According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, sustainable architecture and design (often called green construction and building) is the “practice of erecting buildings and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource efficient. Green buildings limit their environmental impact by conserving as much energy and water as possible and are constructed of recycled or renewable materials in order to achieve maximum resource efficiency.” Green building jobs include a wide range of roles, including architecture and design, construction, supply of green building materials, maintenance and more.
Buildings have the potential to use — or conserve — large amounts of energy, water and materials, as well as to produce or minimize waste. In addition, they can teach us about history, art and anthropology. As a result, sustainable architecture and design is important to sustainability not only because green practices can lessen a building’s environmental footprint, but also because sustainable buildings can be used to teach those who live, work or study within them about environmental and cultural sustainability.
Popular Sustainable Architecture and Design Degrees
Popular sustainable architecture programs include:
- Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in sustainability, design or architecture (or some combination thereof).
- Certificates in sustainable architecture or landscape design.
- Master of Science in sustainable design.
Few (if any) associate degrees or doctoral programs exist in sustainable architecture. Sustainable design programs are offered primarily at the graduate level and include a Master in Design Studies (with an environmental focus) and a Master of Arts in sustainable design.
Sustainable Architecture and Design Prerequisites and Curriculum
Prerequisites for undergraduate degrees in sustainable architecture and design typically include a high school diploma or GED, including successful completion of courses in basic sciences like Earth science and physics, as well as in mathematics. Undergraduate architecture programs are typically five years long, a year longer than is required for most bachelor’s degrees.
Prerequisites for graduate degrees often include an undergraduate degree in a discipline related to the discipline of the desired graduate degree. (e.g., an undergraduate degree in civil or environmental engineering might be required for a Master in Design Studies with an environmental, risk or resilience focus). For example, applicants to Harvard University’s Master in Design Studies program “normally hold a professional degree in architecture, landscape architecture, or urban planning and design. Applicants with a degree in a related discipline such as engineering, geography, computer science, or industrial design also qualify for admission. The program seeks applicants who have demonstrated overall academic and/or professional achievement in the design fields and who have the potential for advanced work in the area selected for study.”
Many sustainable architecture and design professionals earn the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Accredited Professional (AP) credential. In addition, architects in the U.S. must be licensed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Licensure is a requirement for all architects working in the United States. Becoming licensed usually requires earning a professional degree from an accredited school, completing a 3-year internship, and passing a national exam.”
Sustainable Architecture and Design Careers
With a degree in sustainable architecture or design, graduates can work for professional architecture, building, landscape and design firms. These positions typically require time in the office as well as in the field working with clients to design, construct and monitor/certify designs. Median salaries include $85,030 for construction managers, $77,210 for architects (except landscape), $76,120 for civil engineers, $63,040 for urban and regional planners and $62,090 for landscape architects (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012).
Learn more about opportunities for sustainable architecture and design careers in green building.