Environmental design is the process of addressing surrounding environmental parameters when devising plans, programs, policies, buildings, or products. The term also refers to the applied arts and sciences dealing with creating the human-designed environment. These fields include architecture, geography, urban planning, landscape architecture, and interior design.

Bachelor’s Degree

The Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Environmental Design degree provides students with the skills to understand, analyze, and solve problems associated with such change, with a view toward community vitality, social fairness, and the design of sustainable environments. Coursework may include the study of issues from our cultural, economic, physical, political, and social environments.

The Bachelor of Science (BS) program in environmental design offers an integrated curriculum in environmental design primarily in a non-studio format. This undergraduate program will create a deep awareness and knowledge of issues that influence the design of built environments and the design of artifacts in general. The program of study emphasizes general knowledge and design research. Other focus areas include histories and theories of design; innovation, technology, and design strategies; and sustainability in environmental design. The curriculum may also provide an understanding of theories, technologies, social issues, and management aspects.

There are programs offered within the School of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape Architecture. This is a multidisciplinary degree that emphasizes the blend of sustainable practices from a local and global context with comprehensive design and systems thinking. Students may be exposed to national and global environmental design issues, interdisciplinary concepts, hybrid practices, and sustainability issues in the curriculum.

The above-mentioned degree may integrate principles and methodologies from the social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities.  The goal is to address the complex scientific, legal, ethical, political, environmental, and socio-economic issues that surround the development, management, and use of the built environment.

Since environmental design is a relative of architecture, some programs focus strongly on this relationship. You may find a curriculum that consists of 70+ hours of the 128 hours devoted to Architecture courses. Courses will cover architecture design studios and survey of architecture history. This type of program also includes subjects prevalent in an architecture degree, such as physics, algebra, and precalculus.

Architectural design courses will cover design projects requiring the integration of spatial and visual concepts. The subject emphasizes the relationship of architecture to its context with principles of order, constituents of form, light, structural awareness, nature of materials, architectural coherency. More advanced topics include hybrid uses of hand and digital graphic communication including 2D and 3D drawing and modeling.

The programs with an emphasis on architecture can lead to a Master of Architecture degree. At the graduate level, you will learn that knowing how to build is a matter of science and technology but knowing what to build is a question of morality, ethics, and aesthetic responsibility. In this regard, a background in environmental design bodes well for many graduate programs.

Arts or Science Program

There is little difference between the two degrees as far as the core courses are concerned. Most schools offer either a BA or BS in environmental design. The latter appears to be more common. One school, Ball State University, offers both. The main difference is that the BA requires two years or equivalent of study on a foreign language.

The core of what you will study in the BA and the BS is:

  • Design
  • Design Communications
  • Architectural History
  • Structures
  • Environmental Systems
  • Building Technology

Where will you Work?

Many environmental designers work for architectural or landscape architectural firms drafting schematics with the use of computer-aided design software. They approve materials and techniques, survey sites, create specifications and calculate costs. They use strategies developed by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification system, which measures a structure in terms of water efficiency, air quality, waste reduction and other ecological areas.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not have an occupation for environmental designers. They do report on Urban and Regional Planners. Their average yearly salary, as of May 2017, was $71,490 with the typical entry-level education being a Master’s degree. According to the BLS, the bulk of urban and planners are employed by local governments.

Day-to-day duties will vary because environmental design involves multiple areas of focus, including the management of natural resources and land, environmental policy concerns, and community development. However, most designers/planners work in the field to observe potential work sites and meet with community members.

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