WORCESTER, Mass. –– Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) will launch a new interdisciplinary program leading to the bachelor of science degree in architectural engineering in the fall of 2012. It will be one of just 17 such programs nationwide, the first program in New England, and only the second in the Northeast. WPI’s program has been designed to prepare students to help address the growing challenges of sustainability, energy conservation and safety in the built environment.

“With rapid increase in world population, growing demand on resources, and changing demographics and lifestyles, engineers are increasingly being called upon to rethink how we approach the design and construction of buildings,” said Selcuk Guceri, Bernard M. Gordon dean of engineering at WPI. “Buildings consume about 40 percent of the nation’s energy and nearly 70 percent of its electricity, so energy efficiency is a vital challenge, as are how buildings contribute to a sustainable environment and how they maximize the safety of their occupants. Our new program in architectural engineering will build on WPI’s strengths in all of these areas to produce graduates who are uniquely well prepared to help create tomorrow’s sustainable structures.”

Architectural engineers contribute to the planning, design, construction and operation of buildings. Their primary focus is on a building’s structural soundness and its primary systems—including mechanical, electrical and communications, heating and air conditioning, plumbing, and fire safety—which can account for 60 percent of a building’s cost. Typically, architectural engineers work for multidisciplinary engineering and architectural firms, government agencies, and construction contracting firms. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment in those sectors will grow between 8 and 38 percent throughout the next seven years.

The new degree program will involve faculty members from WPI’s departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Fire Protection Engineering, Humanities and Arts and Mechanical Engineering. “Students will learn about building structures, building mechanical and electrical systems, fire safety systems, and construction-related topics, and also develop an understanding of architectural design and architectural history,” said Tahar El-Korchi, head of WPI’s department of civil and environmental engineering, who helped design the new degree program. “WPI’s program will include a particular focus on the use of energy in buildings and its impact on natural resources and the environment.”

Nine new undergraduate courses will be added to the curriculum to support the program. They will focus on such topics as architectural design, principles of HVAC design for buildings, building fire safety system design, and building electrical and lighting systems. As part of WPI’s project-based undergraduate program, the architectural engineering program will be project-centered. For example, during the junior year, majors will be involved in an integrated design experience, undertaking the architectural design of a building that will be progressively engineered during junior-year courses in structural, mechanical and electrical engineering.

“This project-rich approach, which will include a required senior-year major project that will permit students to apply their knowledge to real-world challenges in architectural engineering, will distinguish WPI’s program from existing programs,” says Roberto Pietroforte, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the new program. “We are also excited to be working closely with an architectural engineering advisory board that includes executives from some of the region’s top architecture, engineering and construction firms. They will help us produce graduates who are ready and able to make a difference in this field.”