Paradise Found: Sustainable Design Courses

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Arriving at Maho Bay Camps on the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands–with its wood-frame tent cottages, free-roaming geckos, and community bathroom eighty-eight steps up–feels a bit like being back at summer camp. But once the Sustainable Design/Construction course offered each May by Colorado State University begins, it’s clear this is no kid’s stuff.

Taught by Professor Brian Dunbar, director of CSU’s Institute for the Built Environment, the course is open to all who wish to learn more about sustainable building. A typical day starts off with a hearty 7:30 a.m. breakfast followed by a three-hour class session that includes lectures, open discussions, student presentations, and field trips. Afternoons are left open for snorkeling, sailing, reading, or taking a nap on the beach, until class resumes from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The classroom, a large open-air gazebo overlooking the bay, is a wonderful place to contemplate course subjects such as urban planning, landscaping, building design, and materials, the economics of sustainable development, the sun’s path and how it affects building design, and green building case studies. Through field trips, students learn about the history and culture of St. John and tour other eco- and not-so-eco resorts.

Maho Bay Camps, a highly acclaimed eco-resort, was originally developed in the mid-1970s by owner Stanley Selengut. The wood-frame tent cottages were raised from the ground and connected by boardwalks, leaving nature as undisturbed as possible. Selengut’s other resorts on the island, Harmony and Concordia, feature photovoltaic power, gray water systems, recycled building materials, composting toilets, passive solar heated showers, and a unique cabin design that brings in cooling ocean breezes.

For more information, contact Brian Dunbar, CSU Institute for the Built Environment, Fort Collins, CO 80523; (970) 491-5041;