Program in Environmental Design

University of Colorado Boulder

Program Information

Director's Welcome

Our vision for the Environmental Design (ENVD) degree program in Boulder is to provide innovative interdisciplinary education to prepare students for practice and advanced study in the design-based fields of architecture, landscape architecture and planning, with the knowledge that those professions are in the midst of significant change. ENVD faculty have created curriculum to address the new challenges facing design professionals – greater sustainability of buildings and cities, global needs for housing, responsible resource management, and adaptation to the impacts of climate change.  Our students are enrolled in studios, lectures, and seminars taught by 30 faculty with outstanding academic and professional expertise in adaptive buildings, urban design, and landscapes that support society’s domestic, civic, cultural, and industrial/commercial activities.  Students are learning to apply state-of-the-art educational technology including computing tools, digital image databases, fabrication equipment, and media for display and presentation of designs. Their curriculum also draws from Boulder Campus scholarship in the sciences, social sciences, and technology fields in order to enable ENVD graduates to develop new standards and materials for “green” buildings, anticipate the environmental, social, and economic impacts of development, and design for energy and water efficiency in buildings and communities.   – JoAnn Silverstein

The Program’s Vision

The Program in Environmental Design focuses on integrative design. This vision asserts that in the twenty-first century the creation of built environments requires:

  • design approaches of real-world relevance, stressing technical, ecological, economic, social, cultural, aesthetic, and ethical concerns;
  • a robust knowledge base for design and planning decisions;
  • an interdisciplinary culture of individuals who are not only experts in one of the core designing and planning disciplines, but experts in the sciences, humanities, arts, and other professions; and
  • a spirit of service to diverse communities, to social justice, and to ecological sustainability.

This vision positions the program’s graduates to confront many significant challenges during the next few decades. Beyond vocational training, our students learn complex problem solving and leadership skills that lay the foundation for a lasting career.

The Design Professions

Undergraduate students in the Program in Environmental Design come to Boulder to prepare for a career in one of the design professions. Applicants to the program should possess a strong high-school or equivalent academic background, including four years of English and math, and at least three years of natural science (including physics and/or biology) and social science. Extra course work in math, social studies, and the arts and humanities is recommended. 

The discipline of design and its fields of architecture, landscape architecture, urban design and planning deal with formulating solutions to many of the problems people face in their homes and cities, as well as suburban and natural environments. Architecture focuses on the design of buildings, while planning is concerned with the formulations of policies guiding the development of neighborhoods, cities, and regions. Landscape architecture and urban design resolves challenges that cross these scales.

To prepare for graduate professional study in architecture, landscape design, urban design, or planning, students may major in one of these disciplinary areas. A broadly structured major in design studies is also available. All graduates earn a bachelor of environmental design degree (BEnvd) as preparation for entry into graduate professional degree programs and the workplace.

Undergraduate Program

The program has taken a broad and integrative view of the design professions in developing its undergraduate curriculum. In recent years the challenges and opportunities facing the design professions have changed dramatically. Clients and employers demand a diverse educational experience that prepares students to work collaboratively within a team of design professionals.

To prepare students for the constantly evolving demands of the design professions, this program creates opportunities for students to gain experience in a wide range of courses in the humanities, the arts, and the natural and social sciences. Together, these classes help students nimbly adapt their skills in a constantly changing and complex world.

Unlike undergraduate education in many other fields, students in architecture, landscape architecture, urban design and planning learn by doing. They experience the complexity of real-world problems and search for design solutions with the guidance of our program’s exceptional faculty. From the first day of their freshman year, students actively integrate and synthesize the knowledge gained in lectures and related course activities in their hands-on design classes.

Throughout the entire curriculum, the program’s required core classes are taught communally so that students from all design disciplines study shared problems together. In the professions, architects, landscape architects, urban and regional planners, and urban designers need to understand each other’s perspectives. They increasingly work together to find solutions to the complex issues. They must also be able to think critically and communicate clearly about many topics relevant to the sciences, humanities, and arts.

The Program in Environmental Design promotes the development of a body of knowledge that allows each student to understand and appreciate:

  • the major theoretical perspectives used to inform the way we design our physical environments and the significance of the designed environment in the evolution of human culture;
  • the different methodologies and processes used to give shape to our spaces, buildings, gardens, neighborhoods, towns, cities, and landscapes;
  • the complex interactions that take place between the physical, ecological, social, cultural, behavioral, and historical factors that influence the form and quality of designed environments;
  • the ethical perspectives that inform the way we work to design environments and settings that are healthy, sustainable, appropriate, and beneficial; and
  • the social, cultural, historical, and professional contexts within which environmental design is learned, practiced, and perfected.

In addition, the program supports the development of a range of methods and practices that encourage students to:

  • use the design process as the unique way of thinking used to give shape and form to the designed environment, and to realize its value to effect appropriate change; 
  • effectively and creatively design environments and settings—spaces, buildings, gardens, neighborhoods, towns, cities, and landscapes—using appropriate theories, precedents, methods, tools, and technologies;
  • use verbal, visual, and written materials to communicate design intentions and environmental outcomes so that students can work effectively with other designers, with stakeholders, and with communities.