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The hidden curriculum : an exploration into the potential for green buildings to silently communicate a pro-environmental message Mitchell, Amanda

Abstract

This qualitative research study explores whether high caliber green buildings can passively communicate a pro-environmental message to their occupants, and if so, whether some design strategies are more effective than others at communicating this message. The sample consisted of 26 participants (students, staff and faculty) who were occupants of one of the four study buildings: the C.K. Choi Institute for Asian Research and the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC; Princess Street Campus at Red River College in Winnipeg, MB; and the Computer Science Building at York University in Toronto, ON. Semidirected interviews of 20 to 80 minutes in duration (the average interview was 43 minutes) were conducted in situ by the researcher. This research found that to varying degrees green buildings can passively communicate a pro-environmental message to their occupants. How many "green" design features an occupant could identify appears to form the core message, which is enhanced or diminished by the operational context, occupant experience and comparisons to other buildings. Certain design features were more often associated with a pro-environmental message and are therefore more effective at communicating this message. These emphatically green design solutions, such as salvaged materials and photovoltaics, either utilized strategies that are heavily connected with pro-environmental behaviour (the 3R's, energy conservation and water conservation) or are icons of the environmental movement. These design solutions acted as "triggers" by capturing an occupant's attention and causing them to link the strategy with a proenvironmental construct. Complicating the communication process is that a conclusive definition for "pro-environment" did not exist among occupants. This means that a pro-environmental message may not be communicated unless the building embodies the occupant's specific definition for the term. This research provides direction to designers and building managers on how to increase the potential that a green building will communicate a pro-environmental message to their occupants, and it suggests that green buildings can be heuristic learning tools if they are designed with an aesthetic that challenges existing constructs.

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