Challenges and benefits of open-ended sustainable design in first-year engineering

Steven K. Ayer, John Messner, Chimay J. Anumba

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The process of designing buildings requires both creative and analytical skills to devise innovative building solutions that cannot be generated from analytical skills alone, but traditional teaching and assessment tends to focus on analytical skills. This research begins to address the challenge of encouraging innovation and creativity in the engineering classroom through an open-ended design problem given to students in a first-year engineering course. With only a basic level of prior experience, students created designs for a new exterior wall for an existing building space to make the building perform more sustainably. Students submitted rough sketches of their design ideas along with written documentation illustrating the process that they used to create a design solution to the problem. The responses from the students were analyzed to determine the positive and negative aspects of this open-ended design problem on their education. Students were successful at addressing one or more of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) categories that affect sustainability in their designs and they felt that the activity was beneficial and enjoyable. On the other hand, the submitted designs did not deviate greatly from the existing building design. Students tended to start with one design idea and refine that first idea as long as time would permit, as opposed to experimenting with several possible design iterations. Recommendations are presented to increase the iterations in the design process to improve the educational experience for students.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number04013017
JournalJournal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Industrial relations
  • Strategy and Management


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