Is Architecture a good profession for a passionate environmentalist?


Is this a good career path for someone who wants to rebuild ecosystems and  help people cope with the effects of global warming? I'm considering a career in architecture, but I'm concerned that I won't have enough opportunities to do the kind of work I'm most passionate about. What do you think?

Mar 6, 17 2:11 pm
Non Sequitur

Not really...

Public policy would be a far better avenue, but then again, it depends what you consider to be environmental passion.  

Is it solar panels or green roofs for suburban homes or is it increased density along with mid-rise urban buildings? Hint only one of these is an appropriate first step.

Mar 6, 17 2:24 pm

No.  "Rebuilding ecosystems and helping people cope with the effects of global warming" isn't a job description, in or out of architecture.

Civil engineering might get closer but even then..............................

Mar 6, 17 2:30 pm

what is preventing you from doing that work now?

Mar 6, 17 2:30 pm

Seconded public policy - but if you're interested in the architecture side of environmentalism you might want to focus on transportation and land use policy - which means you could theoretically take some architecture and planning classes and also some real estate and development classes (at a business school).

Mar 6, 17 3:19 pm


Mar 6, 17 3:32 pm
Wood Guy

MFJ, that's where I've been directing my career for the last decade or so, by focusing on the Passivhaus/Passive House building energy standard and other approaches to green building, and by studying Permaculture and implementing it on projects when I can. The market is small and challenging but is slowly growing. Climate change means that homes need to reduce their energy use and need to be more resilient in the case of natural disasters. 

Mar 6, 17 3:49 pm

Nope, all architectural and human activity basically destroys nature and ecosystems and uses valuable resources and contributes to global warming. All those LEED or BREAM certificates are bullshit. Even if you would design a super sustainable community and rebuild some ecosystems but you drive to your office by car, you're already doing more harm than good, if you design it on the computer with parts sourced all over the globe and that's connected to the internet and all kinds of data-servers and cloud networks, you're having a huge carbon footprint. Even if your design in essence is carbon neutral or even negative, but you have a hamburger for lunch during office hours, you're contributing to global warming.

Mar 6, 17 4:59 pm

"Well you can't do everything, so you might as well do nothing."


Doing nothing is the most sustainable and eco-friendly option indeed! Even writing this we are contributing to the effects of global warming...


Yes, every existing organism contributes in some way to the degradation of its environment. The only true sustainable act is total extinction. Great argument.

But since our society tends to frown upon genocide and suicide, maybe we can look past the idiotic pedantry of absolutes and find a middle ground that at least mitigates the environmental impact of our society without totally dismantling it.


Total extinction is not necessary. When Europe was suffering from the Plague back in the Middle Ages, so many farmers and serfs were killed that nobody took care of the crop fields, which led to them being overgrown and returning to forest land, capturing significant amounts of CO2 which led to a mini Ice Age.


What environment? the environment is a hoax!

Mar 6, 17 6:11 pm

Seems like forestry, oceanography, farming, meteorology, would be better subjects to study. Maybe civil engineering with an emphasis on road, tunnel, and bridge designs. Or you could be a starchitect and design paper buildings for aids people to die in before moving on and designing for the Aspen elite.

Mar 6, 17 6:38 pm

I think architects have a very important role in integrating sustainable practices into urban environments. Green/living roofs and green/ living walls are both components architects can utilize to create healthier buildings for both people and the environment.

Some resources that might be helpful for you if you are interested in finding out more would be Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (, and Living Architecture New York ( 

Mar 7, 17 9:54 am

At the end of the day, this "role" is just a pipe dream. It's not the architect's money being spent, so he must listen to the one whose it is. My office has tried to educate clients on everything under the sun regarding sustainability, LEED accreditation, environment friendly practices, etc. As the ones writing the checks, clients will most likely not give two shits about sustainable practices if it hurts their bottom line. LEED is a fucking joke and nothing more than a marketing tool.

a pessimistic attitude doesn't help you here. focus your practice on the issues you care about and you're set. here are some practices you should get to know. - Look at his lectures because they will broaden your horizon 

.... and there is more do some research

Mar 7, 17 12:45 pm

You are preaching to the choir, but lets be serious for a second. If you are looking for a mandate to implement sustainable practices to be ubiquitous, you are barking up the wrong tree with architects. This should be hammered onto lawmakers by way of lobbyists.

while a holistic look at the issue seems like a path to a solution. individuals and systems also play a role in fulfilling them. I'm arguing for the value the practice of architecture in this debate because we need to move beyond pure politics. I also understand that individual actions ie. Highline can have unexpected consequences.


If you are interested in "rebuilding ecosystems" and urbanism, especially sustainable urban design, than you might consider a landscape architecture program (You should go and look at Ian McHarg's book "Design With Nature". If you are interested in "sustainability" as in the use of materials, industrial ecology, energy consumption, water conservation, green design.... than you could consider architecture but there are better, more technical options that will have better job prospects and probably better pay. For example, environmental engineering, environmental science, or any physical science (Chemistry,etc...)

Public policy is also a good option (if married with a science degree) but in that world you would have to consider broader, higher level strategies rather than "solutions" or "designs". A typical architect is part of a team commissioned to deliver drawings describing a building versus a a hypothetical NGO / Goverment scientist, who might be writing journals, leading research projects, or leading public campaigns for clean water or improved water infrastructure.

Mar 7, 17 5:09 pm

Another outstanding book would be sun, wind, and light, this integrates building design with environment.

Mar 12, 17 1:52 pm

Again, why not landscape?

Mar 12, 17 2:16 pm

I second Landscape/Urbanism.

Also, look up the Living Building Challenge/International Living Future Institute.  We NEED more environmentalists in our profession.  

FYI, California has a state-wide goal to reach net zero energy by 2020 for all new residential and by 2030 for all new commercial buildings - let me remind all the pessimists here (ie: starrchitect) that there is HUGE potential for architects to lead this effort.  Everything is a pipe dream until you make it happen.  

Don't ever ask others if your passion is worth pursuing.  Go for it, and good luck.  

Apr 9, 17 11:17 pm

Every profession has their niches.  Find what you're passionate about.  Go for it. Enjoy the process.  Love it.

Aug 11, 17 2:29 pm

There have been 5 comments suggesting architecture- here's number 6 with some project references

Oyster-tecture- by scape. Improving water quality around New York city using mollusks.

Living Breakwaters also by scape. engineered breakwaters to create habitat and neighborhood resilience along Staten Island.

 Pontine Marshes, managed by Alan Berger. Restoration of wetland used as a dump for centuries using gravity and engineered interventions.

Renaturation of the River Aire by Atelier Descombes Rampini/Superpositons- displacement of a river from an engineered channel using a geometrically stylized area to compensate for new patterns of flow.


Aug 11, 17 5:51 pm

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