Building Design and Transformation for Sustainability

​ACEX35​ Master’s thesis direction, 2022/2023​

Description of direction

Keywords: climate change, biodiversity loss, renewables, resources, environment, Anthropocene, resilience, empowerment, paradigm change, global-local, system thinking, circular design, low-impact design, biophilic design, adaptability, adaptive reuse, transformation, learning from the vernacular, role of aesthetic and cultural heritage for transition, self-initiated architecture.

Humanity stands in front of its largest challenge, to mitigate the on-going climate change and environmental pollution and simultaneously prepare for its already visible consequences. Radical changes are needed in the way we envision, plan, design and use the built environment. The challenges for architects are exponential, we need to be prepared to become meaningful drivers for change by using design thinking, creating visions, structures and strategies as well as finding new narratives – a new story for survival and human development.

We welcome and strongly support master thesis that wish to contribute to the urgent transitions towards a sustainable future. In this direction, you explore the design of new buildings or interventions as well as the transformation of existing built environments to support sustainable development and with the ambition to create values for both humans and nature. A specific aim is to contribute with knowledge about how architectural design, space, form, aesthetics, tectonics and materiality as well as cultural heritage and identity can support long-term sustainable development.

The direction emphasises the exchange between scientific and architectural design research and the collaboration with stakeholders in industry, the public sector, and the civil society. Master thesis can range from theoretical explorations to speculative design and co-creation. As a student in this direction can take advantage of on-going research projects on different levels, which are carried out in inter-disciplinary research environments and with partner networks from all over the world.

We encourage you to develop strong and grounded narratives with regards to the keywords of our direction, to communicate them with clear illustrations and translate them into architectural concepts and spaces of high quality. During the preparation course and with our strong support, you clarify your goals which correspond with your interests and passions, you find appropriate and realistic methods to address your subject, and you prepare all ´ingredients´ for a productive start of the thesis semester.

No matter in what scale you work, no matter how theoretical or pragmatic your thesis will be, be radical in the sense of going to the roots!

Method and process

Research based background and framework
The direction emphasises the exchange between scientific research and architectural design, and the collaboration with stakeholders in industry, the public sector and the civil society. The master thesis should be based in a knowledge gap that contribute to a transition that reaches beyond sustainable development. The background and motivation of the thesis should have a description of the chosen field and framework with references to important scientific and practice-based development in that field.
Creative design driven approach
As a main approach, the direction encourages creative ways of using design driven research and experimentation based on architectural explorations to answer problems and questions. The design process can include co-creation with end-users or other stakeholders.
Master thesis which are mainly theoretical and written can be accepted if the student can demonstrate earlier experiences of such academic work. All master theses must include some design that can also be a design framework or model.
Design process and architectural representations
Design projects are developed through focused and informed artistic experimentation, an iterative process that evolves through phases. The process involves site explorations and documentations, sketching, digital and physical modelling, and can also involve material experimentations. Photographs, videos and collages are welcome additions to the design process. The use of tools for developing resource efficient design, careful renovations and socially inclusive design are encouraged to be part of design iterations.
A design process should normally include more than one iteration, exceptions can be made if a larger emphasis has been made on background research and theoretical explorations.
Thesis booklet
The booklet is a tool for keeping track of the outcome and the process. During the course of the whole thesis, the booklet is successively filled with outcomes from literature studies, case study evaluations, site explorations and design iterations. evolving thesis booklet. Figures and photographs that are under copyright cannot be included in the final thesis.

Specific evaluation criteria

In addition to the common evaluation criteria defined for the master’s thesis at Chalmers School of Architecture, the direction set emphasis on the following aspects:
  • Ability to creatively inform and explore a research agenda through design.
  • Ability to integrate the outcomes from a design process and a theoretical background into comprehensive conclusions and argumentations.
  • Ability to illustrate and communicate results and conclusions.

Submission requirements during the semester

Students submit their work for review during the thesis semester as follows. Supervision meetings and seminars involve verbal presentations of boards, models, etc., as well as submission of an updated thesis booklet at each occasion. Progress of work with booklet should be presented. Be inclusive when editing the material into a presentation – include explorations that you regard as successful as well as explorations that you consider as less successful. Not all material needs a high level of finish – can be rough material.

Start meeting

Documents needed to carry out the thesis should be chosen and collected. This includes plans of locations, drawings of existing buildings (in the case of transformation project), main literature, and reference projects. Project plan should be presented.

Mid-term seminar, ½ of spring semester

Booklet including: thesis statement and motivation, literature studies, reference studies, design explorations, and outline for the upcoming work. Material presented should be 50% of final. A first iteration of the design project. Drawings that indicate final project (site plan, plans, sections, elevations, axons, diagrams, details, views, illustrations), Models and model photographs. Be inclusive when editing the material into a presentation.

Interim checkup seminar (about 2 weeks prior final seminar)

Booklet should be 90% ready including background, literature studies, reference studies, design explorations, description of discussions and conclusions. The design project should demonstrate a complete set of drawings (site plan, plans, sections, elevations, axons, diagrams, details, views, illustrations), digital or physical models and model photographs. Edit the material into a presentation and be more selective – include less important material only if it contributes to a narrative.

Final seminar, end of spring semester

Open seminar, end of spring semester

Final submission, after end of spring semester


Brand, S. (1994). How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built. London, UK: Viking.
Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2015). Delivering the Circular  conomy: A Toolkit for Policymakers. Cowes, UK.​
Gorgolewski, M. (2018). Resource Salvation: the Architecture of Reuse. Hoboken, NJ : John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2018.
Francart, N., Malmqvist, T., & Hagbert, P. (2018). ‘Climate target fulfilment in scenarios for a sustainable Swedish built environment beyond growth’, Futures, 98: 1–18. Elsevier.
Du Plessis, C., & Brandon, P. (2015). ‘An ecological worldview as basis for a regenerative sustainability paradigm for the built environment’, Journal of Cleaner Production, 109: 53–61.
Raworth, K. (2012). ‘A safe and just space for humanity: can we live within the doughnut’, Oxfam Policy and Practice: Climate Change and Resilience, 8/1: 1–26.

Revisit also literature recommended in course ARK650 “Sustainable Development and Design Professions”, ARK466 “Sustainable Architectural Design”, ARK590 “Building Climatology for Sustainable Design”, ARK626 “Architectural Transformations” (/Canvas).


Walter Unterrainer, Paula Femenías, Liane Thuvander, Anita Ollár, Janneke van der Leer, Shea Hagy


John Helmfridsson, Oscar Carlsson

Page manager Published: Thu 08 Sep 2022.