Sustainable Architecture and Development

  1. "Sustainability" and "sustainable design" refer to our ongoing responsibility to choose and design methods of manufacturing, building and ways of life that have little to no impact on the long-term health of the environment, society and economy. From government to industry to individual consumers, we must all consider our "ecological footprint" and the legacy we will leave for future generations. Sustainable design is now recognized by a growing number of business, community and environmental leaders as a key driver in innovation and competitiveness in the global market. Canada's role in this movement is growing steadily and there are many opportunities for our country to become a leader in the field. This unit focuses on sustainable living in terms of our homes and the infrastructure of our communities.


The pilot activity was executed in Grade 12 Technological Design. This learning object also links to the following curriculum, its related theme and outcome:

  •  Grade 10 Civics
  •  Grade 12 Canada: History, Identity and Culture
  •  Grade 12 Analysing Current Economic Issues
  •  Grade 11 Geographics
  •  Grade 11 Americas: Geographic Patterns and Issues 



This activity can take place over 3 to 4 class periods. Use the case study to introduce the subject of sustainable design, architecture and urban planning in Canada. The activity is appropriate for individual and group work, and for in-class work or homework.



Similar to problem-based learning, design thinking and the creative problem-solving process of designers are adaptable to many subject areas. They can be applied either as a means of enquiry, for example as a teaching and learning strategy, or as the subject of inquiry, such as designing a brochure or temporary shelter. In either case, students employ creative, critical, and reflective thinking; they engage in research on the particular subject matter, and they analyse and propose responses while working collaboratively in groups. The real-life problems are human-centred and they have social, cultural, and economic implications. In turn, the discussion of these issues connects students with their communities. Because design thinking and the design problem-solving methodology result in multiple solutions, there is no one right answer to any given problem. Evaluation is based on depth of inquiry, insight and critical analysis, and the breadth of creative and innovative responses. The learning process is self-directed and teachers act as facilitators and guides.

In this project, students practice design as the subject of investigation by designing a sustainable community. Through interactive class discussions and Internet research, students are introduced to concepts of vernacular architecture, renewable energy, and principles of environmental sustainability. They practice critical thinking by questioning mainstream building practices and consider user needs when developing a customized built community. Students begin the project by researching alternative building materials and methods, and renewable energy sources. Each group becomes a subject expert on a particular method, makes a presentation to the class with notes and sketches which become a resource for the second phase of this project. Working in their same groups, students identify a target audience or user-group and design a small sustainable community. With the aid of notes, sketches, and plans, students present their final design concepts to the class.




  • Sustainable development has its roots in building practices of ancient cultures while integrating new technologies and building methods.

Vernacular Architecture:

There are many wonderful building styles from all over the world that can inform us with their shapes, materials, arrangements, decorations, concepts for heating and cooling, etc. Vernacular architecture has been losing ground over the last couple of centuries, as modern methods prevail. This is unfortunate since many of the old ways employ natural materials and simple concepts that are energy efficient. Also the buildings themselves are often beautiful.



1. Historical antecedents: Using the Internet, familiarize yourself with a variety of historical and cultural building methods and materials including: adobe, cob, straw bale, and rammed earth. Describe the unique characteristics of these buildings and their historical, cultural and environmental origins.

2. Research the basic principles of sustainable development used by many leading architects today. Include modern renewable energy sources such as wind generation and solar panels.

3. Working in groups, and incorporating these principles, develop plans for a small sustainable community. Your final designs may be hand-drawn colour sketches or CAD drawings, as time allows. Assemble your research findings in a presentation to your classmates. Develop some questions of your own that emerge from your inquiry.

Resource images:

Traditional British Style Cob Buildings. Another Devon, England Cob House, reed thatch roof Source:

 Exterior view of contemporary cob construction home. Source:

Interior: Barrel stove, heated cob bench, and stabilized earth floor. Source:

Contemporary Adobe Construction

Straw Bale construction (near Collingwood, Ontario)



The pilot activity was executed in Grade 12 Technological Design. The unit began with an introduction and discussion on the meaning of sustainability and reasons to use principles of sustainability. Students researched aspects of vernacular architecture and sustainable energy sources. Presentations were made in the second class where individual groups became the subject experts of a specific building method. Working in groups, students planned and designed sustainable communities using the principles and methods they had researched.


Affordable Adobe: Sustainable Traditional Building

AIA / COTE 2005 Green Project Awards

Breathe Architects (Martin Liefhebber?s website and projects)

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation ? Healthy Housing

Canadian Green Building Council

CMHC: FlexHousing

CMHC: The Toronto Healthy House

Design Exchange: Archetype for the Living City: Sustainable House Competition

Design - Toronto Life "Green house" (October 2004) Katherine Ashenburg

Dirt Cheap Builder (resources for sustainable housing)

Enviroguide - Toronto Life (Fall/Winter 2004)

Global TV - Health Home (First aired October 4, 2004)

Green Build International Conference and Expo

Green Home Building

Healthy Home Television

International Institute for Sustainable Development

Natural Building Colloquium Southwest: The History of Cob

The Natural Step:

Networks Productions: Creating and Disseminating Media to Help Regenerate the earth

Ontario Straw Bale Building Coalition

Principles of Sustainability:

Seattle Government Green Building

Sustainable Architecture, Building and Culture

The Sustainable Design Exchange

Sustainable Sources

Terra Firma Earth Building Company (Contemporary rammed earth homes rammed earth homes - contains historical and technical information)

Toronto Healthy Houses (competition winner)

Wilson House (energy efficient house)

Wood Works

WWF-UK Homing in on Sustainability


Additional Resources General

Beatley, Timothy, and Kristy Manning. The Ecology of Place: Planning for Environment, Economy, and Community. Island Press, 1997.

Brand, Stewart. How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built. Viking, 1995.

Burnham, Richard. Housing Ourselves: Creating Affordable, Sustainable Shelter. McGraw-Hill, 1998.

Diamond, Jared M. Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed. New York : Viking, 2005.

Friedman, Avi. The Adaptable House: Designing Homes for Change. McGraw-Hill Publications, 2002.

Gissen, David. Big & Green: Toward Sustainable Architecture in the 21st Century. Princeton Architectural Press, 2002.

Griggs, Robyn Lawrence. Natural Home (bimonthly magazine).

Hall, Keith, ed. Building for a Future. Association for Environment-Conscious Building (quarterly magazine).

Hammett, Jerilou, ed. DESIGNER/builder: A Journal of the Human Environment (monthly magazine). Fine Additions, Inc.

Homer-Dickson, Thomas F. Ingenuity Gap. Can We Solve the Problems of the Future? Toronto : A.A. Knopf Canada, 2000

Jenks, Mike, and Nicola Dempsey. Future Forms and Design for Sustainable Cities. Architectural Press, 2005.

Jones, David Lloyd. Architecture and the Environment: Bioclimatic Building Design. The Overlook Press, 1998.

Kennedy, Joseph F., Michael G. Smith, and Catherine Wanek. The Art of Natural Building: Design, Construction, Resources. New Society, 2002.

Kibert, Charles J., Jan Sendzimir, and G. Bradley Guy. Construction Ecology: Nature as the Basis for Green Buildings. Spon Press, 2002.

McDonough, William, and Michael Braungart. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. North Point Press, 2002.

Register, Richard. Ecocities: Building Cities in Balance with Nature. Berkeley Hills Books, 2002.

Roseland, Mark. Toward Sustainable Communities: Resources for Citizens and Their Governments. New Society Publishers, 1998.

Thomas, Randall. Sustainable Urban Design. Spon Press, 2003.

Tsui, Eugene. Evolutionary Architecture: Nature as a Basis for Design. John Wiley & Sons, 1999.

Van der Ryn, Sim, and Stuart Cowan. Ecological Design. Island Press, 1996.

Wackernagel, Mathis, and William Rees. Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth. New Society Publishers, 1996.

Wann, David, ed. Deep Design: Pathways to a Livable Future. Island Press, 1996.

Wines, James. Green Architecture. Taschen, 2000.

Wright, Ronald. A short history of progress. Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2004.


Building Materials

Borer, Pat, and Cindy Harris. The Whole House Book: Ecological Building Design & Materials. Centre for Alternative Technology, 1998.

Janssen, Jules. Building With Bamboo : A Handbook. Intermediate Technology, 1995.

McHenry, Paul. Adobe & Rammed Earth Buildings. University of New Mexico Press, 1990.

Pearson, David. Treehouses. Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2001.

Roy, Robert L. Complete Book of Underground Houses : How to Build a Low-Cost Home. Sterling Publications, 1994.

Snell, Clarke, and Tim Callahan. Building Green : A Complete How-To Guide to Alternative Building Methods: Earth Plaster, Straw Bale, Cordwood, Cob, Living Roofs. Lark Books, 2005.

Velez, Simon. Grow Your Own House: Simon Velez and Bamboo Architecture. Vitra Design Museum, 2000.



Behling, Sophia, and Stefan Behling. Solar Power: The Evolution of Sustainable Architecture. Prestel Verlag, 2000.

Guzowski, Mary. Daylighting for Sustainable Design. McGraw-Hill Professional, 2000.

Hawkes, Dean, and Wayne Forster. Energy Efficient Buildings: Architecture, Engineering, and Environment. W. W. Norton & Company, 2002.

Home Energy Magazine. No-Regrets Remodeling: Creating a Comfortable, Healthy Home That Saves Energy. Home Energy Magazine,1997.

Ireton, Kevin, ed. The Best of Fine Homebuilding: Energy-Efficient Building. The Taunton Press, 1999.

Krigger, John T. Your Home Cooling Energy Guide. Saturn Resource Management,1992.

Lyle, David. The Book of Masonry Stoves: Rediscovering an Old Way of Warming. Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 1998.

O'Cofaigh, Eoin, John A. Olley, and J. Owen Lewis. The Climatic Dwelling: An ntroduction to Climate-Responsive Residential Architecture. James & James Limited, 1996.

Perlin, John. From Space to Earth: The Story of Solar Electricity. Aatec Publications,1999.


Waste and Water

Del Porto, David, and Carol Steinfeld. The Composting Toilet System Book: A Practical Guide to Choosing, Planning and Maintaining Composting Toilet Systems, an Alternative to Sewer and Septic Systems. Center for Ecological Pollution Prevention, 2000.

Grant, Nick, Mark Moodie, and Chris Weedon. Sewage Solutions: Answering the Call of Nature. New Society Publishers, 2001.

Jenkins, J.C. The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure. 2nd ed.T Jenkins Publishing, 1999.

Van Der Ryn, Lim, and Sim Van Der Ryn. The Toilet Papers: Recycling Waste and Conserving Water. Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 1995.

Vickers, Amy. Handbook of Water Use and Conservation: Homes, Landscapes, Businesses, Industries, Farms. WaterPlow Press, 2001.


Healthy Home Environments

Bower, John. The Healthy House: How to Buy One, How to Cure a Sick One, How to Build One. 4th ed. The Healthy House Institute, 2001.

Bower, Lynn Marie. Creating A Healthy Household: The Ultimate Guide for Healthier, Safer, Less-Toxic Living. The Healthy House Institute, 2000.

Harland, Edward. Eco-Renovation: The Ecological Home Improvement Guide. Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 1999.

Hobbs, Angela. The Sick House Survival Guide: Simple Steps to Healthier Homes. New Society Publishers, 2003.

Kunstler, James Howard. Home from Nowhere: Remaking our Everyday World for the 21st Century. Simon & Schuster/Fireside, 1998.

May, Jeffrey C. My House is Killing Me!: The Home Guide for Families with Allergies and Asthma. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

Pearson, David. The New Natural House Book: Creating a Healthy, Harmonious, and Ecologically Sound Home. Simon & Schuster/Fireside, 1998.

Rousseau, David, and James Wasley. Healthy By Design: Building & Remodeling Solutions for Creating Healthy Homes. 2nd ed. Hartley & Marks, 1999.

Saunders, Thomas. The Boiled Frog Syndrome: Your Health and the Built Environment. John Wiley & Sons, 2002.

Resources about Teaching Design

Owen-Jackson, G. (2002). Teaching design and technology in secondary schools. A reader. London: Routledge/Falmer.

Owen-Jackson, G. (2002). Aspects of teaching secondary design and technology. Perspectives on practice. London: Routledge/Falmer.

Heather Whitton
Patrick Kusmider, Grade 12 Technological Design Class at Northern Secondary School

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