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International project reflects educational philosophy

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Robert Ries

Assistant Professor of Building Construction
College of Design, Construction and Planning

Building construction professor Robert Ries believes in sustainability and applied learning. He uses hands-on learning to teach future industry professionals how to design and construct buildings in environmentally friendly ways.

His newest project will take him, other faculty and students to Spain in June where a solar-powered house they designed and built will compete with others internationally.

With a family background in construction and a doctorate in architecture from Carnegie Mellon University, Ries was well-versed in the world of construction.

The more he learned in school, however, the more he realized a need for environmental awareness in the field. As a result, much of Ries’ work has focused on environmental life cycle assessment—examining the environmental impact associated with the construction of buildings.

Ries has been a faculty member at UF since 2007, focusing his teaching on green construction and sustainable development. He enjoys working with students on service learning projects and mentoring graduate students in their research.

“It’s important to educate future professionals on the importance of environmental issues in construction and design,” Ries said. “And I don’t see education as limited to classroom lectures—there are many different ways to educate.”

A perfect example of this philosophy is his role as principal investigator for the UF Solar Decathlon Team.

The 800-square-foot home created by the team contains design elements from the historic Florida Cracker house, and includes architectural elements such as a covered open porch, a breezeway and a porous, breathable skin.

“Solar Decathlon gives us the opportunity to educate students in a unique way,” Ries said. “It allows us to utilize new techniques in construction and give students exposure in a hands-on way.” Competing in the Solar Decathlon also creates a multidisciplinary experience among the college’s specialized areas.

“It shows students how different disciplines work together and approach problems,” Ries said. “And constructing and designing buildings is inherently multidisciplinary.”

Ries plans to become involved with the Fall 2011 Solar Decathlon competition in Washington, D.C., collaborating with the University of South Florida, University of Central Florida and Florida State University. He also would like to collaborate with a European university for the 2012 competition in Europe.

However, Ries doesn’t want to limit his efforts to Solar Decathlon.

“If we think activities like this are beneficial, we need to make sure we support students and provide opportunities to engage in projects like this on a regular basis,” Ries said.

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