Ongoing global architectural agendas span climate change, energy, a carbon-neutral society, human comfort, COVID-19, social justice, and sustainability. An architecture studio allows architecture students to learn how to solve complicated environmental issues through integrated thinking and a design process. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon Design Challenge enables them to broaden their analytic perspectives on numerous subjects and strengthen their integrated thinking of environmental impacts, resilience, sustainability, and well-being. However, the unprecedented impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic transformed the physical studio-based design education system into an online-based learning environment. Mandatory social distancing by the global COVID-19 pandemic restricted interactive discussions and face-to-face collaborations for the integrated zero-energy building design process, which requires features of architecture, engineering, market analysis, durability and resilience, embodied environmental quality, integrated performance, occupant experience, comfort and environmental quality, energy performance, and presentation.

This study emphasizes the educational effectiveness of virtual design studios as a part of the discourse on architectural pedagogy of zero-energy building (ZEB) design through integrated designs, technological theories, and analytic skills. The survey results of ten contests show educational achievement with over 90% of the highest positive tendency in the categories of embodied environmental quality and comfort and environmental quality, whereas the positive tendency of educational achievement in the categories of integrated performance, energy performance, and presentation were lower than 70%. The reason for the low percentage of simulation utilization and integrated performance was the lack of a proper understanding of and experience with ZEB simulations and evaluations for undergraduate students. Although VDS is not an ideal pedagogical system for the iterative design critique process, it can support the learning of the value of architectural education, including integrative design thinking, problem-solving skills, numerical simulation techniques, and communicable identities through online discussions and feedback during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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