Design Education Must Meet Deeper Ideals of Sustainability, Rob Fleming Says in New Book

PhilaU professor Rob Fleming’s new book, Design Education for a Sustainable Future, explores a new model for design education that puts sustainability at the core.

Sustainability is a powerful force that is fundamentally reshaping humanity’s relationship to the natural world, and design education must rise to the challenge of moving from well-intentioned but lightweight “greening” to the deeper and more impactful ideals of sustainability and resilience, says Rob Fleming, whose new book, Design Education for a Sustainable Future, offers a blueprint for overhauling the education and training of design professionals.

“The move from environmental friendliness to the higher bar of integral sustainability and regenerative design demands a new type of design professional, one who is deeply collaborative, ethically grounded, empathically connected and technologically empowered,” said Fleming, a LEED-certified architect and director of Philadelphia University’s M.S. in Sustainable Design Program.

Fleming will talk about his book and recommendations for a new model of design education at two upcoming events in Philadelphia:

  • On Friday, May 10, Fleming will speak at Grid Alive, an event sponsored by Grid magazine, the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and Sustainable 19103, on a panel with Judy Wicks, founder of White Dog Café, Sustainable Business Network and Fair Food; and William Woys Weaver, of The Keystone Center of the Study of Regional Foods and Food Tourism.  Tickets cost $5 and the event starts 7 p.m. at Trinity Memorial Church, 22nd and Spruce Streets.  Click here for more information..
  • On Thursday, May 30, Fleming will speak on the topic “Beyond Green: How can sustainable design transform our lives?” at The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University at 6 p.m.   The event is free and open to public, but registration is required.  Click here for more information.

Fleming is the founding director of Philadelphia University’s Master’s in Science in Sustainable Design program.

In Design Education for a Sustainable Future, Fleming argues for a great leap forward in design education, moving from an individualistic and competitive model casually focused on greening to a new approach defined by an integral consciousness, shaped by the values of inclusivity and cooperation, and implemented by a series of integrative behaviors including:

  • an ethically infused design brief
  • a co-creative design process
  • on-going value engineering
  • pre-emptive engineering
  • design validation through simulation
  • online enabled integrated learning
  • the use of well-vetted rating systems

The book details the integral frameworks, whole-system change methodologies and intrinsic values that will assist professors and their students in an authentic and effective pursuit of design education for a sustainable future.  The recommendations encompass a wide range of design fields for the built environment, including architects, interior designers, landscape architects, and also deeply impacts related fields such as engineering and construction.

“The principles of sustainability, which emphasize ecological regeneration and co-creative processes, comprise a new and powerful ideal that is reshaping technologically driven initiatives, especially those associated with the design and construction of the built environment. Societal conceptions of money and profit, consumerism, design and technology are radically shifting to address the superficial but useful demands of “greening,” and are leading to finding deeper and more impactful processes to meet the much higher bar of sustainability,” Fleming wrote in the introduction to his book, which was reprinted in Metropolis magazine, which can be read here.

Philadelphia University’s Master’s in Sustainable Design program, of which Fleming was founding director, was one of the first of its kind and features an award-winning transdisciplinary, projects-based curriculum that helps build students’ problem-solving skills to develop market-driven innovations and to be 21st century global leaders in design, economic and environmental sustainability.  For more information, visit the Master’s in Sustainable Design website.

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