Engineering Roles in Building with Nature Interdisciplinary Design: Educational Experiences

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Building with Nature (BwN) infrastructure designs are characterised by disciplinary integration, non-linearity, diverse and fluid design requirements, and long-term time frames that balance the limitations of earth’s natural systems and the socio-technical systems created by humans. Differentiating roles in the engineering design process may offer strategies for better solutions. Four complementary engineering design roles were distinguished, namely: Specialists, System Integrators, Front-end Innovators, and Contextual Engineers. The key research question addressed in this paper asks, how can the introduction of engineering roles enhance interdisciplinary processes for BwN design? Three Building with Nature design workshops with international groups of students from multiple disciplines and various education levels provided the ideal context for investigating whether engineering roles enhance such interdisciplinary ways of working. Results indicate that the application of engineering roles in each of the three workshops indeed supported interdisciplinary design. A number of conditions for successful implementation within an authentic learning environment could be identified. The engineering roles sustain an early, divergent way of looking at the design problem and support the search for common ground across the diverse perspectives of the team members, each bringing different disciplinary backgrounds to the design table. The chapter closes with a discussion on the value of engineering design roles and their significance for the Building with Nature approach.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-98
Number of pages26
JournalResearch in Urbanism Series (online)
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Interdisciplinary Education
  • Engineering Roles
  • Buidling with Nature
  • Engineering education

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