Architecture student reflects on Maymester in Munich

Students reach the top of Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany.
Students reach the top of Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany.

Elizabeth Brooks is entering her second year in the School of Architecture's dual master's program for community and regional planning and urban design. Below, Brooks shares her experiences from a six-week Maymester in Munich, Germany.

Professor Werner Lang of the School of Architecture recently led a six-week summer study abroad program in Munich, Germany. Sixteen students took the opportunity to live abroad and learn from the progressive approach to sustainability Germany has taken.

Visit Professor Lang's blog for more photos and details of the trip.

Living in Munich was an exciting learning experience. The government has supported and subsidized many projects that have improved the quality of life in the city. From efficient and popular public transit system and bike and pedestrian lanes to city-owned urban farms, Munich has a unique character that succeeds in incorporating functionality with beauty, while also honoring its history.

Germany offers many examples of how the principles of sustainability have been successfully integrated into urban fabric over centuries. Sustainable design is more than a modern trend in most European cities: it was a necessity. Because many buildings and districts were constructed before the advent of the automobile and electrification, the built environment offers many lessons on techniques and strategies that improve functionality while consuming fewer resources, and supporting a dense urban core.

Elizabeth Brooks shows her
Elizabeth Brooks shows her "Hook 'em, Horns" while climbing Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany. 

The vernacular architecture offers insights into many sustainable design practices that are being reincorporated into many current projects. Techniques such as passive lighting and ventilation designs, rooftop gardens and constructing with local materials were commonplace in many of the cities we visited.

Additionally, Germany is on the cutting-edge with regard to new techniques for sustainable development. The government has implemented many projects that further this trend, such as district heating, large improvements in mass transit, encouraging organic farming and supporting renewable energy technologies.

For example, Germany encourages the installment of solar panels with a lucrative feed-in tariff, where individuals are paid more for energy that is put into the electrical grid (generated by solar panels) than it costs to purchase it off of the grid.

Today, more than half of the world's population lives in urban areas. As we continue to shift society toward sustainability, planners and designers have an opportunity and an obligation to incorporate more innovative solutions and strategies into future projects, and our experiences in Germany this summer have exposed us to invaluable examples that I know we will all draw on for years to come.