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Collaborative Learning Experiences in a Changing Environment: Innovative Educational Approaches in Architecture

Department of Architecture, University of Bologna Alma Mater Studiorum, 40126 Bologna, Italy
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2021, 13(16), 8895;
Submission received: 4 July 2021 / Revised: 27 July 2021 / Accepted: 29 July 2021 / Published: 9 August 2021
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainability in Architectural Education: Legacy and Experimentation)


The sense of uncertainty and fragility due to the effects and magnitude of global challenges we are facing (from the circumstances of the pandemic to the impacts of climate change) requires—much more than in the past—the capacity to generate a visionary and forefront design approach in the young generation, with an aim to stimulate their reaction attitude rather than providing consolidated tools from past conditions that no longer exist or will rapidly evolve. Within this general framework, we have investigated the effectiveness and impacts of experienced-based methods of learning and innovative educational tools in architecture that are aimed at shaping expertise that addresses the aspects of environment and climate change in the context of socio-cultural dynamics, real potentialities and constraints, and their transdisciplinary trajectories. We analyzed five international pioneering teaching experiences that provided the opportunity to understand the outcomes of collaborative and experiential learning processes by which the educational activities leverage dialogue between diverse communities (including academia, citizens, policymakers, and practitioners). The study outcomes show that shifting the pedagogical paradigm towards experience-based models can improve the awareness of future practitioners for the climate implications of architectural design, implement their analysis and project skills, and trigger processes of knowledge transfer and co-production at the community level. Experience-based models also allow them to better address the societal and cultural issues involved in decision making.

1. Introduction

The current multifaceted crisis has highlighted again the close entanglement of the Earth system with its human inhabitants. The pandemic spread has generated further societal, health, and economic pressures that propel our participation in creating harmful conditions, such as climate change, the rapid loss of biodiversity, growing inequalities, and the loss of resilience to deal with uncertainty [1]. Scientific evidence points out how human actions are determining the Anthropocene scenario of planet Earth, drastically contributing to climate change and damaging the biosphere [2], which are intertwined, along with the social, economic, and cultural dimensions [1] in a complex interplay of interdependencies [3]. Unexpected natural, political, economic, and health events, together with unforeseen societal responses, trigger a reproduction of uncertainties in several domains at multiple levels [4]. This requires an updated responsive capacity in planning, designing, and living in our built environment. The interplay between human development and biosphere trajectories cannot be ignored by future generations of architects and planners that are called to contribute to an innovative vision by incorporating keywords, such as sustainability and resilience into design approaches that are capable of dealing with complexity [5]. This perspective deeply matters in architectural education and strives to overcome consolidated models that were shaped on past conditions, and which appear no longer suitable.
Responsive educational practices are needed to apply adaptive and context-based approaches and to seek socially aware and climate-responsible solutions [6,7]. The adaptive approach is an iterative evidence-based method that targets the problem the design action is faced with. It carries out the learning process with the dynamics of the problem, and develops, trials, and adapts strategies to deal with them [8].
Although sustainability has increased in prominence in architectural curricula, as shown by the number of international events, commissions, and study programs on the topic [9], several issues and limitations still occur [10,11].
The need to shift architectural education towards a more socially and ecologically responsible and informed vision is fueling a widespread debate, to which scholars [12], students, and professionals contribute, often supporting radical positions. Several British architecture schools launched the Architecture Education Declares campaign with an “Open Letter to the Architectural Community: A Call for Curriculum Change” [13]. A worldwide campaign was launched in 2019 under the umbrella of Architects Declare to call for an engagement on the responsibility of architects in coping with climate change [14]. The main criticism is that the architectural education system tends to protect its “business as usual” model even when sustainability approaches are applied, thus perpetrating image-based architecture as a value [15,16] and Archistar worshipping [15,17].
Multiple voices agree on the importance of an overhaul of the architectural curricula to equip students with an integrated understanding on the relationship between socio-ecological dynamics, architecture, and planning [6]. However, there is no consensus on the nature of the gap, which detaches architectural pedagogy from reality, and, thus, both the diagnosis and prognosis of the problem are still unclear [15,17,18]. Two main strands can be identified within the debate about the need for architectural education to better cope with a changing environment. These two schools of thought adopt differently nuanced epistemological positions on the roles that architecture and planning can take in responding the socio-ecological crisis caused by both anthropogenic and non-anthropogenic actions.
Based on evidence that the built environment has enormous impacts on resource depletion and environmental dynamics—such as climate change—one of these position postulates an eco-friendly and eco-efficient built environment. Referring to UN-Habitat data, cities consume 78% of the world’s energy and produce more than 60% of greenhouse gas emissions, even though they account for only 2% of the Earth’s surface [19]. Since housing absorbs about 18% of the total energy end-use in developed countries [20], the residential sector is a major source of CO2 emissions [21,22]. According to Andric et al. [23], this provides evidence of the architectural implications of climate change. Implementing models for high-performance and environmentally responsible buildings emerges as an urgent issue for reducing the energy [23] and natural resource consumption along the building’s entire life-cycle [24]. This approach frames a vision of ecological modernization based on advanced technical solutions and compelling “green” lifestyle narratives that often overlook the social dimension the topic involves [25,26]. As technological solutions are believed to be effective in addressing environmental problems, they emerge as the primary means by which to address the impacts of climate change [27,28].
The other point of view is mainly inspired by the role that architecture has in shaping the relationship between human, nature, and culture, managing “the assemblages of habit and settlement that we call societies” [29]. To cope with a changing environment, architects have to investigate the models that originated the Anthropocene without assuming predefined positions, but considering the multi-disciplinary, multi-scalar, and multi-centered reality to be addressed in its complex and fragile multiple dynamics [29]. Since the boundaries between culture and nature are becoming more and more blurred [30], architecture must leverage its intrinsic capacity to transform not only spatial dimensions but also socio-environmental ones [29,31]. According to this approach, the definition of sustainable architecture must be reconsidered, assuming that sustainability is a controversial concept [26,32,33,34]. Guy and Moore extensively debated on how sustainability can be conceived as a social construct more than a universal framework to solve environmental degradation and social injustice [35]. They foster critical thinking on what sustainable architecture can mean by exploring “the ways in which individuals, groups, and institutions embody widely differing perceptions of what environmental innovation is about”. This means embedding contextual knowledge, critical pluralism, and participatory design in architecture education [35,36].


The above-mentioned trends can be observed in the education pathways as two different learning models: problem-solving oriented one—often expressing the trust in the technological response – and complexity driven one—where responses are shaped by confronting with criticalities, fragilities, and conflicting interests of local conditions [36,37]. Within this context, the paper aims to discuss the effectiveness of some experiences that integrate sustainability and resilience within the architecture education curricula, by adopting a critical learning praxis as experiential learning model [38,39,40]. The study explores the implications of this approach and its tools to consider environmental dynamics in its interconnection with social, cultural, political, and economic ones and in their integration within the design of physical assemblages of the built environment.
The paper first reports (Section 2) the main barriers and limitations, detected through a literature review, in integrating the concept of sustainability and resilience within architecture curricula. Then, the characteristics of a critical learning praxis in architecture are retrieved from the literature, to identify the tools adopted for enabling students in a broader interaction with societal actors and dynamics (Section 3). The critical learning model is then empirically analyzed through the study of five international pioneering samples of experiential and inquiry-based architecture learning. They share the common approach of in-field exploration and they have been selected as they deploy a range of different tools, such as service learning, action-research, living labs, design-build, applying them in highly diverse geographical contexts (North America, South America, Europe, Caribbean). These were analyzed through a series of interviews with the main actors of the educational process engaged in the learning experiences (Section 4). The study outcomes related to the interviews and to the direct observation of the cases are then exposed, in order to explore the implications of a context-based learning in equipping students with active knowledge and in the process of engagement and dialogue between diverse communities (academia, citizens, policymakers, practitioners) (Section 5). A critical review of the outcomes allows to identify key lessons on methods, limitations, and trajectories for further implementation (Section 6). Conclusions focus on the need for shifting the pedagogical paradigm towards an in-field-experience-based model which can improve the awareness of future practitioners with relation to climate implications of architectural design. This implements their analysis and project skills, by triggering collaborative learning processes (co-production) at community and decision-making level, which push them addressing the large range of the involved societal and cultural issues (Section 7).

2. Integration of Sustainability and Resilience in Architectural Education

The integration of sustainability in higher education has increased worldwide over recent decades [9] and a major focus on the sustainability approach has been registered in architectural education too [40,41,42]. Despite this, several institutional and professional actors still call for an overhaul of the curriculum to make this integration stronger [40,43]. Some scholars have highlighted the opportunity to introduce a more holistic conceiving of sustainability that goes beyond the specialistic expertise supporting architectural design to become the real core of tomorrow design activity [35,44]. This basically requires a more pervasive understanding of sustainability and resilience in architecture programs [40,44,45]. The multidisciplinary nature of education in architecture, urban design, and planning could contribute to bridge the gap between environmental, socio-cultural, political, and economic dimensions, promoting a holistic vision [40,44].

Barriers and Gaps

A useful roadmap for the integration of sustainable environmental design is provided by EDUCATE project, which addresses the different levels and stages of architect education and professional training [40,41,42,46]. The study examined 70 architecture curricula in 30 European and non-European countries, by a detailed analysis of the learning contents, teaching methods (e.g., specialist lectures, seminars, workshops), pedagogical tools and assessment criteria, including the staff-to-student ratio for both theoretical and applied learning modules in each curriculum. Being one of the wider studies on the global trends in the field, the overview by EDUCATE can be currently considered one of the most comprehensive and exhaustive sources in the literature [47] and a reference for further and more specific complementary surveys.
Several quantitative, qualitative and comparative studies about the subject are focusing in particular on the perspectives and limits of introducing sustainability in architectural education globally. Porras et al. review the situation in Asia [47], Ostwald et al. depicts the scenario of the Australasia area [48], Lee et al. examines Korea [49], Taleghani et al. compares Iran and Australia [50], while Wright analyzes the integration in USA [51]. Other studies focus on the curricula’s criteria of accreditation by Architects Registration Board (ARB), Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), and National Architectural Accreditation Board (NAAB), the largest boards that recognizes architecture programs worldwide and assesses the compliance of the architectural educational system to professional standards of excellence [52,53]. Santini has developed a qualitative analysis on the top ten architectural schools ranked by the World University Rankings of the British firm Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), one of the world’s leading higher education analysts [11]. Some studies have surveyed the educational experience of sustainability and climate change from students’ perspectives [54,55].
What emerges from this growing amount of literature is that each school addresses the integration of sustainability in the curriculum in very different ways, which makes the interpretation of the findings very challenging [47,56,57]. Despite the limitations due to their broad diversity, the reviewed architecture curricula share some main barriers, namely:
  • Ambiguous and unclear definitions of sustainable architecture, lack of agreement on the meaning of sustainability that reflect the need for more specific and shared indications [11,40,44,46,50,57,58];
  • Separation between theoretical and design studio modules, sustainability related ones are often episodic and not integrated within the whole learning program [11,44,59]. This often prevents from effectively exploring the implications of the core theories in addressing the applications in real-context [39,56];
  • Predominance of a performance-based approach to sustainability, which sometimes limits the rise of adequate theoretical and formal speculations. Building technology courses are the core of sustainability teachings [11,46,47] with a focus on energy efficiency, thermal control, ventilation, and lighting [11], while contextual environmental conditions, as the local identities and social dynamics are often overlooked.

3. Critical Pedagogy and Experiential Learning as Tools to Embed Sustainability

The detected gaps suggest the urgency to implement pedagogic models capable to cope with the complexity of the socio-environmental scenario in a more holistic and critical manner to better prepare future professionals in working within real conditions. Empirical, evidence-based and experiential-based approaches to learning, are thus advocated to stimulate students to question principles through the practice and foster their awareness on the multiple interdependencies that sustainability implies in designing and planning [39,40,60]. This key assumption has been adopted within this paper, emerging as an effective vision to inspire curriculum overhaul.
The recurrent adoption of a hypothetical setting detached from reality as design field suitable for education is identified as a strong limit of architecture curricula [7], whose negative effects go far beyond the integration of sustainability, but certainly represent the main barrier to its implementation. In his extended work on architecture and urban planning pedagogy, Salama points out that the mainstream educational practice of developing design projects on hypothetical assumptions lead in neglecting the contextual variables [6,39,56,61]. He also criticizes the conventional practice as it triggers ready-made interpretations about the built environment which are conceived as isolated from culture and society. Being based on show–tell schemes and fueled by separated pieces of information, this pedagogy is held responsible of pushing a mimetic which the student’s ability is in reproducing what has been taught [6,62]. The problem-based or project-based methods typically adopted in architecture curricula often do not challenge the way knowledge is vehiculated, although they have a natural potential to trigger dialogue with the case studied [57,63]. This mainly results in a replication of best practices, without including diversity, and leads to an attitude of theory without practice, in the form of abstract and formal exercises, which address only some of the project outcomes and remain separate from people’s daily lives [64].
The intense debate developed on the paramount significance of introducing real life issues in architecture education has pointed to a “field-experience approach to education” as needed complement of the share of learning devoted to abstract contents [65]. The conceptual framework of this approach refers to critical pedagogy, that Freire defined as a learning process in which the learner can develop connections between their own experiences and the social contexts, thanks to education activities embodying interactions with the reality [37]. This has been translated to architecture pedagogy by means of the experiential learning, a theory elaborated by Kolb and applied to the design thinking [38,55,57,66,67]. For Kolb the experiential learning is “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience” [38]. According to this theory, the learner must be directly in touch with the realities being studied, as this allows a learning by doing approach is adopted to brought knowledge into practice, reshaping the traditional passive student–teacher relationship. This triggers a shift towards what Salama defines as transformative pedagogy, shaped by interactional and relational process focused on critical inquiry [6,39]. The student’s awareness regarding the socio-environmental responsibilities, that the act of design involves, can be developed by making them an active agent in investigating what lies underneath the current development pattern of architectural production. To this end, the process must address the physical and spatial dimensions, as well as the cultural issues and rules, social justice, community aspiration, and environmental dynamics. This leads to reconsider the architects and planner’s role in shaping the built environment, promoting a self-reflection on both how architectural knowledge is produced, and on the values, belief systems, exchanging dynamics between multiple systems (environmental, economic, social and political) that nurture the creation of the built environment [6].
Thus, critical learning is conceived as a continuous process rather than an outcome, and it is grounded in experience reflecting the human adaptation to the social and physical environment [38], so making the built environment become an open book for students [6].

Research-Based Learning and Experiential Active Learning in Architecture

Applying an experiential learning model to architecture and urban planning can be extremely effective as it pushes to dial with their complexity and multidimensionality [61,66]. Such a model has been recognized as a needful approach in educating for sustainability, which is an interdisciplinary domain requiring interconnected way of thinking [40,57] and that cannot be pursued as an additional value to the design outcomes, but as a matter to be explored through an iterative process and contextual-responsive reflection [57].
Several attempts to make this model successful have been attempted: action-research [67,68], design-build [69], live projects [70], service learning [71], real world context [72], and inquiry-based learning [6,56]. The variety of these experiences in both design studios and theoretical classes shows that a research-based teaching strategy is crucial to implement a critical learning model fostering analytical skills and critical thinking. The application of Kolb’s experiential learning cycle, including actual experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, active experimentation, is proven to be effective for students that can relate to the subject in a way that is meaningful to their own lives [38,66]. According to this approach, the contextual variables considered by the analysis that fuel the design responses are not pre-defined as acritical assumptions, but explored as a dynamic field. This is expected to improve the capacity to dialogue and mediate between conflicting inputs, interests and values, coupling the conceptual or subjective and the physical or objective realms [6]. Experiential learning also offers the chance to leverage a process of engagement and social interaction within the learning community (teachers, students) extending it to stakeholders’ groups, local communities, decision-makers [60,73,74]. This can motivate students to experiment different types of engagement, recognizing behavioral, emotional, and cognitive processes [70]. Since the teaching methodology can affect these perceptions, some relevant variables are identified within the analyzed case studies.

4. Methodology

4.1. A Case Study Approach

In order to explore the implications of the sustainability-driven, emerging needs in architecture education, a set of case studies have been selected and analyzed in depth.
The cases are architecture education programs applying at least some of the reviewed experiential design principles, including design studios, intensive workshops, fieldworks, inquiry-based courses. The selected experiences developed different methods for critical learning such as: action-research; service learning; community outreach; design-build; living-lab. They belong to different national educational frameworks (Italy, USA, Chile, Germany) and they deal with real cases belonging to high diverse geographical contexts (Europe, North America, South America, Caribbean). They represent pioneering samples within leading universities for the integration of sustainability in specific programs and courses (University of Naples Federico II, University of Bologna Alma Mater Studiorum, Polytechnic of Milan, New York Institute of Technology, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Technische Universität Berlin) that have visibility at international level. The cases have been selected for being concretely experimented and for the reputation of the institutions belonging to worldwide networks, such as Urban Climate Change Research Network (UCCRN) (CASE 1); ERASMUS+ European Union grant program (CASE 2); Sustainability Initiative for Aurora University Network and Occupy Climate Change Network (CASE 3); European Design Build Knowledge Network (EDBKN) (CASE 4); Architecture and urban design for risk reduction and resilience (ArcDR3) initiative for Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU) (CASE 5).
They share the use of real contexts and a case study method to allow students gather empirical information from the field to be compared with more theoretical and technical notions, promoting both direct observation and engaged participant observation [75].
The programs have been selected according to a criterion of diversity in targets to which they are designed for [76] and the availability of the teaching staff managing them [77].
Each experience mainly addresses some specific subject within the sustainability, climate change, and resilience general topics. The choice of the focus basically depends on two factors: specific topic and theory background of the teaching program and specific socio-cultural context of the case proposed to the learners as application field. The specific focus addressed are community resilience, socio-ecological vulnerability, climate governance, landscape, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, climate resilient-design, construction materials, and buildings life-cycle. All cases refer to program spanning over more than one semester, most of which are still currently on-going. Detailed pieces of information on the cases are provided in Section 4.3.
According to the recognized definition of this methodology, the analysis of the case studies is configured as an empirical and interpretive framework that allows the researcher to inquiry a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context [78,79,80].
Being an exploratory study [78], its main goal is to accomplish suggestions and insights from the cases, rather than reaching a deep understanding nor learning key lessons from each of them [81]. The analyses aim to gain a set of possible pathways to integrate sustainability and resilience in architecture education.

4.2. Research Design

Since the study aimed at exploring the core elements of the educational experiences of some leading actors, direct interviews have been selected as suitable mean for this purpose, according to the reference methods for case study analysis [82] and also due to the difficulty to obtain more quantitatively oriented data [83,84].
Nevertheless, the face-to-face semi-structured interviews were integrated with data collection of background information on each program syllabus, as well as with the outcomes of in-field direct observations.
Data have been collected from multiple sources to complement the interview narrative description, aiming to enhance the study trustworthiness [84] and consistency [82]. Direct observations provided insights on social settings and on triggered interaction and participation, giving to the researcher additional knowledge on the cases [82,85,86].
With reference to the interviews set up, the respondents have been selected for their role, level of involvement with the cases and experience with the topics addressed by this research [86]. Accordingly, they play the role of key informants, according to purposive sampling criteria [87].
Furthermore, the interviewing is recognized in the literature as a primary research method for investigating educational processes through the individual experience of the people who carried it out [83,88,89]. This leads to consider interviews a suitable method to: 1. identify unique aspects of the cases; 2. understand the socio-cultural context of the learning experience; 3. gain thick descriptions by eliciting deep reflections, especially in information-rich cases [83,89]. The semi-structured interviews has been conducted in May–June 2021 with open-ended questions to reflect the respondents’ own perceptions, facilitate detailed response on the study topics and program [90].
The interview has been designed to ensure the same questions are asked to all participants, as well as to foster the interaction of respondent and interviewer on a broad set of topics. The interview includes seven main questions (Appendix A), focusing on the role of experienced-based models of learning in vehiculating sustainability and resilience into architecture curricula. The main content of the questions is about: which tools for learning are adopted by the program, how contextual sustainability and skills enhanced by the learning experience are integrated; which are the applied methodologies and their enabling factors and limitations; how the evaluation is made of the student educational pathways; if and how the co-production of knowledge outside the educational domain is realized; if and which key expertise and responsibilities emerge for future architects and educators; which key architectural research and educational topics to be further developed in the curricula, if any.
The respondent profiles provided in Table 1 allow to identify the relevance of their role to this study context, their experiences in education and research field and their specific knowledge on sustainability and resilience in architecture.

4.3. Description of the Cases

Table 2 provides a synthetic description of the selected case studies. Being gathered from each program syllabus, booklets and publications, the provided pieces of information concern: the territorial context on which the learning experiences focuses, the program disciplinary fields, and the active learning activities they include; the topics the program declared to address; the specific matters within which the program embedded contextual sustainability in learning activities and carried evidence-based projects; the expected outcomes as both explicit assignments and additional independent products attained from experiential learning [91,92,93,94,95,96,97,98,99,100].

5. Outcomes

The study outcomes are divided into two subsections (Section 5.1 and Section 5.2): the first reports the main results collected from interviews, the second one summarizes specific information retrieved by both the interviews and direct observations.
The answers to the seven main questions are provided in form of thematic analysis, to better identify commonly recognized patterns and relationships which meaningfully answer the research questions of this study [101]. Table 3, Table 4, Table 5, Table 6, Table 7, Table 8 and Table 9 provide the thematic analyses of the respondents’ answers to each question, by quoted excerpts from their interviews.
Then, further complementary information on the external actors engaged in each case, the typology of activities developed and their outcomes beyond the educational domain are also reported.

5.1. Thematic Analysis of Interviews

5.1.1. Effectiveness of Experiential Model of Learning

Question 1 is about the effectiveness of the experiential learning model to integrating sustainability, climate change, and resilience within the architectural curriculum.
The majority of respondents argues that the student engagement in real-life context represents the main potential of experiential learning model. They stress on the effects of this in-field interaction with complexity as a mean to foster the inclusion of diverse input within the design and planning process.
Working with a real context creates a transformative experience through which students perceive the complexity of what it means to interact with the problems of climate change at ground level. This allows them to deal with multidisciplinarity, and specialistic components while they learn to interact with the territorial actors of physical transformations, such as decision-maker and people having in that context their daily dimension.
What emerges as a largely shared opinion is that the experiential learning process allows students to understand the urban planning and architecture projects beyond the purely aesthetic or formal dimensions, discovering how the process-based dimension affects architecture.
Within this framework, most respondents consider the experiential learning a way to suitably ground major environmental challenges, such as climate change, and to supply student the evidence that sustainability is a mediated outcome, needing their knowledge is integrated with multiple interests and perspectives.
Students are called to reflect on the role of actors engaged in the process of transformation of the built environment, for example translating UN-Sustainable Development Goals in specific contexts where constrains of territorial planning, spatial governance and political issues make hard to introduce effective changes. This pushes them to learn to give due weight to the vulnerability and fragility of territories and people
High attention is given by respondents to the social dimension of the learning activities, due to its potential of triggering experiences able to radically influence the student choices on their future career.
The design-build projects we developed overcome the purely technical or academic dimension, as they were community-related and faced real process, real material, institutional barriers, lack of technical skills and available economic resource, as well as of people engagement and willingness. This strong contact whit the actual operational conditions change architectural education, often acting as a life-changing experience for students and their perspectives on their career and professional future.

5.1.2. Tools for Learning Contextual Sustainability and Students’ Skills

Question 2 explores the use of suitable tools for integrating contextual sustainability with students’ competences enhanced by the learning experience itself.
High variability is recorded of answers on which tools can be the more suitable in embedding contextual sustainability and resilience goals within design, while wider consensus is encountered on skills that such tools can enhance in students.
Two main tool typologies are identified by the respondents: those for assessment and the process-based ones. The tools for environmental performances assessment of built environment are included within the first typology, as well as those for climate analysis.
The students have to learn applying tools to assess the built environment environmental performances and measure the response of architecture to stressing climate conditions. They can so go beyond the mere form in designing architectures and consider environmental parameters as means to give quality to the projects beyond the solely technical dimension. Tools for process analysis and assessment are as well necessary to understand the social and political context of the interventions.
Those included among the latter by most of respondents are tools to work on the field, engaging interaction with social and political spheres of the studied context, such as participant observation, field work, focus groups, interviews, roundtables. They mainly belong to social science and ethnography, and allow to collect thick data, and information that help to contextualize the project as a process that must dial with multiple actors.
The students require methodological preparation to be capable to integrate information not just on needs, expectation and claims of communities (that could be relatively simple) but also on decisional and governance constrains and power relationship. They need tools for active learning and observation, to represent what they found, and to communicate the findings to the engaged actors….”
Tools for the graphic representation of information are thus considered also important for both the architecture outcome and to feed the dialogue with communities and public actors restituting the analysis the data collected on the field.
An intensive workshop program (IWP) is a learning tool cited by most respondents as able to immerge students within local context in a direct and focused way.
IWP is an important moment in the educational development, as it is an intense learning experience where be together, live together, inhabiting the intervention place, so creating a physical and emotional approach to the course subject. Students are immerged in the reality of the project, and they feel the experience
The most mentioned skills that these tools improve in students, are the ability to communicate with different actors, the ability to create dialogue, to mediate conflicting inputs and interests, and to generate active and proactive commitment.

5.1.3. Methodologies, Enabling Factors, and Limitations

Question 3 was aimed to identify the methodologies adopted for experiential learning and which have been the enabling factors and limitations encountered.
Several answers focus on enouncing principles which inspired the methods selection, rather than specify in detail how these latter are built. The more frequently mentioned principles concern: creating synergies between research and education and with public actors and local communities, facilitating students in the interaction with real contexts and deliver to them practical tools to do it, by integrating the knowledge gained from the field within articulated outcomes. According to what explicitly argued by some respondent, the applied methodologies are intended as ways:
To adjust theoretical knowledge to real problems
To create hybrid environments that can allow sharing, collaboration and participation of diverse actors (experts, decision makers, city officials, students). This provides a suitable framework to build Research-Action pathways bringing together experiential learning, public engagement, and applied research
To dialogue with the case complexity by operating in-field
An applied research model is frequently declared to be the reference on which the methodologies are set, to create an exchange between research trajectories and the operating field. Since field work is the preferential way for experiential learning, the application cases in which bigger networks and partnerships between territorial agencies and communities are involved, represent more often effective opportunities for enabling the student engagement capacity.
Students are embedded in a context of applied research; we teach what we research. What they study matters to the sustainable transformation of the built environment and to people who live that environment. An inquiry-based method means to think out of the box, where are no given question or predetermined answers. So, students vehiculate in interactive ways the knowledge they have gained in field. This both for design studios and more research-oriented courses too.
In addition to the duration of the action and availability of economic resources, two enabling factors are identified as more relevant, namely the building of a long-term partnership with public actors and communities, and the capability to clearly socialize and communicate what this partnership can do.
The claimed major limits concern the divergences and conflicts between research or educational goals and community expectations, and the mismatching between short-term academic timing (duration of courses and workshops) and long-term territorial processes (at political and community levels). An unclear definition of research results and a lack of scientific rigor are also cited as causes of failure.
The experiential activities such as Living Labs can generate expectations in communities. This may easily trigger divergencies and mismatching between the research goals and community aspirations

5.1.4. Evaluation of the Students’ Educational Pathway

Question 4 concerns the assessment of the students’ education pathway and how the outcomes are evaluated. A comprehensive evaluation of the progresses the students reached during the whole learning experience is mostly adopted rather than assessing just the results achieved at end. The student active engagement in Intensive Workshop Programs often highly increases the score.
Assessment focuses more on learning than performance. What matters is that students are able to approach field work methodically. This requires them to be involved in cross-cutting interactions even beyond the specific educational aims of the program, as the main target is precisely to support students in this experience, from which they may learn something relevant for their life
Personal skills such as proactiveness, engagement in the field and capability to be creative and flexible are considered as valuable skills in experiential learning.
I evaluate the capability to be active and not a passive recipient. The experiential learning in itself looks to shift the student attitude, so their willingness to be active protagonist is crucial, even when this means to fail or face troubles. It’s not important the result but the engagement on the field, as the outcome can also be limited, but the student will cope with the complexity of the context and this is more relevant
Story-telling and representation skills are also considered in the assessment process of most programs, as is for the capability of managing complex information (e.g., quantitative and qualitative analysis).
A student skill I consider fundamental is to confront and represent complex reality in its multiple aspects… Graphic representation translates conceptual clarity […]. Verbal capability reinforces this compelling narrative. Communication across multiple representational platforms is fostered. Students who effectively engage with multi-sectoral stakeholders are well scored, as this is a very useful skill for their career.
About the assessment modes, most programs adopt a three steps scheme: a first checking stage on the initial context analysis and literature review, a second one on the preliminary proposal while the third one is on the final design stage or inquiry-based project. A specific assessment session and extra score is often devoted to intensive workshop program, as they are not always embedded within the main classes. A formal final exam is provided for all programs.

5.1.5. Co-Production of Knowledge and Impacted Domains

Question 5 is about the experiences of the interviewed in knowledge co-production among diverse actors (mainly public authorities and communities) and particularly investigates which are considered suitable practices for this scope. Despite the variety of the analyzed programs, some common trends emerged for co-production pathways, namely:
  • The engagement of students in public debate on built environment transformation;
  • The integration of data from field work in the design stage as a mean to leverage community action and bridge it with decision makers based on shared evidences;
  • The creation of hybrid interfaces that can reflect changes in real practices.
Students learn more in the outside and real world then in academia, as they better learn to be young professionals by participating to the public debate
Students have become the key, the bridge with local communities, and this is precisely a model of experiential learning that builds knowledge through co-production. Outcomes are built together with local actors and everyone engaged is co-learning something
Urban actors are influenced by how they are involved in the design process and how they bring this knowledge into their reality. In my experience, student studies and projects provide the community with a means to push policy makers to action; so they become effective policy statements. This outcome can demonstrate our effectiveness in conveying student work that is clear and compelling to the community. For example, in Gowanus (Brooklyn), city officials considered the planning impact of our climate projections on our community stakeholders, while in Naples our climate analysis integrated community knowledge and resident needs
I often encountered issues about power symmetries. Decision makers often don’t know so much about people and territories and inversely community don’t know about the complexity of decision-making regarding spaces. The fieldworks studies require a long-term relationship with inhabitants but allow to overcome this gap, making visible things that are often neglected by both research and public authorities. Working with communities and public actors is a complex partnership, exposed to the risk of manipulation of the findings for political purpose. Building hybrid interfaces which stimulate participation of a plurality of subjects may overcame this risk.

5.1.6. Key Expertise and Responsibilities of Future Architects and Educators

The ability to think critically and to figure out and visualize desirable transformations are indicated by most of the respondents as the key competences for future architects. Expertise in graphical and visual representation helps in bridging multiple interests and mediate between conflicting visions.
Students have become expert in being part of complex processes, avoiding being reductivist. This is the needed expertise to accept conflicts, dialoguing with different perspective. Critical thinking is fundamental to orient processes to future trajectories and transformative pathways
A recurrent claim in interviews is on the architect social role, which is considered as a key awareness students must be provided of. This pushes them in conceiving the profession as a way to be civic engaged and their role as that of active citizens.
They have to think, behave and design as citizens. They have to know that their profession is about what the people or the city really need
Great emphasis is also given by respondents to the role that architect can have inside local communities.
Future architect must be trained to facilitate communities in developing new imaginaries and identifying their aspirations, not just their needs. They can bring awareness and empowerment translating their vision of the future
The implementation of critical learning and the strong integration within the architects’ curricula of context-based practices are widely shared by the respondents as crucial means to build dialogue with the local context and to convey, co-produce, and communicate knowledge between students and communities. Many educators say they feel it is their responsibility to inspire students to reshape solutions based on specific circumstances and contextual variables. However, also making them able to bridge technical knowledge, natural sciences, and social sciences in a multidisciplinary perspective.

5.1.7. Key Architectural Research and Educational Topics

Question 7 asked respondents to indicate three main challenges and topics to be further developed in the curricula to better meet societal needs and address uncertainty. They have reacted to this request by providing a rich set of answers. Although several of them are not convergent, shared opinions emerge regarding the implementation of co-design, community-based architecture and planning, as well on integrating climate-related evidence within a more science-based architecture.
We need methods and practical tools for co-design and for evidence-based projects to deliver quantitative and scientific analysis to be mediated with field information. This integration has to be pursued to interact with collective intelligence and the complexity of reality. For example, an effective tool to be further investigated is gamification”
Different nuances emerge among the answers also regarding the topic of uncertainty and risk.
We need to engage the societal challenges we are facing and confront directly their complexity. Design thinking does this: as architect we are problem-solvers; cross-sectorial thinkers with unique skills.”
The topic of the integrated risk (social and environmental) is embedded in current society and represents the frontier of uncertainty. We need to cope with fuzzy answers through preparedness, approximation, and intuition, so staying in uncertainty without succumbing
Further recorded suggestions are about the fostering of multiscale synergies between architecture and planning, which is perceived as a way to deal with the current challenges, and policy coordination, that could be a mean to address still emerging topics, such as resilience, disaster reduction, and climate change adaptation by shifting the way sustainability is traditionally vehiculated into the curricula.
We need to move forward bioclimatic architecture, energy efficiency and sustainable development. We need reconceptualizing the building life cycle, health, comfort condition and circular economy, by embedding more meaningful frameworks such as resilience, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. The idea of sustainable architecture is obsolete. The need and demands are strongly changing, and they call for processes deeply embedding the uncertainty.

5.2. Learning Activities, Actors, Co-Produced Outcomes

The information collected through direct observation of the programs during their development is summarized in Table 10.
The multiple data collected are organized aiming at relating them with what emerges from the interviews, so to highlight the extent of each experience beyond the purely educational domain. The external actors engaged in the learning activities are thus identified, as well as the student profiles and the typology of the carried activities. The program’s co-produced outcomes are also reported as well, as intended as the outputs that have been developed with actors during the experiential activities.

6. Discussion of Results

Both scholars and educators attribute high effectiveness levels to the experiential learning models integrating the emerging sustainability-related issues within architect education programs.
The adoption of these methods mainly consists of addressing the teaching activities to real cases of design in actual contexts, assumed in their whole complexity and closely following their development. This leads in encouraging students to be an active part of the decision-making process which steers the project, and to work in the field by establishing close relationships with site conditions and stakeholders to exchange knowledge and co-produce solutions.
This involvement is expected to make students more aware of the multiple dynamics fueling the design process, and train them to take into account much more variables than those usually considered in current architecture teaching programs. This is especially true for those variables that affect sustainability, in its various meanings and implications.
The potential of active learning in giving visibility to sustainability and climate change related topics is indeed recognized, as it is for all the topics affecting daily life of communities and so become matter of widely involving decision-making processes. This is deeply interlinked to the nature of the tools applied to deliver experiential learning activities because they are intentionally developed to embrace holistic perspective and architecture within a contextual key. This is especially pursued in design studios (CASE 1, CASE 4, CASE 5), through the combination of tools for assessment and process support which help to build trajectories on evidence-based information. Special attention is given by the programs to assure that co-design project be fueled by rich flow of both quantitative (such as climate analysis, study of environmental performances) and qualitative data (e.g., survey of community perceptions, needs, mapping of actors and local networks). The mix of tools provided (Table 4) and variables addressed by the programs (Table 2) shape a wide multidisciplinary education scheme, which is intended as a mean to cope with emerging socio-ecological challenges. Multidisciplinary often leads in long-term results for both students and stakeholders (CASE 1, CASE 4, CASE 5), in terms of technical evidence provided and socio-political variables surveyed.
Compared to the current training programs for architects, the accredited benefits to this scheme are the enhancement of some student skills, such as those of reliably mapping the multiple and diverse conditions the design must face and those of mediation and dialogue with multiple stakeholders, as well those of identifications and representation of the real needs the project must meet.
Although the arguments supporting the adoption of experiential learning methods in architecture are richly reported in the literature, as well as the benefits that should derive from them, there are quite limited pieces of information regarding the implementation of study programs consistent with these premises.
Despite the analysis we performed on some of the most recognized programs worldwide that aspired to those principles, many operative details and evidence-based achievements are still lacking. Even if the interviewed were all directly involved in managing specific programs, their answers were mainly focused on the theoretical background and conceptual assumptions while less emphasis was given to the concrete practical issues.
All of them expressed positive opinions on the effectiveness of the experiential learning model they applied and argue that the motivations that convinced them to adopt this approach have been confirmed in practice. However, no performance assessments based on pre-defined indicators nor student opinion surveys were used to support their position. This can be at least in part attributed to the novelty of most of the programs which, being very recently launched, do not have often enough elements to carry out a structured assessment. That said, some key aspects remain to be explored possibly according to shared indicators to evaluate the level of satisfaction, the level of gained skills against the real market requirements, the possible impacts on the working opportunities and conditions through further studies, since a more detailed knowledge of these pioneering experiences may facilitate the diffusion of the model and its wider adoption.
Among them, three main topics emerge with relevance. The first one concerns the specific teaching tools needed to support this learning model: having been mostly developed for social science purpose, a crucial issue deals with how they can be adapted to be implemented in architect education. The second deals with the availability of prepared and skilled teachers within architecture programs, to cover the wide range of disciplines that concur in providing the large set of knowledge these learning practices need to students. How they can be selected and appointed is an additional related issue. The third deals with the need to clarify to which extend the architect education programs can adopt this learning model and which is the share it must have within the whole package of knowledge future architect must be supplied of.

7. Conclusions

The proposed study investigated some pioneering experiences attempting to bring sustainability and resilience into architectural curricula through critical and experiential learning, assuming both as context-related elements. This is connected to the capability of universities to generate interactions beyond the academia and civil society, linking research, teaching, and community service.
The effects of the pandemic crisis and the ever-increasing evidence of the impacts of climate change clearly point out the need to evolve the response capacity of both the built environment and the related communities, which is strictly connected to the need of a new generation of architects able to look at cities’ development according to a wider, visionary, and cross-disciplinary oriented perspective. However, quite limited experiences of innovative educational programs in the field of architecture are currently working in this direction and most of them are still considered pioneering opportunities instead of frontrunners, reflecting the self-referential approach of traditional models. Despite the barriers and limitations that emerged during this study, the investigated experiences clearly pointed out some fundamentals principles that can be assumed as cornerstones for future educational programs of architects. In order to effectively embed sustainability at the core of architectural studies a more place-based perspective is need and the relation between human actions and local ecosystem must move to the heart of conceptual reflection. This is expected to be translated not into theoretical definitions but rather into a constructive co-creation dialogue with the key stakeholders with whom students must become trained to actively relate with, so enhancing the life quality of local communities and their environmental friendliness. The adoption of a critical learning methodology is a crucial element to build this dialogue capacity and to develop a genuine sense of civic responsibility. This has to be adequately supported by a cross-fertilization approach between different disciplines preventing the silos-thinking which does not match a resilient professional dimension. Last but not least, the main trends in social evolution, and especially the constraints due to the pandemic situation, required the introduction of new teaching tools and the use of innovative digital instruments to support the educational process: this is a powerful lesson learned on how difficulties may facilitate the adoption of new solutions. These tools are expected to be permanently integrated in the programs to facilitate the dialogue, to reduce distances, to encourage inclusion and to possibly support the model shift to make a change happens.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, E.A., J.G., and C.V.; methodology, E.A. and J.G.; software, C.V.; validation, E.A., J.G., and C.V.; formal analysis, C.V.; investigation, C.V.; resources, E.A., J.G., and C.V.; data curation, C.V.; writing—original draft preparation, E.A., and C.V.; writing—review and editing, E.A., J.G., and C.V.; visualization, C.V.; supervision, E.A. and J.G.; project administration, E.A. and J.G.; funding acquisition, E.A. and J.G. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research received no external funding.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Informed consent was obtained from all subjects involved in the study.

Data Availability Statement

No datasets were used for the purpose of this study.


We are grateful for the time, availability and input provided by the respondents who participated in this study. In particular, we thank M.F. Leone of University of Naples Federico II and J. Raven of New York Institute of Technology, L. Bartolomei of University of Bologna, M.F. Palestino of University of Naples Federico II, R. D’Alençon and R. Moris of Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Appendix A. Interview Guide

  • How an experience-based oriented model can change the integration of climate-change/sustainability topics in architectural education according to your experience?
  • Which are the most effective tools for learning that have been implemented in your teaching experience, which skills they are capable to enhance in students?
  • Can you indicate synthetically methodologies/enabling factors/limitations?
  • Can you describe how did you assess the educational pathway of the students and how do you evaluate the results obtained?
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the knowledge-transfer (academia-community-practitioners-decision-makers). Which are the impacts and on which domain (e.g., education, society, policy, research)?
  • Can you define which are the key-expertise and responsibilities for future generation of architects? Which are as well your responsibilities as educators?
  • Which are the lines of research/topics (3 main challenges) that need to be further implemented to meet societal needs and allow students of architecture to cope in their professional practice with a tangible crisis scenario?


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Table 1. Profiles of respondents.
Table 1. Profiles of respondents.
RespondentsCaseProfileResearch Field
R11Associate Professor and former Director, Graduate Program in Urban and Regional Design, School of Architecture and Design, New York Institute of TechnologyClimate-resilient design and planning, Sustainable Architecture
R2Ph.D., University of Naples Federico II, Assistant Professor in Technological and Environmental Design at Department of Architecture, Senior Researcher at PLINIVS Study CentreClimate-resilient Design, Disaster Risk Reduction, Sustainable Architecture
R32Research Fellow in Architecture, Architectural Theory and Design, Landscape and Infrastructures, Department of Architecture, University of BolognaSacred Architecture, Collaborative Design, Community-based Architecture
R43Associate Professor in Urban Planning and Planning Theory, Member of the Scientific board of the Doctoral Program in Architecture University of Naples Federico II (UNINA), responsible of the Public Engagement Policy of UNINA for the Department of Architecture Community-based planning, Urban Political Ecology, Culture-led regeneration policies
R54Assistant Professor in Technological and Environmental Design, Academic Deputy Director of the School of Architecture of Pontificia Universidad Católica de ChileSustainable Architecture, Disaster Risk Reduction, Construction Materials, Community-based Architecture
R65Assistant Professor in Urban Planning and Territorial Governance and Management, Director of Cities Observatory UC and of Programme Plans and Urban Projects UC, School of Architecture and Institute of Urban and Territorial Studies of Pontificia Universidad Católica de ChileDisaster Risk Reduction, Climate Change Adaptation, Territorial Governance and Planning
Table 2. The analyzed case-studies: background information.
Table 2. The analyzed case-studies: background information.
C1UCCRN Edu-Urban Climate Change Research Network Educational
Within the global research network of UCCRN based at Earth Institute of Columbia University, the Urban Design Climate Workshops (UDCW) educational initiative has been established since 2015 with the aim to integrate and scale-up climate change mitigation and adaptation in cities through knowledge sharing, collaboration, and action planning. Several partner institutions (New York Institute of Technology, University of Naples Federico II, Polytechnic of Milan, Université Gustave Eiffel, Aalborg University) joint the network delivering design studio activities with architecture, urban design and planning students implemented in several cities (Paris 2015, New York 2017, Napoli 2018, Aalborg 2019, Paris 2021). Alongside UDCW intensive study programs, post-graduate courses focused on climate-resilient planning and design principles and methods have been carried out at Polytechnic of Milan (Urban and Landscape Regeneration Studio 2016–2019, Sustainable Architecture and Landscape Design Master Program), and New York Institute of Technology (Urban Design Climate Lab 2015-2021, Architecture, Urban and Regional Design Master Program).
C2LED2LEAP-Landscape Education for Democracy towards Learning Empowerment Agency Partnership
-Landscape Education for Democracy towards Learning Empowerment Agency Partnership (LED2LEAP): the study course has been developed in the framework of ERASMUS+ European Union grant program (2019–2022) with the aim to prepare the future generation of landscape architects, planners, architects, and designers for their role as democratic leaders for sustainability. The consortium consists of the following universities and NGOs: LE:NOTRE Institute (Netherlands), Hochschule für Wirtschaft und Umwelt Nürtingen-Geislingen (Germany), University of Bologna (Italy), Hungarian University of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and the NGO Partners KultúrAktív (Hungary) and EtaBeta Cooperative (Italy). Here, we take in consideration the two modules course (theory on Participatory Action Research and the Living Lab) carried on by the University of Bologna (2020–2021), designed for master and doctoral students of Faculty of Architecture and Civil Engineering
C3Ponticelli SmartLab and LAC-Climate Action Lab Naples
In the framework of two participatory research projects of University of Naples Federico II (Metropolis project and Occupy Climate Change), educational activities have been developed at Department of Architecture from 2017–2021 (Intensive Workshop Program, Living Lab and research-based courses) to foster public engagement on the topic of climate-resilience and promote service-learning initiatives for students. For this study we focus on the experiences of the course “Tools for Territorial Transformation 2020–2021” (Sustainable development and Territorial Network Bachelor Program) and Resilient Cells Intensive Workshop Program within the Living Lab Ponticelli SmartLab 2017 (Architecture Master Program).
C4Design-build Reclaiming Heritage
Reclaiming Heritage is an international network composed with academics and students, established since 2009 at Faculty of Architecture of Technische Universität Berlin (Habitat Unit chair) to engage in Design-Build learning and research activities through studios and intensive workshop programs for students at master level. We explore the experiences of two major post-disaster reconstruction educational activities, Chanco Prototype (2010–2013) and Rebuild Haiti Homes (2013–2015).
C5PPUC-Plans and Urban Projects Program Universidad Católica
The program belongs to the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Urban Studies of Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. It has the mission to provide a framework to create convergence between applied research of urban and territorial development, planning and management, governance structures, and educational activities. In this study, we consider two research-based courses, Resilient by Design: urban project Diego de Almagro (Master Laboratory of Research and Design 2017–2019) and Multi-Hazard Santiago: Underlying Factors for Resilience Assessment, Integrated Planning and Design (Laboratory of Research and Design 2020). Both are curricular courses of Master in Urban Design (MPUR) and Master in Sustainable Architecture and Energy (MASE).
The analyzed case-studies: detailed information
CASESContext of Case StudiesDisciplinary FieldTopicsVariables ExaminedStudent Outcomes
C1New York, Gowanus (USA)
East Naples (Italy)
Building Technology
Urban Design
Climate Resilient DesignUrban climate hazards (Heat waves and Flood)
Urbanization trends
Climate Analysis
Urban Form Technologies and Materials
Vegetation cover
Scenario-Based design Projects
On-going planning
Community Needs
Collective mapping
C2Bologna, Community of Ex Villa Salus (Italy)Urban Design
Landscape and democracy
Action Research
Social innovation
Socio-cultural integration
Local food production
Local Networks
Participatory Analysis and synthesis
Collaborative visioning
Co-design and Transformation
C3Naples, Ponticelli and Historical centre (Italy)Environmental Design,
Urban Planning
Climate Resilience
Community Resilience
Community-based adaptation
Socio-ecological Vulnerability
Community Resilience
Bottom-up Initiatives
On-going planning
Urban Analysis

Participatory Surveys

C4Chanco (Chile)
Croix-des-bouquets (Haiti)
Environmental Design and Building Technology Heritage
Building Life Cycle
Local Materials
Post disaster interventions
Community Resilience
Climate related and geophysical Hazards
Bottom-up Initiatives
Social Vulnerability
Construction Materials and Technologies
C5Diego de Almagro, Chañaral, Region Metropolitana Santiago, Litoral Central (Chile)Urban Planning
Urban Design, Environmental Design
Disaster Risk Reduction
Climate Change Adaptation
Climate related and geophysical Hazards
On-going planning
Vegetation Patterns
Services and resources
Bottom-up Initiatives
Social Vulnerability
Urban Analysis
Environmental surveys
First-hand Research
Table 3. Thematic analysis question 1.
Table 3. Thematic analysis question 1.
Thematic Analysis Question 1Respondents
Transformative approachR2
Real-life context stimulates to work with complexityR1, R2, R3, R4, R5, R6
Sustainability as mediated outcome among multiple interestsR4, R3
Sustainability as an empty labelR3
Context-based feasibility of climate resilient measures R4
Inclusion of multiples inputs and perspectivesR1, R2
Climate change issues visibility and work on it at groundR5, R2, R4
Life changing experience, orient further careerR5, R2
Reflect on the role of actors engaged in the process of transformation of the built environmentR2, R4
Understanding of constrains of territorial planning, spatial governance and political issuesR2, R4, R5
Understanding of urban design, architecture projects and planning as processual, overcoming aesthetic and formsR1, R2, R4
Human dimension of architecture and community needs and conflicts, daily lifeR3, R4, R5
Overcoming of the sustainability as purely technicalR3, R4
Inclusion of identity of people and placesR3, R4, R5, R6
Experiencing materiality of doing and buildingR5
Understanding of interlinkages between urbanization processes with environmental processesR6
Table 4. Thematic analysis question 2.
Table 4. Thematic analysis question 2.
Thematic Analysis Question 2Respondents
Learning tools are tailored to gain specific outcomes
Traditional learning tools such seminars
Applied Research Methodologies
Performance-based and scenario-based tools
Process-based tools
Round tables with political actors and relevant authorities
Focus groups with local communities, NGOs
Intensive Workshop Programs
Participant Observation
Field work
Mapping of actors
Videos and visual communication
Diagramming and graphical representation of information
Reading, writing exercises and discussions
Creative discussion and brainstorming
Active listening and interaction with public actors
Representation of field information to feed the dialogue with communities and public actors
Reading and deconstruction of decisional documents
Capacity building with local actors
Living Lab
R1, R6
R4, R5, R6
R1, R2
R1, R2, R3, R4, R5, R6
R4, R6
R1, R2, R3, R4, R5, R6
R1, R2, R3, R4
R4, R5
R4, R5, R6
R2, R6
R1, R4
R5, R6
R4, R6
R2, R5
R3, R4
Capability to communicate with different actors
Capability to understand climate change at urban level
Ability to create dialogue and mediate between inputs and conflicting interest
Ownership of the design process
Horizontal partnerships with actors
Active engagement and proactiveness
Professional attitude
R1, R2, R3, R4, R6
R2, R4, R5, R6
R2, R4
R3, R4
R3, R4, R5,
R1, R4
Table 5. Thematic analysis question 3.
Table 5. Thematic analysis question 3.
Thematic Analysis Question 3Respondents
Methodologies adopted
Inquiry-based projects
Research-based cases
Field works
Bottom-up survey
Training to focus groups
Design of Action-Research projects
Living lab
Service learning
Creative brainstorming
Collective mapping
R4, R5, R6
R1, R2, R4, R6
R1, R2, R3, R4, R5, R6
R3, R4
R4, R5
R1, R2
Enabling Factors
Active networking between university, local communities, public actors and civil society agencies
Sufficient time to build the context-based experience
Long term engagement of researchers/educators on the field
Financial coverage for at least 3 years
Think out of the box
Clarity to not rise expectations in communities
Ability to manage divergencies and conflicts
Clarity and flexibility of the approach and adaptability of the methodology to the context
Engagement of key actors during a previous time window
Previous knowledge of the key actors on the topics
R1, R2, R3, R4, R5, R6
R2, R4, R5
R4, R5, R6
R2, R4, R5, R6
R2, R5,
R3, R4
R2, R4
R2, R4
Lack of scientific rigor (complexity of different disciplines) in favor of educational results
Limit of research outcomes and divergence between research goals and community expectations
Risk of create expectation in communities
Risk of manipulation by political authorities
Lack of economic resources
Urban policies constrains
Mismatching between academic timing (e.g., semester courses) and local processes
Distrust in public institutions
Pandemic and social upsurge as barrier for fieldworks
R2, R6
R2, R3, R4
R2, R4, R5, R6
R4, R6
Table 6. Thematic analysis question 4.
Table 6. Thematic analysis question 4.
Thematic Analysis Question 4Respondents
Modes of evaluation
Comprehensive evaluation of the students progresses
Intermediate evaluations
Final exam
External jury for final evaluation
External jury for reviews and comments
R1, R2, R3, R4, R5, R6
R1, R2, R3, R4, R5, R6
R1, R2, R3, R4, R5, R6
R5, R6
What is evaluated
Focus on learning processes of students and not on their performances
Student engagement with the case in the field
Capability to investigate the field and the broader context
Design skills
Narrative and story-telling skills
Ability to integrate in the project theory and analytical contents
Ability to work in team
Communicational skills
Capability to convey the work done to community and public actors
R2, R3, R4, R5, R6
R3, R4
R3, R4, R6
R3, R4, R5
R1, R2
R1, R2, R6
R2, R4
R1, R2, R5
R1, R6
Table 7. Thematic analysis question 5.
Table 7. Thematic analysis question 5.
Thematic Analysis Question 5Respondents
Capacity building in public actors
Evidence-based projects and case study outcomes as leverage to push community action towards decision making
Case study outcomes to bridge community and public actors
Project as prototype for transformation
Students as bridge between academia and communities
Role of academia and research in public engagement
Knowledge transfer between research and education
Test of research through students’ activities (with limitations)
Implementation of student’s outcomes in research
Rare but possible influences on policies
Ineffectiveness on policy upgrade
Influence in applied research for planning and on real spatial decision-making processes
Great impacts on learning processes
Issues related to power asymmetries
Give visibility to communities
R1, R2, R4
R1, R2, R6
R4, R3
R2, R4, R6
R5, R6
R2, R5, R6,
R2, R5, R6
R3, R4
R2, R6
R1, R2, R6
R1, R2, R4, R5, R6
R2, R4
Domain impacted
Territorial management
R2, R4, R5, R6
R3, R6
R1, R2, R4, R6
R1, R2, R3, R4, R6
R6, R2
Table 8. Thematic analysis question 6.
Table 8. Thematic analysis question 6.
Thematic Analysis Question 6Respondents
Key expertise for future architects
Critical thinking
Dialogue with other disciplines
Visualization of desirable transformation
Management of complex processes
Graphical and visual representation to bridge multiple interest
Coping with uncertainty and flexibility
Listening and observing
R1, R2, R4
R1, R2,
R1, R2, R4, R6
R1, R2
R1, R2, R6
R4, R5
Key responsibilities for future architects
Civic engagement and social role
Role of facilitator
Support communities in building local and international networks
Support fund raising for community-based local transformation
Contribute to increase awareness on climate change
R2, R4, R6
R2, R4
Key responsibilities for educators
Build the dialogue with local context
Vehiculate, co-produce and communicate knowledge with students and communities
Bridge technical knowledge, natural sciences and social sciences
Stimulate the understanding of broader implications of architecture practice on environment and society
Stimulate to reshape solutions basing on specific circumstances and contextual variables
R2, R4, R3, R6
R4, R3
R1, R2, R6
R3, R4
Table 9. Thematic analysis question 7.
Table 9. Thematic analysis question 7.
Thematic Analysis Question 7Respondents
Co-design, community-based architecture and planning
Science-based architecture, climate-evidence
Policy coordination, synergies between architecture and planning, multiscalarity,
Nature-based solution and socio-ecological dynamics
Interlinkages with larger societal challenges
Cross-sectorial thinking
Disruptive technologies
Self-sufficiency and energy grids
Public realm
Rebalancing of humanities and science teachings in the curricula
Creativity, dimension of doing, and manual skills
Reading the spaces and territories through the lens of people
Socio-environmental risks and preparedness
Community-based research and action-research
Reconceptualization of sustainability in architecture
Disaster risk reduction and resilience
Technological and digital innovation
Role of governance, public authorities, and power structures
R2, R4, R3
R2, R6
R2, R6
Table 10. Case studies analysis: typologies of activities, students, actors, and outcomes.
Table 10. Case studies analysis: typologies of activities, students, actors, and outcomes.
CASETypologies of Activities Students EngagedActorsCo-Produced
C1Field work
Collective mapping
Master studentsLocal Authorities
Local NGOs
Social Garden users
Local communities
On-line collective map
C2Living Lab Master and Ph.D. studentsLocal NGOs
Local communities
C3Field work and survey
Living Lab
Service learning
Co-design and
Bachelor and Master studentsLocal Authorities
Local NGOs
Social Garden users
Local communities
Self-constructed prototype
C4Field work
Co-design and
Master studentsLocal and International NGOsSelf-constructed prototypes
C5Field work
Bachelor and Master studentsLocal Authorities
Local communities
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Antonini, E.; Gaspari, J.; Visconti, C. Collaborative Learning Experiences in a Changing Environment: Innovative Educational Approaches in Architecture. Sustainability 2021, 13, 8895.

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Antonini E, Gaspari J, Visconti C. Collaborative Learning Experiences in a Changing Environment: Innovative Educational Approaches in Architecture. Sustainability. 2021; 13(16):8895.

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Antonini, Ernesto, Jacopo Gaspari, and Cristina Visconti. 2021. "Collaborative Learning Experiences in a Changing Environment: Innovative Educational Approaches in Architecture" Sustainability 13, no. 16: 8895.

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