News & Events

Why Study Sustainable Architecture?

September 6, 2023
UBC MEL High Performance Buildings - Why Study Sustainable Architecture

The building sector is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, making it an important area of focus for cities, regions and nations striving to reach fast-approaching net-zero targets. Architect engineers who adopt new approaches to the way buildings are designed, constructed and operated throughout their life-cycle can play an important role in achieving emissions targets.

However, architectural engineering is about more than emissions. “Architects and engineers need to take a few steps back and look at the buildings they are developing within the context of the grand challenges we are facing face today, from climate change and sustainability to the future of cities and the future of work,” says Michel Labrie, an instructor in UBC’s Master of Engineering Leadership (MEL) in High Performance Buildings.

Addressing these grand challenges requires a new approach to design and construction. One of the best ways to achieve multiple goals is through an integrated design process that brings together professionals with expertise in specific technical areas, including structural engineering and sustainable architecture.

Learning to work collaboratively in this way requires practice. And the MEL in High Performance Buildings, a professional master’s degree offered at UBC, was designed to offer opportunities for just that.

As Ron Kellet, a co-director of the program explains, the program is taught through the lens of an integrated design process, bringing together

“Engineers and architects from around the world to develop interdisciplinary expertise through courses and projects that bring design, engineering and business expertise into a creative synthesis.”

A curriculum focused on architectural engineering

The MEL in High Performance Buildings offers an interdisciplinary curriculum that integrates engineering and architecture. Courses are taught by world-renowned experts from UBC’s Faculty of Applied Science and cover topics in green building practice, whole building energy modelling simulation, building energy systems design and regenerative development.

As Kellet explains, “We run the projects like design studios that simulate a team-based practice. Students work collaboratively, guided by a professional instructor, to define the problem, research alternative approaches and consult external experts to develop and propose innovative solutions.”

Students also complete two capstone projects. The first focuses on retrofitting an existing building to meet new standards and guidelines, while the second asks students to design an energy system for a new building.

These and other projects introduce students to the use of energy models to better understand the implications of decision decisions on a range of criteria, from embodied carbon to greenhouse gas emissions, as well as access to natural light and ventilation. Read an article by instructor Andrea Frisque (and senior associate at Stantec) on the power of modelling in building design.

In 2022, a group of High Performance Building students designed an energy system for a proposed new building for the Vancouver Waldorf School for their capstone project. Their proposed strategies supported the school’s ambition to be a leader in energy efficiency and environmental performance, while creating a comfortable and welcoming space for students, teachers and the community. The students submitted their project in the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon Design Challenge, where they were a finalist in the education building division.

Preparing architect engineers to be leaders in their field

Being a leader in architecture and engineering requires more than technical knowledge. It requires a familiarity and ease with business, organizational leadership, strategy, innovation, analytics, accounting, project management and more.

High Performance Building students gain this broad-ranging business knowledge through courses taught by UBC Sauder’s Robert H. Lee Graduate School, one of the world’s top-ranked graduate business schools. In these courses, students explore case studies, engage in lively conversation and work together in interdisciplinary groups.

“Students explore data analytics, strategy and innovation, and sustainability in the business classes that make up 40 percent of the program,” explains Program Director Steve Rogak.

“This gives them the broader perspective and skills needed to help make the building industry more nimble – to see the value of certain advances and have the communication and leadership skills to get things moving in the right direction, and to identify value and opportunities within the sector.”

An intense three-week course in the summer delves into six core business competencies, including accounting, organizational behaviour, finance, marketing, business technology management and professional development.

Advancing into leadership positions in sustainable architecture and engineering

Graduates of the MEL in High Performance Buildings are in high demand in industry and in the public and not-for-profit sector.

Gabriela Mercado, a trained architect in Chile who completed the degree in 2022, is now working as a Sustainability and Resilience Advisor for BC Housing. “This program prepared me to think in a more holistic way, to see buildings not as an isolated thing but a part of a larger complex system,” she says.

“The MEL also provided me tools and frameworks for decision making and effectively communicating the business case for sustainability.”

Chris Moore came to the program with a background in mechanical engineering. After graduating in 2020, he began working with the Capital Regional District to develop a policy framework on emission reductions to meet climate goals. He’s now a senior energy specialist at the City of Victoria working to support high-performance and low-greenhouse gas building initiatives.

“With my engineering mindset I was picturing a straight track – envisioning that after learning about high-performance buildings I would go on to become a green building engineer,” he says.

“But as I went through the program, I started to see that policy has a significant impact on reducing carbon emissions and achieving environmental goals. As an engineer, you might contribute to some great green buildings here and there, but they are often surrounded by average buildings. Working on the policy side offers the potential to have a much broader impact.”

Start your future as a leader in architectural engineering

Studying at UBC offers other advantages for architects and engineers who want to be part of a more sustainable future. The university is a recognized global leader in sustainable design, with the campus itself a “living laboratory” where new approaches to building design and construction are implemented in existing structures.

And for those who are ready to move into leadership positions, the MEL in High Performance Buildings offers a path to gain the cross-disciplinary technical knowledge and business insight needed to lead the way in sustainable architecture and engineering practice

High Performance Buildings

High Performance Buildings

Take your career to new heights through an interdisciplinary approach to building design.

Read More

Featured Faculty and Staff

High Performance Buildings
Buildings represent a significant part of our impact on the environment.
Read More