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Energy and new courses in architecture

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This morning my wife noticed a large bluebottle on our kitchen window.

Think about it: this is January. Freezing temperatures should long ago have delivered death to mosquitoes, wasps and the dear old bumblebee, all of whom have lingered in our garden throughout winter.

Lawns which should be deep-frozen are instead deep in worm casts, winter pansies and polyanthus have again survived outdoors, and leaves are in bud. Last year daffodils appeared on 14 February; ten years ago they celebrated spring in April. Violets are also now out, and birds are already looking to nest.

In short, this unseasonably warm weather is again providing chilling evidence that all is far from well with our climate. To quote from a new book by Peter Smith and Adrian Pitts, global warming threatens 'beyond all reasonable doubt to undermine the sustainability of the planet'.

Energy: Building for the Third Millennium is a fascinating text which goes further than the usual worthy clarion warnings: it shows how to use the technology that is already available to make all buildings - old and new - effectively self-sustaining in energy terms.

Five case studies exploring zero-energy solutions outline domestic projects in Switzerland, Germany and the uk, and a further ten studies examine much larger-scale commercial and institutional buildings. These include a 1960s block at the University of Northumbria which has been reclad with a photovoltaic facade, Foster's Commerzbank headquarters in Frankfurt, John Miller's work at Norwich University and the new parliamentary building at Westminster which, following Hopkins' work on the Inland Revenue building at Nottingham, raises the concept of the 'active facade' to new heights.

But Peter Smith, veteran author of such avant-garde titles as The Dynamics of Urbanism (1974) and The Syntax of Cities (1977), is doing more than just offering a useful text for architects and students that actually shows us 'how to do it' - he is currently in the process of opening a new three-year BSc honours course in architecture and environmental design at Sheffield Hallam University.

Part I of the course, which is currently awaiting full candidate status from the riba/arb, will take in its first cohort this September, following which there are plans for a part-time masters course covering riba Parts II and III.

Buildings account for 50 per cent of our country's energy requirements, and most buildings are a major drain on non-renewable energy resources: Smith believes that their design must accordingly undergo radical transformation and he aims, through the new course, to produce graduates who will be equipped to pursue more responsible and ecologically sustainable architectural solutions for the next century.

Among other new courses under review are a BSc in architecture at Luton, a BA Hons in architectural design and management at Northumbria, a BA Hons in architecture and planning at the University of West England, an MEng in architectural engineering at Leeds, and an MEng in structural engineering and architecture at the University of Sheffield, where Jeremy Till has just been appointed head.

But possibly most unusual among these courses, themselves all evidence of the expanding plurality of architectural education that is planned, is a BSc in architecture with languages and BSc Hons in interior architecture at Robert Gordon University.

It's a fast-changing world . . .

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