In 2012 the United Nations UN-Habitat's Sustainable Urban Development Network partnered with European Union sandbox-game developers of architectural and social-networking software. The U.N. goal is to upgrade 300 public spaces worldwide by 2016 by joining professional designers with local inhabitants in virtual-world simulations of public spaces so that a collective design experience may be realized. This work inspired the author, a professor of engineering and architecture in a new U.S. Sustainable Design Engineering program, to create projects where students build a green home in green villages, or on the virtual college campus, using rapid-prototyping architectural software in virtual environments containing simulated weather, terrains, and biomes. Their avatar interacts with other student avatars to collectively design and build. Social-media streaming dialog is scrolled across the screen so everybody can voice their thoughts. Student homes are graded on passive solar (including overhangs and thermal mass's); Active solar panels; Natural daylighting; Mitigation of cold northern winds; and overall architectural esthetic. Additionally, each student in a town shares the same grade for their community garden design; their design of community livestock barns and corrals; and their overall urban design and city planning -- including piazza's, a central market, parks, and a wellness center with indoor pool and activity rooms. Credit is also given for electromechanical engineering using the software's circuits-design, logic-design, and electromechanical device elements. Selected designs are continued into full-scale professional architectural renderings and detailed construction drawings ("working drawings"). LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) architectural sustainability concepts are incorporated throughout.
Joseph Wunderlich, Elizabethtown College, United States
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