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Designing sustainable learning environments : rethinking the missing dimensions

Salama, Ashraf M and Adams, W. Graham (2003) Designing sustainable learning environments : rethinking the missing dimensions. AUEJ: Al-Azhar University Engineering Journal, 7 (Specia). ISSN 1110-6406

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There is a great deal of discussions in design, architecture, and construction circles on sustainable learning environments, and widely varying opinions as to how exactly sustainability can be introduced and approached. Recent literature indicates that the term encompasses more than the physical and economic aspects. It includes social, cultural, and behavioral dimensions. However, investigating contemporary architectural practices reveals that there are two major missing dimensions. On the one hand, there is an emphasis on the physical aspects of sustainability while socio-cultural and socio-behavioral dimensions are oversimplified. On the other hand, there is a heavy reliance on top-down policies and strategies with the aim of developing guidelines to be implemented for the betterment of learning environments. Strikingly, this takes place at the expense of other bottom-up strategies that aim at sensitizing users toward understanding the key issues underlying sustainability. The argument of this paper is based on the belief that adopting the principles of sustainability is a comprehensive approach for a society to seek sound solutions. It calls for a responsive approach that incorporates these missing dimensions into current policies and strategies for designing and building sustainable learning environments. The paper explores different definitions of sustainability as viewed by the international community. It critically analyzes the problems associated with sustainability terminology, while comparing between top-down and bottom-up approaches to sustainability. In order to support the overall argument, the paper offers analyses of a number of real life cases that illustrate how socio-behavioral dimensions can be addressed in a collaborative design process and how bottom-up strategies can be integrated into this process.