Why Keck is Funding Green Architecture at a State University

The W.M. Keck Foundation is not what you’d consider an environmental funder, but Portland State University’s green architecture and design program is right in the foundation’s wheelhouse of hands-on undergrad research.

The Keck Foundation is primarily a science research and higher education funder, which we’ve also covered related to its soft spot for telescopes. But one of its latest grants is a unique one—$300,000 to Portland State University in Oregon to research new green building techniques.  

Architecture and design isn’t a frequent cause for the funder. Keck has a few programs. The first is for research, giving to a combination of medical research, and science and engineering. Then there are some funds for Southern California projects, and a bucket for special projects. But the other main program is for undergraduate education, with some key priorities that seem to fit the PSU project perfectly. 

Related - W.M. Keck Foundation: Grants for STEM Higher Education 

Specifically, the program is into research opportunities for undergrads, science and tech literacy across disciplines, and active learning and collaborative curriculum. 

The PSU program hits a lot of these marks, and otherwise has some pretty intriguing features. 

First off, Portland State University has a longstanding green building emphasis on campus, with multiple certified buildings and ranking among the top schools for energy conservation. And since 2008, the school has operated the Green Building Research Lab (GRBL) with grant funding. But the Keck grantee is actually a project within the architecture school called the Research-based Design Initiative.

Also receiving foundation and federal funding, the Initiative started in 2011 in coordination with the GRBL to create a graduate-level program that plugs architecture students into real-world projects. For example, past grad students have worked with a Portland architecture firm to analyze lighting strategies in a new school. 

Related W.M. Keck Foundation: Grants for Science Research

With Keck funding, the program will extend to undergrads. A new design lab will allow undergraduate architecture students to conduct scientific research on building designs, testing energy use with computer simulations and even fabricating working prototypes for improving sustainability in the built environment.

You can see where the attraction for Keck would be. The school is exposing its undergraduate students to a heightened level of scientific practice in classwork, and creating a more active learning experience, taking things well beyond traditional lecture format. And hopefully, some of these youngsters can lay the groundwork for buildings that don’t gobble up so much carbon. 

Read more about Keck's undergraduate grant program here