Sustainable Environmental Design MSc/MArch SED MArch design dissertations, Projects Review installation, 2017

Directors: Simos Yannas, Paula Cadima
Staff: Jorge Rodríguez Álvarez, Nick Baker, Klaus Bode, Gustavo Brunelli, Herman Calleja, Mariam Kapsali, Byron Mardas

Sustainable Environmental Design (SED) engages with real-life problems that affect buildings and cities across the world. Design research for the programme is driven by evidence-based performance criteria following a process of adaptive architecturing, which proceeds from inside to outside, attuning built form and its constituents to natural rhythms and inhabitant activities. Key objectives of all SED projects are: to improve environmental quality in cities, achieve independence from non-renewable energy sources and to develop an environmentally sustainable architecture that is capable of adapting to changing climates and urban environments.

The taught programme is structured in two consecutive phases. Phase I is organised around team projects combining MSc and MArch students to engage in experimental and analytical testing of the theoretical knowledge and computational tools introduced in weekly lectures and seminars. In Phase II, MSc and MArch design research develops independently following individual research agendas that reflect students home contexts, climates and building typologies. MSc candidates complete the 12-month course with a design research project that documents the architectural potential and applicability of their chosen topic in its geographic and climatic context. The MArch cycle extends over a 16-month period that culminates in a specific design application for a given site and design brief.

SED's research agenda, Refurbishing the City, will continue this year with London-based design research involving collaboration with architectural and engineering practices in Terms 1 and 2. During Terms 3 and 4, MSc and MArch dissertation projects will be sited in many other cities and climatic regions. Recent dissertation projects have addressed warm climates, passive environmental features, outdoor living and inhabitant-centred adaptive strategies encompassing home, work, learning and mixed-use environments. A number of recent publications by programme staff also explore these concepts.

Refurbishing the City 1: London Building Studies, Term 1

London serves as laboratory for making case studies of recent buildings and outdoor spaces. Students will combine on-site observations and environmental measurements with advanced computational tools to investigate building performance and the relationship between building, climate and occupants.

Refurbishing the City 2: Design Research, Term 2

The insights gained from the Term 1 case studies provide starting points for design briefs that will be developed into team projects. Students will apply the conceptual and computational tools of adaptive architecturing to respond to climate change, lifestyle trends and technical developments that shape the future of the city.

Refurbishing the City 3: MSc/MArch Dissertation Research, Terms 3 & 4

In Term 3 individual research agendas will be combined into thematic groupings, initiating shared research before being separated into the individual MSc and MArch projects submitted in Term 4. Research for the dissertation project gives students the opportunity to explore design options and performance results across climates, building types, design specifications and operational conditions in order to address a range of issues and scales.

Lecture Courses & Workshops

Sustainable City, Term 1

The course reviews theories of urban sustainability by looking at environmental performance within cities and the instruments and tools applied to its assessment. Case studies of new and refurbished schemes in different countries and urban contexts will be used to illustrate the effects of urban morphology on microclimate, energy consumption and climate change, which will be investigated at different scales ranging from the region to the urban block.

Adaptive Architecturing, Term 1

Providing local solutions to global issues requires an understanding of what makes a good environment for inhabitants. How can architecture contribute and thus reclaim its historical role as a tool of sustainable environmental design? This course introduces a generative framework for an adaptive, culturally sensitive occupant-centred architecture with a symbiotic relationship to the city.

Environmental Simulation & Performance Assessment Tools, Terms 1 & 2

Running as weekly day-long sessions that follow the Terms 1 and 2 team projects, this hands-on course introduces the tools that drive the research methodology of SED. Students will begin by studying fieldwork techniques including indoor and outdoor surveys and the measurement and processing of environmental data used to calibrate computer models that simulate solar, thermal airflow and daylighting processes in and around buildings. A range of computational tools will be introduced over the year. Their application will be explored initially through team projects and then in greater detail during work on the dissertation in Terms 3 and 4.

Environmental Design Primer, Terms 1 & 2

This course introduces key topics of environmental design research and practice as these relate to architecture and building science. Topics include urban climatology and the theories and practice of environmental comfort; the physics of natural light, airflow and thermal processes; the ecology and environmental performance of materials; renewable energy technologies in the urban environment; and the science and art of measurement and performance assessment.

Lessons from Practice, Term 2

Each year a number of architects, engineers and researchers are invited to present recent projects illustrating their practice and experience in sustainable environmental design. The course also includes one or more study trips to buildings of interest in the UK and abroad. This year's PLEA conference will be held in Edinburgh in early July 2017, providing the opportunity for current SED students and graduates to attend and present work.

Research Seminar, Terms 1-4

In Phase I the seminar provides a regular forum for discussing research methods, report writing and topics that can be developed into the two individual research papers that provide the foundation for dissertation projects. In Phase II the seminar complements weekly individual tutorials, offering additional research and writing support.

MSc - 12 months

MArch - 16 months


Simos Yannas has led environmental design research at the AA since the late 1970s and is a founding member of the PLEA international network on sustainable architecture and urban design. His most recent writings are on adaptive architecturing, learning from vernacular architecture and refurbishing the city.

Paula Cadima has been in architectural practice and environmental research for more than 25 years. She worked for the European Commission in Brussels managing world-class research projects on energy enewable energy sour She chaired the environment and sustainable architecture working group of the Architect's Council of Europe in 2009 and is the current president of PLEA.

Jorge Rodríguez-Álvarez has undertaken his PhD research on the planning of cities for the post-carbon age and is co-founder of SAAI, an international environmental design consultancy.

Nick Baker is a physicist specialising in building science and environmental design with special interest in thermal comfort and daylighting.

Klaus Bode is a co-founder of BDSP Partnership, an environmental engineering practice whose projects have included the Welsh Assembly Building, Bocconi University and the London School of Economics.

Gustavo Brunelli led the environmental design team for the London Velodrome and is currently in charge of the advanced building optimisation team at Hurley Palmer Flatt.

Herman Calleja is an environmental analyst with Chapman BDSP specialising in the use of parametric environmental design tools.

Mariam Kapsali is a design architect with Architype. She was previously a research architect with the Oxford Institute of Sustainable Development.

Byron Mardas is an environmental designer with Foster + Partners specialising in daylighting optimisation, outdoor thermal comfort and parametric modelling.

The AA is a Partner Institution and Affiliated Research Centre of The Open University (OU), UK. All taught graduate degrees at the AA are validated by the OU. The OU is the awarding body for research degrees at the AA.

Programme site

Projects Review 2017


Graduate Admissions Team AA School of Architecture
36 Bedford Square
London WC1B 3ES

T: 020 7887 4067 / 4007

Links & Downloads


Prospectus 2017-18
AA Prospectus

Graduate Prospectus
Graduate Prospectus


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