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Sustainable Environmental Design MSc/MArch Preserving Cultural Heritage – Environmental studies for the retrofitting of the Beiruti Rose House in Beirut, Lebanon, Elias Anka, MArch Dissertation Project


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

The MSc and MArch in Sustainable Environmental Design (SED) are postprofessional specialisation courses in an area currently much in demand within both architecture and engineering. The taught programme engages in real-life projects across building types in both cool and warm climates, aiming to improve environmental quality in cities, achieve independence from non-renewable energy sources and develop environmentally sustainable architectures capable of adapting to changing climates and urban environments. Design research 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 recursive rhythms in nature and the circadian rhythms of occupant activities.

The taught programme is structured in two consecutive phases. Phase I (Terms 1 and 2) is organised around team projects involving MSc and MArch students in experimental fieldwork and computational studies, using the knowledge and tools introduced in weekly lectures and workshops. In Phase II (Terms 3 and 4), individual MSc and MArch research agendas reflect the nature of each student’s home climates, urban contexts and environmental interests, addressing living, working, learning and mixed-use environments. MSc dissertation projects explore the architectural potential and applicability of their research findings in the particular climatic and typological contexts identified. MArch dissertation research culminates in a specific design application for a given site and design brief.

In Term 1, Refurbishing the City, a continuing SED research agenda, will launch a new round of London building case studies in collaboration with local architectural and engineering practices. On-site observations and measurements will be followed by the use of advanced computational tools to explore current and future environmental performance scenarios. The outcomes of these building studies will provide starting points for design research on mixed-use building programmes in Term 2. In Terms 3 and 4, individual research for the MSc and MArch dissertation projects will involve a diverse range of geographic locations, microclimatic conditions, urban morphologies and building typologies. Over the last ten years, well over 500 projects have been developed for locations across some 60 countries and 150 cities both North and South of the Equator, encompassing a wide range of climates, urban contexts and building types. These projects now form part of a growing SED archive. Some 100 of these projects have been documented in research papers published in books, journals and conference proceedings. This year’s work will be presented at the PLEA 2020 Conference to be held in A Coruña, Spain, in early September.


This course reviews theories of urban sustainability, introducing instruments and tools that can be applied to its assessment. The role of urban morphology in fostering the diverse microclimates encountered in cities and its impact on energy consumption and climate change will be illustrated with case studies from different urban contexts, at scales ranging from the regional to that of the urban block.

Providing local architectural solutions to global issues requires an understanding of what makes a good environment for occupants and how this may vary across climates, building types and occupant preferences and activities. This course introduces a generative framework for an environmentally adaptive, culturally sensitive, occupant-centred architecture aimed at developing a symbiotic relationship with the city.

Topics for this primer course include: climate change and the principles of adaptive comfort in the urban environment; building materials and environmental impact; thermal performance; the physics and architecture of daylighting; airflow and indoor air quality, and designing for the future.

This hands-on course runs in day-long sessions that provide physical and digital tools for engaging in environmental design research. The tools encompass on-site measurements, the modelling and simulation of sunlight, wind and temperature, and their effects on occupant comfort and wellbeing both indoors and outdoors. These are first applied to the building case studies from Term 1 and their use is then continued throughout the Term 2 design project and dissertation research.

We invite practising architects, engineers and researchers to present projects that illustrate their philosophy, design methodology and experience in sustainable environmental design. Presentations are followed by roundtable sessions exploring the relationship between research and practice, and the evolving nature of research.

In Terms 1 and 2 this seminar provides a regular forum for critical reading and the review of literature, providing support to the research and writing of individual research papers that serve as the starting points for dissertation projects. The Easter break is a convenient period for undertaking a first round of fieldwork for MSc dissertation projects. For MArch students, there is a further opportunity for this during the summer break.


JORGE RODRÍGUEZ ÁLVAREZ is a co-founder of SAAI, an international environmental design consultancy. He has worked as an architect at almost every scale, from the design of the furniture to the design of the city. He attained the SED MSc with Distinction and won a prize for his PhD thesis on the energy performance of cities.

NICK BAKER is a physicist who spent most of his professional life working in architecture as lecturer and researcher at Cambridge University. He is the author of many research papers and several books. His latest book Healthy Homes: Designing with Light and Air for Sustainability and Wellbeing is due for publication by RIBA Publishing in October 2019.

GUSTAVO BRUNELLI has worked as an environmental consultant on projects ranging from large, mixed-use masterplans to small, specialist exhibitions in both the UK and abroad. He led the environmental design team for the London Velodrome and is currently in charge of the advanced building optimisation team at engineering consultants Hurley Palmer Flatt.

PAULA CADIMA worked for the European Commission in Brussels managing world-class research projects on energy efficiency, renewable energy sources and emerging fields. She has chaired the sustainable architecture working group of the Architect’s Council of Europe and is a former president of PLEA.

HERMAN CALLEJA practiced as an architect in Malta before joining SED for the MArch course, graduating with Distinction in 2012. He has worked as an environmental designer and collaborated with many well-known architects. He is currently Head of R&D at chapmanbdsp, specialising in climate-based modelling and occupant comfort assessment.

MARIAM KAPSALI completed the MSc SED with Distinction in 2012, worked as a research architect with the Oxford Institute of Sustainable Development and as a Research Fellow on Building Performance Evaluation with the Low Carbon Building Group at Oxford Brookes University. She is currently a design architect with Architype.

BYRON MARDAS studied architecture in Athens and completed the SED MSc at the AA in 2013. He is currently a senior environmental designer with Foster + Partners, working on parametric modelling and environmental assessment for projects worldwide.

SIMOS YANNAS is the founding Director of the SED programme and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He was a Sir Isaac Newton Design Fellow at Cambridge University and has lectured and taught worldwide. He was awarded the lifetime achievement award of the PLEA international network of experts in sustainable architecture and urban design.

Architectural Association is approved by The Open University as an appropriate organisation to offer higher education programmes leading to Open University validated awards.

The Architectural Association (AA) has been granted the power to award its own degrees. Taught Degree Awarding Powers (TDAP) give UK higher education institutions the right to award bachelor’s and master’s degrees. As of 1 October 2019, the AA has the right to establish new academic programmes and degree awards. Therefore, from September 2020 students admitted to the taught postgraduate programmes at the AA will be awarded AA degrees.

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The Architectural Association receives Taught Degree Awarding Powers by the Lords of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council.

The Architectural Association (AA), the oldest independent school of architecture in the United Kingdom, is pleased to announce that it has been granted the power to award its own degrees. As of 1 October 2019, the AA has the right to establish new academic programmes and degree awards and is working to create some of the world’s most pioneering courses in architecture to shape and build the future.

Taught Degree Awarding Powers (TDAP) give UK higher education institutions the right to award bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Prospective students worldwide can apply to the AA Foundation Course (Foundation Diploma), Experimental Programme BA(Hons), Diploma Programme (MArch), and nine taught postgraduate programmes encompassing History and Critical Thinking in Architecture (MA), Projective Cities (Taught MPhil) and Sustainable Environmental Design (MSc/MArch), amongst others.

AA Director, Eva Franch said, ‘since our founding in 1847 we have never ceased to create new horizons, institutionally and academically. This is a significant milestone for the AA and demonstrates how we have grown and progressed as an institution that has always valued independence. Receiving TDAP marks a new era for our institution; these are exciting times for the AA. The process has required considerable work from all members of staff and students. I would like to take this opportunity to credit them for this major achievement’.

President of the AA Council, Victoria Thornton added, ‘the TDAP process has recognised our strong governance, academic standards, scholarship and teaching as well as the environment supporting the delivery of taught higher education programmes’.

The School’s application for Taught Degree Awarding Powers was supported by the Architects Registration Board, the Royal Institute of British Architects and The Open University.