors as agents of change is both timely and welcome.

Stephen Emmitt

Course leader, Architectural technology

Leeds Metropolitan University

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