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BE Ph.D.

Director: Alex T. Anderson, Ph.D.

The PhD in the Built Environment is an interdisciplinary program incorporating subject areas and faculty from the College of Built Environments’ areas of study: architecture, construction management, landscape architecture, urban design and planning, and real estate; and has three areas of concentration/specialization: sustainable systems and prototypes, technology and project design-delivery, and history, theory, representation. For more information, see our program rationale, Why Interdisciplinary Studies?

Note that the University of Washington also offers a related doctoral program, the Interdisciplinary PhD in Urban Design and Planning.

Program Specializations

Focusing on relationships among designed systems, their components, and urban & regional sustainability at the following scales: building elements & assemblages, buildings, site, infrastructure & community, city, regional contexts.

There is little doubt that the ecological movement that began in the late 1960s and which has grown into strands with dozens of differing names (conservation, preservation, restoration, urban ecology, deep ecology, green building, smart growth, smart building, full-cost accounting, recycling, environmental policy, environmental ethics, environmental design and research, and sustainability) is becoming both an increasingly accepted part of our social value systems and, because it is institutionalized in programs such as the LEED building certification process that increasingly is required of public facilities, will be both socially demanded and professionally required. Though sustainable and environmental degree programs are increasing in number, there are very few in the area of built environment that provide a comprehensive and integrated approach. The demand in this area is expected to increase and be permanent.

As part of its national reputation for its environmental orientation, the College has experience in a whole range of sustainable activities, from the urban ecology group, hazards mitigation, sustainable landscapes and urban forms, or transportation, energy, and lighting research, to organizing series and roundtables on sustainability, to a range of recent developments: certificate programs, the Northwest Center for Sustainable Assembly Research. The PhD in the Built Environment program anticipates many new opportunities to cooperate with units that focus on related phenomena: natural environments as dealt with by College of Forest Resources, Ocean Science and Fisheries, and the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Program in Urban Design and Planning; built environments such as treated by Engineering; and artificial environments as engaged by Computer Science and Engineering, the Information School, Technical Communication.

To note demand in one specific sub-area of our proposed area of Sustainable Systems and Prototypes, in the area of construction of sustainable environments, not only is there new and increasing interest as social values and practices change, requiring more expertise in this area, but the retirement of the current senior cohort in this area soon is going to create an unmet demand for faculty, researchers, and practitioners.

Focusing on the design of computing tools for planning & design and other built-environment fields, the human-computer interface (HCI) within design-planning-construction, the design of computer-enhanced virtual environments, processes and practices of environmental computation, including digital technology, material technology, building technology.

Demonstrably, there is an increasing and seemingly unquenchable demand for computational skills and tools in built environment research and practice. This includes, of course, activities in planning and construction management and profound issues of cognition and visualization. Moving beyond the fist generation of computer applications, two trends are notable. First, the varieties of computation employed in built environment research and practice are rapidly expanding through Geographic Information Systems (GIS), intelligent computer-aided design, and simulation, to full-scale virtual reality visualization and web-enabled support for interactive team processes. This raises intriguing research issues of the relation of digital and traditional (paper-based) techniques. Second, it is no longer satisfactory to work within the limitations of pre-packaged software; demands for creative “control” over computational processes have led to the need to educate users who can create their own programs and protocols.

A survey of advertisements in the newsletter of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture reflects the burgeoning market for graduates with computational education and experience. 21 of 27 advertised positions in the November, 2000 issue and 18 of the 33 positions in the January 2001 issue indicated “digital media/computer applications,” “computational tools,” “digital technology,” “graphic and digital communication,” “information technology,” “computing and design knowledge,” “computing and imaging,” “electronic architectural design,” “digital technology integration,” or “digital media/design” either as the specialization sought or as a preferred skill to be used with another specialty (such as architectural history or interior design). Nor is the market for computational skills limited to the obvious professions. For the last several years, an increasing number of architecture and design graduates have chosen to work on building virtual environments, employed by the entertainment and arts industries (electronic game companies, film studios, Disney enterprises, etc.). Demand will not decline.

The College has broad experience in this area. The Design Machine Group is emerging as an internationally known center of excellence, developing computational methods and tools for built environment research and practice. The Urban Ecology Group uses computational tools for mapping and simulating natural and human systems; construction management employs computer applications for materials and resource planning; and urban planning faculty use remote sensing and GIS applications as well for transportation and land use simulation.

Focusing on “Regional and Global Modernity,” including contested definitions of modernity and the question of local-global duality in the modern period.

This traditional area of scholarly education and research will continue to be important. In the era of globalization and global citizenship, and supported by parallel theoretical advances in cultural studies, visual culture studies, and post-colonial studies, a major reinterpretation of the world’s built traditions and innovations is underway, with special attention to differences and exchanges. Thus the specific attention to “Regional and Global Modernity” takes advantage of the current demand to reconceptualize the local-global duality in all its manifestations in the modern period-a feature that is not going to pass away as a trend, since the phenomena underlies the entire period of practical and academic activity, ranging from the design and analysis of “critical regionalism” to the international production of physical and virtual environments within the systems of global flows. The actively inter-disciplinary and comparative framework will participate in the demand for new generations of faculty and researchers who are fluent in the complex methodologies (regionalism, nationalism, migration, colonization, ethnicity, and gender studies; phenomenology, semiotics, post-structuralism; representation technologies, mass media, ‘appropriate’ building technology; international practices, design-build) necessary to understand and participate in the rapid transformation of cities and environments around the world. Such issues, of course, are vital to regions and cities such as Puget Sound and Seattle—a global city with strong local histories and traditions. Thus, the market for graduates consists not only of college and university programs who need newly educated faculty, but in large architecture/planning/construction firms and institutions with international practices.


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