UK Architects Declare an Emergency

John Hill
30. May 2019
Screenshot of www.architectsdeclare.com

Seventeen recipients of the RIBA Stirling Prize are founding signatories of Architects Declare, a UK-based commitment that aims "to create architecture and urbanism that has a more positive impact on the world around us."

Architects Declare is responding to the "twin crises of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss" and the assertion that buildings account for "nearly 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions." Though buildings don't exist in a vacuum, their planning, design, materials, and energy use are greatly determined by architects, who need to convince their clients and the construction sector of "meeting the needs of our society without breaching the earth’s ecological boundaries."

Architects Declare arrives a few years after Architects Advocate, a similar network for "action on climate change" that was founded by a group of architects in Chicago in mid-2016. So why did it take so long for this UK network? Perhaps it's the very-public Extinction Rebellion protests that occurred in London last month. Or maybe it's because we are one year from the third decade of the century, the decade that will culminate with the 2030 carbon-neutral target that architects and the building sector are failing to deliver upon. Whatever the case, Architects Declare is a welcome reorientation to any complacency in the face of climate change.

Per the Architects Declare website, the growing list of UK architects signing the commitment will seek to:

  • Raise awareness of the climate and biodiversity emergencies and the urgent need for action amongst our clients and supply chains.
  • Advocate for faster change in our industry towards regenerative design practices and a higher Governmental funding priority to support this.
  • Establish climate and biodiversity mitigation principles as the key measure of our industry’s success: demonstrated through awards, prizes and listings.
  • Share knowledge and research to that end on an open source basis.
    Evaluate all new projects against the aspiration to contribute positively to mitigating climate breakdown, and encourage our clients to adopt this approach.
  • Upgrade existing buildings for extended use as a more carbon efficient alternative to demolition and new build whenever there is a viable choice.
    Include life cycle costing, whole life carbon modeling and post occupancy evaluation as part of our basic scope of work, to reduce both embodied and operational resource use.
  • Adopt more regenerative design principles in our studios, with the aim of designing architecture and urbanism that goes beyond the standard of net zero carbon in use.
  • Collaborate with engineers, contractors and clients to further reduce construction waste.
  • Accelerate the shift to low embodied carbon materials in all our work.
    Minimize wasteful use of resources in architecture and urban planning, both in quantum and in detail. 

The 17 high-profile signatories consist of Alison Brooks Architects, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, AL_A, Caruso St John Architects, David Chipperfield Architects, dRMM, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, Foster + Partners, Haworth Tompkins, Hodder + Partners, Maccreanor Lavington, Michael Wilford, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, Stanton Williams, WilkinsonEyre, Witherford Watson Mann, and Zaha Hadid Architects. 

Given how few buildings these architects and the 99 (and quickly growing) firms joining them design relative to the larger production of buildings in the UK and beyond, the greatest service of Architects Declare may just be in shifting public opinion toward a stronger demand for "buildings, cities and infrastructures as indivisible components of a larger, constantly regenerating and self-sustaining system."

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