Is the Curriculum Doing Enough for the Climate Crisis?

We are in a climate emergency and immediate action is required to protect our planet from the soon to be uninhabitable environment that humans have been too complacently contributing to for the past 100 or so years. What we now know, is that we can make changes (and need to) that will slow the rate at which is the environment is degrading and give humans a chance to reverse (or at least slow) the damage they have already done.   Education has a large part to play in our ability to make change, and instill means of positive change into our designers of the future.  But the question is, with the need for immediate action, is our current curriculum doing enough to enable change in response to the climate emergency?

There are already a few key figures who are making changes in the field, questioning the current norm and making strides towards positive change for the environment.  Scott McAulay is the founder and coordinator of Anthropocene Architecture School which is a specialised architecture school in Scotland, UK, that is aimed at educating architects (of the future) during the climate emergency.  McAuley’s aim through his curriculum is to “Prepare students for a new type of Architecture”[1] with “the urgent need for Climate Literacy in architectural education – for its educators as much as for its students”[2], introducing his students to “Crisis Studios” [3] that endeavours to educate about the climate crisis.

Closer to home here in Perth, Parisa Izadpanahi is a researcher at Curtin University and has been extensively researching the effects on introducing environmental education to younger children very early in the school curriculum and analysing how this impacts their environmental attitudes.  The report by Izadpanahi yielded some very interesting results when comparing children (ages starting at 4) who had, and had not, been introduced to environmentally sustainable design attitudes, inviting professionals to review the importance of introducing environmentally sustainable design principles very early on in the school curriculum and whether this is perhaps the change required to change the transform the overall mentality towards the climate crisis.  (Izadpanahi and Tucker 2015)

Lara Mackintosh, a senior lecturer at Notre Damn has also been doing extensive research here in Perth into sustainable learning and has written a thesis that focuses on architectural education as a means of positive change in response to the impact of the built environment on climate change. (Mackintosh 2020) Mackintosh’s thesis aims to “…understand how architectural learning can shift the worldview of the design and subsequently, lead the designer to support design practices that respond positively to change environments.” [4]

We can see extensive research has been conducted which has established the need for a sustainable focused curriculum in order to tackle the climate emergency we are facing, but the question still remains as to is the current curriculum doing enough to address the problem?  To get an idea about what the curriculum is doing, I interviewed a mix of students and teachers at the University of Western Australia (UWA) to get their opinion on the curriculum and its current integration of teaching about designing for a better and more sustainable future.

The opinion as to whether they have been taught enough to completely understand the complexity and different elements of how they can make a difference was varied and dependable on unit selection and tutor assignment.  Some of the students interviewed had been in a studio (design unit) that was run by a tutor with interest in sustainability and the climate crisis and therefore their projects and tutors encouraged them to do research in this field and design having this as a core value of the project (Tibbitt 2020).  Just as easily though you could go through the degree electing not to do one of these more sustainable studios, and perhaps missing vital information and importance or how sustainability can be incorporated into good design.  Even then one studio doesn’t really give you time to investigate all the different factors that need to be considered when designing for the future and looking at the whole life cycle of the building.  During my interview with Sophie Giles (Head of Department at UWA) we spoke about how the university can create more opportunities to learn about the climate crisis and the need to ensure that all future recruits of teaching staff possess knowledge and interest in this subject to make sure in years to come more of the teaching staff will run studios that are focused around this issue.  But again, is this enough?

It still seems that the topic of the climate emergency is still that of an ethical issue and has yet to become that of a core teaching experience, explicit to all students and teachers.  From my conversations, it’s obvious that, although some teachers are passionate about the subject, the curriculum itself is not doing enough with no core units specifically aimed at learning about the climate crisis or reduction in emissions through the built environment.  The research shows that education is fundamental in “preparing students for a new type of architecture” [5] and we need to make changes to our curriculum now if we want to see a positive change in the built environment.


[1] McAulay, Scott, and Viktoria Szilvas. 2020. “Architecture School”. SEDA Magazine, , 2020.

[2] (McAulay and Szilvas 2020)

[3] (McAulay and Szilvas 2020)

[4] Mackintosh, Lara. 2020. “Sustaining Learning: Transformative Experiences In Architectural Education”. Undergraduate, University of Western Australia.

[5]  (McAulay and Szilvas 2020)



Tibbitt, Peter. 2020. Education and the Climate Crisis Katrina Saitta Interview by . Radio. Home.

James, Alec. 2020. Education and the Climate CrisisKatrina Saitta Interview by . Radio. Home.

Giles, Sophie. 2020. Education and the Climate CrisisKatrina Saitta Interview by . Radio. Home.

McAulay, Scott. 2020. “Anthropocene Architecture School: Phase 2”. Crowdfunder UK.

McAulay, Scott, and Viktoria Szilvas. 2020. “Architecture School”. SEDA Magazine, , 2020.

Mackintosh, Lara. 2020. “Sustaining Learning: Transformative Experiences In Architectural Education”. Undergraduate, University of Western Australia.

Izadpanahi, Parisa, and Richard Tucker. 2015. “Sustainable Schools As Pedagogical Tools For Environmental Education”. Geelong, Australia: Deakin University. http://file:///C:/Users/katri/Downloads/008_Izadpanahi_Tucker_ASA2015.pdf.




With the world around us changing and cities experiencing all different types of conditions that we have never faced before, climate change is the fundamental design problem of our time. Buildings consume some 40% of energy annually, and therefore, as architects, its our job to change the way we design and innovate to have a positive impact on the city and reduce our carbon footprint.
The time has passed for poor design, as architects we need to take responsibility for our actions and make change. In this blog I endeavour to explore how, as architects, we can change the way we design to render our cities environmentally friendly. I will be exploring what changes architects have already implemented within their firms to have a positive impact on their city, the reasons why architects nowadays, don’t always take the most sustainable option and what cities around the world are being innovators in this climate crisis.