“The main benefit is that we all learned to speak the same language”

Group work on the IDEAS Minor. Left to right: Sarah Planchamp, Loïc Fumeaux, Luana Ferrari, Sébastien Léveillé, Charlotte Jianoux and San Yun.© A.Goy/ENAC-EPFL

Group work on the IDEAS Minor. Left to right: Sarah Planchamp, Loïc Fumeaux, Luana Ferrari, Sébastien Léveillé, Charlotte Jianoux and San Yun.© A.Goy/ENAC-EPFL

The Integrated Design Architecture and Sustainability (IDEAS) program offers an interdisciplinary minor, PhD seminars and networking opportunities for PhD students from affiliated laboratories. Now, ten years on from its launch, we reflect on how this fast-growing initiative has evolved and hear from past participants.

Over the past decade, some 150 Master’s and PhD students have taken part in the Integrated Design Architecture and Sustainability (IDEAS) program – and the numbers signing up continue to grow. The initiative is the brainchild of two professors – Marilyne Andersen and Emmanuel Rey – based at EPFL’s School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering (ENAC).

“With IDEAS, we wanted to prepare students to face the considerable challenges posed to our disciplines by the environmental crisis and climate change, and to encourage the acquisition of skills in line with a dynamic of transition, whether in terms of bioclimatic design, multi-criteria integration, ecological management of resources, climate protection and adaptation to its evolution,” says Prof. Rey. “In a still somewhat pioneering spirit, the objective was also to highlight interdisciplinary practices within ENAC – in other words, to strengthen exchanges and synergies between the fields of architecture, civil engineering, and environmental sciences and engineering.”

One of the program’s key achievements has been the introduction of the IDEAS Minor. “This Master’s-level program invites students to make links between principles such as bioclimatic architecture, sustainable construction and the selection of materials, and broader climate-related issues including resource frugality, environmental footprint, and comfort or well-being in our living spaces,” says Prof. Andersen. In keeping with this philosophy, the IDEAS Minor comprises classes selected from among the existing courses at ENAC. The list includes the Teaching Unit UE K on upcycling: an interdisciplinary, project-based class in which students are tasked with designing a temporary, mobile, bioclimatic, low-carbon structure that satisfies user and comfort requirements.

Fostering interdisciplinary collaboration
The IDEAS Minor directly influenced the career trajectory of Jessica Ruffieux, an architect specializing in sustainability issues who graduated from EPFL in 2016. “I found interacting with peers from other disciplines to be an incredibly rewarding experience,” says Ruffieux. “That’s why I now work at SHIFT, a firm in Cully with a triple focus on energy, eco-materials and architecture. I use the interdisciplinary communication skills I learned from the program in my day-to-day work.”

Alumni of the IDEAS Minor all agree that the program’s focus on interdisciplinary collaboration has stood them in good stead. “As a civil engineer, I had the chance to learn about energy, architecture and other disciplines, and to understand how they all fit together within a broader project,” says Margaux Peltier, co-founder and director of Enerdrape, an EPFL startup that develops geothermal panels to recover heat from underground parking lots. “The main benefit of the Minor is that we all learned to speak the same language.”

Discussion platforms
Aside from the Minor, the IDEAS program also provides focused support for PhD students. “The idea is to create a community of PhD students who are driven by a shared interest in sustainability issues but often have very diverse approaches and focus areas,” explains Prof. Andersen. “Our aim is therefore to strengthen exchanges and stimulate interaction between them through this program, and in particular through what we call ‘IDEAS Lunches’, which are an opportunity for PhD students from IDEAS-affiliated labs to present how their research is progressing in general rather than waiting until the end of their doctoral journey. These discussion platforms also provide opportunities for PhD students to make new contacts with their peers and to present their work to a slightly – although not excessively – more diverse audience than their own research group. Also under the IDEAS banner, we organize PhD seminars such as the ‘Neighborhoods in transition’ event held at EPFL in October 2021, which focused on the potential of urban riverbanks as an opportunity for new projects.”

Former PhD student Emilie Nault particularly appreciated the many opportunities for interaction and discussion offered under the IDEAS program: “We covered a wide range of topics and had a chance to get feedback on our work. These outside perspectives were especially useful for my own research, helping me fine-tune my approach and build ideas and methods suggested by my peers into my work. Hearing different viewpoints was really stimulating, although it was also demanding at times. Looking back, it was an incredibly positive experience.” Nault now works at CSD Ingénieurs, where she is involved in projects at the intersection of energy, sustainability and climate.

Ten years after its launch, the IDEAS program continues to attract more and more students. “This testifies to the topicality of the themes addressed, but also to the relevance of the approach for the fields of architecture, civil engineering, and environmental sciences and engineering,” says program coordinator Sophie Lufkin. The program itself is also expanding. At its inception, IDEAS had two affiliated laboratories: the Laboratory of Architecture and Sustainable Technologies (LAST) and the Laboratory of Integrated Performance in Design (LIPID). They have recently been joined by two new research groups: the Structural Xploration Lab (SXL), which is led by associate professor Corentin Fivet, and the Building2050 group, which is coordinated by Sergi Aguacil. “With these new skills, we intend to continue developing our various activities, with a particular emphasis on the promotion of the IDEAS Minor, the interdisciplinary management of the Teaching Unit UE K, and the organization of events related to doctoral research,” adds Prof. Rey.