Architecture: 4 universities walking the sustainability talk

Architecture: 4 universities walking the sustainability talk
Source: The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Today, the role of an architect extends far beyond creating aesthetically pleasing structures. They are at the forefront of the green building movement, integrating sustainable materials and energy-efficient designs into their projects. Rather than contributing to urban sprawl, they are repurposing existing structures for new functions, minimising the need for additional resources and energy. What’s more profound is that they are contributing to the development of sustainable cities — prioritising pedestrian-friendly designs, green spaces that boost well-being and ensuring efficient public transportation.

Hence why beyond the conventional confines of design and aesthetics, architecture degrees are fast becoming catalysts for change. These are more than just paper qualifications but a crucial means to solving complex problems that span everything from environmental sustainability to social inclusivity.

The architects these universities aim to produce go beyond the traditional boundaries of their profession, recognising the interconnectedness of the built environment with broader societal and environmental issues. Armed with a holistic understanding of the world’s challenges, graduates from these institutions are poised to revolutionise the way we build, live, and interact with our environment.

The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Situated in a globally influential Bi-city region, the School of Architecture at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) offers students the chance to explore the socio-spatial challenges of a rapidly transforming urban landscape of Hong Kong and Shenzhen. From dense high-rise districts to tropical country parks, over 200 islands, and heritage sites, this is a vast living laboratory of diverse architectural contexts.

CUHK’s MArch is the second part of a two-degree sequence in professional architectural education. Source: The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Location aside, the school also stands out for its dedicated infrastructure. Housed within CUHK’s expansive, green 138.4-hectare campus, it is the only division of its kind in Hong Kong with a purpose-designed building solely devoted to the study of architecture — the 7,700-square metre facility provides students with unlimited access to state-of-the-art resources and a conducive environment for an impactful education. The school operates within the Faculty of Social Science and is uniquely positioned to address issues of Asian urbanism, drawing students passionate about driving social and environmental change.

For aspiring undergraduates, the Bachelor of Social Science (Architectural Studies) provides a solid foundation, instilling creative skills for crafting solutions that seamlessly blend cultural nuances, physical contexts, and cutting-edge environmental technologies. It’s an effective pathway to the School of Architecture’s accredited Master of Architecture (MArch), which prepares students for advanced research, design thinking and speculative spatial practices. Its aim is to evolve learners into leading architects at the heart of social, urban and rural innovation to create solutions for environmental challenges. The Master of Science in Urban Design is just as impactful, a gateway to mastering the art and science of creating vibrant, sustainable, and socially just cities.

All three programmes are accredited by local and international professional institutions. In true CUHK fashion, all three programmes emphasise small group settings, community engagement, and close ties to the booming industry of architecture, offering students unparalleled opportunities for professional and personal growth.

ETH Zürich

Students at the Department of Architecture in ETH Zürich  (D-ARCH) in Switzerland are designing for a different world. Guided by high-quality teaching and informed by research, they are exploring the issues of future cities, energy, climate change and sustainability – and putting their own stamp on them.

The Department of Architecture of ETH Zürich is currently home to 2,120 students. Source: ETH Zürich

Faculty here are diverse and highly skilled, with expertise ranging from the development of new construction systems to conservation, from the use of robotics to historiography and sociology. Working in close proximity with students and with the protection of academic freedom, they encourage students in both bachelor’s and master’s programmes to join the search for creative solutions in the field of tension between construction, the satisfaction of living and working needs and the preservation of a livable, designed environment.

The institutes of D-ARCH are: Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture (GTA), the Institute of Technology in Architecture (ITA), the Institute of Historic Building Research and Conservation (IDB) and the Institute of Landscape and Urban Studies (LUS). Within each lies many opportunities to excel in teaching, learning and research.

Each is closely linked with the design studios through the interdisciplinary definition of task, with research findings funnelled into teaching. Further collaboration with other divisions of ETH Zurich – such as the humanities, social and political sciences, as well as the material, environmental and engineering sciences – complement this.

The University of Melbourne

Located in Australia, The University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning is producing the next generation of architects through a multidisciplinary approach that allows them to become innovative leaders in the field.

The Faculty’s multidisciplinary approach prepares students to advance into the world as leading, adaptable professionals in their fields. Source: The University of Melbourne

For example, Bachelor of Design students are given the flexibility to combine in-depth study in a particular area with subjects from other disciplines in design. Master’s programmes equip students with knowledge across a wide range of disciplines and practical learning opportunities to apply real-world knowledge.

The faculty also has a strong international reputation for graduate research, where students and professors focus on the latest debates and engage with industry professionals, policy-makers and the community in analysing and solving complex problems in architecture.

Another unique and beneficial aspect of the faculty is the number of collaborative groups, research hubs, centres and institutes housed within the Faculty that bring together internationally-recognised leading experts in the field. These include the Australian Centre for Architectural History, Urban and Cultural Heritage and Connected Cities Lab.

National University of Singapore

The National University of Singapore (NUS) is a leading global university based in Asia, powered by a mission “to transform the way people think and do things through education, research and service.”


In the QS World University Rankings 2023, the NUS Department of Built Environment is ranked seventh. Source: National University of Singapore/Facebook

Its School of Design and Environment (SDE) stands apart with its diverse offerings in two departments — Architecture and the Built Environment — and one division — Industrial Design. Since its inception, SDE has remained the sole faculty in Singapore to provide a comprehensive and integrated approach to teaching and research across various disciplines, including architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning and design, project and facilities management, building performance and sustainability, as well as industrial design.

“We provide world-class multi-disciplinary graduate-level courses and research programmes related to design and the built environment,” says Professor Wong Nyuk Hien, Vice Dean (Research), School of Design and Environment.

With nine graduates and three research programmes available at NUS, students can pursue a programme that is aligned with their goals. Among those transformative programmes offered are: Master of Science (Built Environment), Master of Arts (Industrial Design), Master of Science in Project Management, Master of Urban Planning, Master of Landscape Architecture and more.

 *Some of the universities featured in this article are commercial partners of Study International