July 26, 2014 Sustainable Design Expert Mark DeKay Inspires through Inventive Teaching and Scholarship

Mark DeKay, a professor of architecture, ignites learning through collaborative and inventive teaching. He teaches advanced undergraduate design studios and seminars focused on sustainability, seminars in climatic design, along with the introductory course in architectural technology for sophomores. DeKay also oversees, along with Professor Emeritus Richard Kelso, the University of Tennessee’s online continuing education program in sustainable design and green building.

DeKay recently received the Chancellor’s Excellence in Teaching Award. He was one of four selected within the university.  A student nominator said, “The most memorable thing about his studio is the way that he insists on a positive collaborative environment. Everyone’s opinion matters and everyone has something to contribute.”

He was also named the UT Quest Scholar by the Office of Research and Engagement for the week of June 16, 2014. The honor recognizes those who have achieved “significant research, scholarship, and creative accomplishments.” DeKay lately co-authored the third edition of his book, Sun, Wind & Light: Architectural Design Strategies, known as SWL for short.

A staple in the study of sustainable design education and practice, the new release of SWL is double the size of the previous edition:  “There are two volumes now, with additional design strategies and analysis techniques,” DeKay said. “There is now a focus on net-zero energy and carbon-neutral design. A new set of high-performance buildings assessment methods have been added, along with a 62-page spreadsheet called SWL Tools to accompany the book’s methods.”

There is also a website that acts as a companion to the printed materials with an additional “1200 pages of climate data and analyses for every climate zone in the U.S. 50 states.”

SWL offers tools and design strategy resources for designers. Its author, a UT faculty member for thirteen years, provides those insights directly with students of the College of Architecture and Design.

“Questions raised and problems encountered by students in the classroom and in the design studio drive many of my research questions,” DeKay said. “I have two books, one is 500 pages and the other now 860 pages, one purely theoretical and the other a blend of theory and design tools. My courses are built around applying the methods and content found in the books and testing new methods and content that have yet to be published. So the relationship between teaching and research is quite reciprocal.”

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One former student described DeKay’s presentation of sustainable concepts as “exciting and engaging,” noting that the “group work was also refreshing and encouraging.” They enjoyed his “collaborative rather than competitive studio.” Another student said they “learned more in this one semester than in the past three semesters.”

DeKay is consistently exploring innovative teaching methods. For example, after attending the UT Summer Teaching Institute focusing on online learning, he opted to transform his class, Introduction to Architectural Technology (Arch 232), into activity-driven coursework that featured “flipped” instruction and a series of iTunes U videos demonstrating software instruction.

“I created a whole series of instructional videos on both lecture topics and software demonstration for the extensive SWL Tools Excel workbook that I wrote to accompany the third edition,” he said. “This allowed students to view the videos outside of class and spend more time in class with hands-on projects in a workshop environment.”

“Some people think an intro class should be very broad and very thin. As an alternative, I use sustainable design to cut through a broad content with an integrated theme and in the process, give students tools they can use and master. It is the difference between ‘being aware of’ and ‘being able to.’”

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From the virtual world to environments abroad, DeKay crafts immersive instruction. In addition to Arch 232, he recently taught the High-Thought / Low-Tech International Studio (Arch 495), a collaborative diploma studio that worked with students and faculty in India and Mexico to design low-income housing both in Vestal, TN, and in a small village in Gujarat state, India. (Prior to joining the university, DeKay was a Fulbright Fellow at the Center of Environmental Planning and Technology in India.)

“We worked collaboratively as a class to define the program, modeling a large office team. A rotating group of students served as my management team. Together, we defined the educational goals, project requirements and class schedules,” DeKay said. “Each team was challenged to meet a net-zero energy performance target using the tools from the new edition of Sun, Wind & Light. Net-zero means that the building produces, in a year on site, at least as much energy as is consumes.”

DeKay is attentive to impact: “Choose well. Keep focused and make every effort to add to the pool of knowledge for that issue. Take each thesis, each studio, each class, conference paper, journal article, etc., and fit its small effort together into an integrated picture. After a few years, tie it all up in a publication and give it away [for others to learn].”

He added, “I like to make commitments and follow-through…In a recent class, I told students at the beginning of the class what they could count on from me:

  • You will be able to design and evaluate a carbon-neutral building.
  • You will transcend what you think you are capable of and what you are capable of with others.
  • You will put the pieces of architecture together in wholeness, maybe for the first time.
  • While learning deep sustainable design that will distinguish you in the job market.

Students may learn these lessons and more by registering for DeKay’s courses. More information about DeKay’s approaches to teaching is available via this provided document, or through his books available on his Amazon author page.

Studio Publications by DeKay Students

Explore the work completed by students of Mark DeKay’s studios, including “High Thought – Low Tech: Housing the Other Half” and “Brew Book.”

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