The Weitzman Design for Climate Commitment: Resilience, Justice, Decarbonization, and Creativity

  • Thermal Architecture Lab research examines the building’s form and materials from the perspective of thermodynamics, as active agents in the transfer of heat between the human body and its environment.

  • Polyhedral Structures Lab research connects architecture, structural engineering, computer science, mathematics and material science to enrich architectural geometry and to reconcile function, form, and technology.

  • Students in the Green New Deal studio imagined ways that workers could be employed in the service of decarbonizing the economy and helping the forests of Appalachia to thrive. The Fall 2020 studio was led by Billy Fleming, the Wilks Family Director of The Ian L. McHarg Center for Urbanism and Ecology.

  • A proposal for the development of Poplar Point in Washington, DC--an area with a high poverty rate that faces unique threats from climate change--created for Nando Micale's Fall 2021 City & Regional Planning studio.

At the Weitzman School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania, we educate the designers, the planners, and the artists of the future. Everything we do, from research to education to practice, is infused with a focus on sustainability, equity, and environmental justice. 

  • Our faculty are leading the way in sustainability-focused research, from sustainable materials to thermal innovations to water management.
  • ​Our students across departments are immersed in courses and studio projects at the intersection of climate and environmental justice.
  • Our daily operations are focused on sustainability through energy conservation and materials.

Below we highlight our Climate Commitment through Research Leadership; Academic Leadership; and Operations and Facilities Leadership.

Research Leadership

From innovative individual faculty research to our high-impact research centers, Weitzman school research dives into the intersectional issues related to urbanization, equity, and climate.

Innovative Climate-Centered Faculty Research

Our individual faculty are leaders in the field of design related to environment, climate, and adaptation.

  • Allison Lassiter, assistant professor, Department of City and Regional Planning. With support from the National Science Foundation Faculty CAREER award, she leads an interdisciplinary team to address the pressing question: Can emerging technologies help communities adapt to climate change?​  
  • Masoud Akbarzadeh, assistant professor, Department of Architecture. With support from the National Science Foundation Faculty CAREER award and the Department of Energy, he is developing novel high-performance sustainable structures.
  • Dorit Aviv, assistant professor, Department of Architecture, is leading cutting-edge research at the intersection of thermodynamics, architectural design, and material science, seeks ways to reduce energy consumption in buildings by employing design-based methods for indoor climate mitigation.
  • Sean Burkholder, Andrew Gordon Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture. As the co-founder of Environmental Modeling Lab (EMLab), Burkholder conducts research that bridges the "seemingly incommensurable subjects of environmental monitoring and modeling" and includes working with ecologists and engineers on large coastal infrastructure projects; and exploring new methods of knowledge creation that both question and supplement positivist science as our primary referent for progress and agency. 
  • Orkan Telhan, associate professor of fine arts (emerging design practices), investigates critical issues in cultural, environmental and social responsibility. As an interdisciplinary artist, designer and researcher, his investigations focus on the design of interrogative objects, interfaces, and media, engaging with critical issues in social, cultural, and environmental responsibility.

Related Research Centers

Kleinman Center for Energy Policy
The Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, housed in the Weitzman School of Design, is creating the conditions for policy innovation that support a just and efficient transition to sustainable energy. Through fostering impactful interdisciplinary research; developing tomorrow’s leaders through education and research; and convening experts, the Kleinman Center is focused on building an equitable energy system that optimizes productivity through smart demand, sustainable supply, and compensated externalities.

The Ian L. McHarg Center for Urbanism and Ecology
The McHarg Center’s mission is to build on the Weitzman School of Design’s position as a global leader in urban ecological design by bringing environmental and social scientists together with planners, designers, policy-makers, and communities to develop practical, innovative ways of improving the quality of life in the places most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The McHarg center leads interdisciplinary research in the areas of Climate Policy, Biodiversity, and Sustainability and the Public Realm.

Environmental Building Design 
The Center for Environmental Building & Design (CEBD) is a faculty research unit at the Weitzman School of Design dedicated to improving the environmental future of contemporary buildings and cities. We look beyond building efficiency standards and net-zero formulations to design truly resilient buildings and cities. The challenges of environmental design occur at multiple, interacting scales and can only be approached systemically, so the CEBD works in interdisciplinary teams on projects at a range of scales. The CEBD is directed by William W. Braham, professor of architecture, who also serves as director of the programs in Environmental Building Design (MEBD, MSD-EBD, certificate in EBD).

Penn Institute for Urban Research
The Penn Institute for Urban Research (Penn IUR), a Provost-Level University Research Center, is dedicated to advancing cross-disciplinary urban-focused research and instruction. PennIUR undertakes projects and research initiatives, develops partnerships, and hosts conferences that aim to develop and expand knowledge of the urban landscape, with a focus on climate, sustainability, and adaptation. PennIUR’s climate-focused initiatives focus on three critical topic areas: the City Climate-Resilient Infrastructure Financing Initiative (C2IFI) which is a new initiative of PennIUR and Perry World House; rapid urbanization and its impact on climate; and Disaster in Urban Landscapes: Preparedness, Response and Recovery.

Center for the Preservation of Civil Rights Sites (CPCRS)
The Center for the Preservation of Civil Rights Sites advances the understanding and sustainable conservation of heritage places commemorating American civil rights histories and Black heritage. CPCRS is led by Randy Mason (Faculty Director), professor in the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation, and a group of advisors. Partnerships with preservationists, stewardship organizations, advocates, scholars and other supporters of civil rights heritage are key to CPCRS’s work. The Center for the Preservation of Civil Right Sites (CPCRS) is an academic partner working with organizations engaged in varied aspects of remembering, studying and stewarding the legacy of civil rights histories in the United States. CPCRS undertakes research, teaching and fieldwork to explore issues and solutions and raise awareness of civil rights histories.

Academic Leadership

From transportation to architectural materials to sustainable landscapes, our students are learning to design futures that are sustainable, equitable, and resilient.


The work of planning resilient spaces and cities increasingly requires urgent interventions alongside long-range visions. Through our studio-based method of teaching graduate education, students in landscape architecture and city and regional planning studios at the Weitzman School have had the opportunity to grapple with the varied challenges of planning for climate change. Their work took place at multiple spatial scales, across decades, and in diverse communities, from the US Virgin Islands to the nation’s capital. Below is a sample of the work they produced. 

America’s Resilient District: Students in a Weitzman City and Regional Planning studio worked with the Office to develop two visions for an urban water front area unique threats from climate change, including sea-level rise and more intense storms. The studio addressed social, economic, and environmental resiliency, with a focus on equity and took a “systems approach” to balancing interests around development, housing, transportation, and the environment to center resilience in the district’s design.

Designing the Green New Deal: What would the world of the Green New Deal look like? How can it be achieved? Through multiple studio experiences, students have focused on the regions and industries they thought should be prioritized in a Green New Deal, with its billions in proposed investments in climate, economic, and racial justice. For the Fall 2021 studio, the cohort zoomed in on the carceral, fossil fuel, and industrial agriculture industries in Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta. They created a field guide to each region, exploring the history of the “coal-to-prison pipeline” in Appalachia and the “plantation-to-prison pipeline” in the Delta. They also developed how-to manuals for dismantling those social structures and renewing the lands they have extracted from.

Degrees and Certificates

Energy Management and Policy Certificate: Penn graduate students can earn the Certificate in Energy Management and Policy. Students can concentrate in one of the following tracks: Energy Markets, Risk, and Finance; Regional Energy Planning; or Energy Law and Policy. The certificate is available to all of Penn’s currently enrolled graduate students. Designed to complement the curricula of diverse graduate programs, this certificate provides an understanding of relevant topics in energy policy and the analytic skills necessary for policy development and implementation. Recipients will be well-suited for work in government organizations, think tanks, and NGOs.

Environmental Building Design: The Department of Architecture’s Master of Science in Design with a concentration in Environmental Building Design allows architectural students to train in the new skills and knowledge required for environmental design and especially in the design techniques with which those skills must be integrated into the practice of architecture. Through building performance simulation, integrated building design, building envelopes and systems, lighting, daylighting, and the theory and practice of environmental design, students learn the tools to be climate-focused designers.  The Environmental Building Design Masters of has assembled a remarkable team of experts to teach in the program. The MSD-EBD operates in close coordination with the Center for Environmental Building & Design and the Thermal Architecture Lab, drawing on the expertise of faculty engaged in research, providing case studies and research projects for students in the EBD programs.

Resilience by Design: The Weitzman School offers a Certificate in Urban Resilience is administered by Chair and Professor of Landscape Architecture Richard Weller and directed by Matthijs Bouw, Rockefeller Urban Resilience Fellow at the School of Design. This certificate draws on the resilience expertise within the different departments of the School, and builds upon a rich legacy at Penn rooted in Ian McHarg’s layered analysis methods of thinking holistically across systems and scales to offer a foundational program for "resilience by design." Additionally, the certificate includes a flexible set of courses offered at the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design, as well as at Wharton and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. The certificate is intended for professional graduate students enrolled at the Weitzman interested in adding an understanding of urban resilience, and how to design within a risky and uncertain world, to their list of educational qualifications.

Operations and Facilities Leadership

Weitzman faculty and staff are committed to climate leadership across the University and beyond, through work with the Faculty Senate and through Building and Facilities climate leadership.

Faculty Senate Committee on the Institutional Response to the Climate Emergency (CIRCE), launched in December 2019 under the leadership of Professor William Braham: CIRCE’s fundamental charge is to facilitate discussion of all aspects of global warming and climate change as they pertain to the faculty role in shared governance at the University of Pennsylvania. Specifically, CIRCE will consider at least the following categories of faculty interest as it pertains to the climate emergency at Penn:

  1. Education, including classroom instruction as well as extra-curricular educational activities
  2. Research, including as well scholarship, practical expertise, and artistic expression
  3. Operations of the University, including decarbonization, energy efficiency, and sustainability
  4. Flourishing of community, both within Penn, and between Penn and its regional and international stakeholders

Building and Facilities Climate Leadership

Announced in May of 2022, the renovation and expansion of Stuart Weitzman Hall is expected to achieve a minimum of LEED Silver certification. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the most widely used green building rating system. The Weitzman Hall project is also expected to achieve SITES certification. Developed in part by Dean and Paley Professor Fritz Steiner, SITES is the most comprehensive system for creating sustainable and resilient land development projects; SITES certification is for landscapes that help reduce water demand, filter and reduce stormwater runoff, provide wildlife habitat, reduce energy consumption, improve air quality, improve human health, and increase outdoor recreation opportunities. The SITES certification process allows projects to benchmark against performance criteria.

Weitzman Climate Leader Spotlight: Karl Wellman

Karl Wellman, who is Weitzman’s senior director of operations and planning, design and construction, is also the School’s sustainability coordinator and an environmental leader at Penn, ensuring the highest standards in our facilities. He serves on the University’s Utilities and Operations, Physical Environment, and Transportation Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committees. Wellman is completing Penn’s Certificate in Climate Change through the School of Arts and Sciences, deepening his expertise on climate change and climate-centered communications.