Architects Declare: UK Profession Pledges Action On Climate Change

Photo: Architects Journal.

Photo: Architects Journal.

In an unprecedented move, some of the UK’s most influential architects and practices have issued a joint statement calling for the profession to take action on climate change and biodiversity loss. In an open letter, published at the end of last month, the group explain that buildings and construction account for nearly 40 per cent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, and as such, argue that more must be done to tackle the ’most serious issue of our time’.

Under the moniker Architects Declare, seventeen past winners of the RIBA Stirling Prize, including Foster + Partners, ZHA and Rogers Stirk Harbour, together with over 400 other practices unveiled a series of pledges, from sharing knowledge on climate mitigation to adopting more regenerative design principles, and urged others to commit to the cause. As Steve Tompkins, Director of Haworth Tompkins explained, “If enough architects commit to positive change, we can make a difference in a sector that is a still a massive contributor to the UK’s energy-based CO2 generation”.

The letter acknowledges the fact that meeting society’s needs without ‘breaching the earth’s ecological boundaries’ will demand a paradigm shift in the way the profession currently operates. However, it also states that ‘the research and technology exist for us to begin that transformation now’ and that a lack of collective will has been the stumbling block to change. “This statement is a public note to ourselves that we need to do much more both in how we practise design and how we can work with clients to address these challenges,” explained Zaha Hadid Architects director Jim Heverin. And he went on to say, “If this statement also lends some weight to influence others beyond our own industry, that is also a positive step.”

Here are the profession’s pledges…

  • To raise awareness of the climate and biodiversity emergencies and the urgent need for action among our clients and supply chains. 

  • To advocate for faster change in our industry towards regenerative design practices and a higher Governmental funding priority to support this. 

  • To establish climate and biodiversity mitigation principles as the key measure of our industry’s success: demonstrated through awards, prizes and listings. 

  • To share knowledge and research to that end on an open-source basis. 

  • To evaluate all new projects against the aspiration to contribute positively to mitigating climate breakdown, and encourage our clients to adopt this approach. 

  • To upgrade existing buildings for extended use as a more carbon efficient alternative to demolition and new build whenever there is a viable choice. 

  • To include life-cycle costing, whole-life carbon modelling and post-occupancy evaluation as part of our basic scope of work, to reduce both embodied and operational resource use. 

  • To 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. 

  • To collaborate with engineers, contractors and clients to further reduce construction waste. 

  • To accelerate the shift to low embodied carbon materials in all our work. 

  • ·To minimise wasteful use of resources in architecture and urban planning, both in quantum and in detail.   

“Sustainability should be at the core of every architect’s work,” said Gerard Maccreanor and Richard Lavington of Maccreanor Lavington. “As a profession, we need to be at the forefront of the discussion, keep the pressure on and fight for more sustainable future policies within the built environment.”