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A changing world brings a changing curriculum

Tyler Prosser presents his studio final project on energy-efficient housing
Architecture student Tyler Prosser presenting his studio final project on energy-efficient housing in Spokane, WA, to industry professionals.

When WSU architecture and design students graduate, they are expected to know how to draw a floor plan and to use state-of-the-art computer programs to create models and designs. 

Starting next year, more WSU students and design professionals will also have the chance to learn more about minimizing residential housing’s polluting carbon emissions. 

Led by Omar Al-Hassawi, assistant professor in the School of Design and Construction, WSU faculty members are developing a curriculum for building science certificates and a degree focused on carbon-conscious construction. The program aims to close a gap in comprehensive energy efficiency training for students as well as for professionals who are already in the workforce. Last year, Al-Hassawi received a 3-year, $750,000 Department of Energy grant to develop the curriculum. This year, the researchers are developing courses and beginning efforts to recruit students.

 “This is similar to other basic skill sets that design professional have to have, so that when a future student graduates, it will be expected that they will understand building performance and how to put a building assembly together in a proper manner that works efficiently for energy,” said Al-Hassawi.

The work is important because residential housing is one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions and climate change, accounting for 23% of all energy use in Washington, said Al-Hassawi. The state’s 2020 version of its residential energy code is considered one of the most rigorous in the United States, upping requirements for energy efficiency in everything from windows to insulation. The state building code was also recently updated to require electric heating in all new commercial buildings – an effort to combat carbon emissions and climate change. 

The courses, which are set to start in January of 2023, will provide training in areas such as energy modeling and simulation software; mechanical systems that impact a building’s performance; integration of smart technologies, evaluation of the energy performance in buildings; and state codes, standards and rating systems. There will also be a one-semester design studio course as part of the degree program. The program is focused on construction of single-family and low-to-midsize multi-family housing. 

WSU’s Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture has a unique opportunity to provide the comprehensive multi-disciplinary approach that is needed to tackle the energy challenge, said Al-Hassawi. It is one of only five universities in the U.S. that combine engineering and architecture in a single college and the only one of the five to include all major design disciplines for the built environment. 

“There is an increasing consciousness that our built environment is part of the natural environment, and so we have a responsibility to try not to alter our planet as much as we can,” said Abigail Kirsten, a graduate student in the School of Design and Construction who is part of a team helping to develop the program’s curriculum. “Hopefully someday this will be the norm.”

A multi-disciplinary team that includes researchers from civil engineering, mechanical engineering, architecture, and construction management are developing the undergraduate and graduate certificate programs as well as the master’s degree program. Many of the courses will be online making them accessible to a wider audience, and more specialized than traditional degree programs. The team is also collaborating with WSU’s Extension Energy Program, McKinstry, a Seattle-based construction and engineering company, King County’s Housing Development Consortium, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Energy Efficiency program on development of the courses. 

WSU team members include Julia Day, David Drake, Taiji Miyasaka, Ryan Smith, and Matt Melcher from the School of Design and Construction, Dustin McLarty from the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, Jonathan Jones, Megan Kramer, Todd Currier, and Carolyn Roos from the WSU Energy Program, and Suzanne Hamada from the Composite Materials and Engineering Center.  

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