For the foreseeable future, the climate crisis will continue to be the most challenging hurdle to overcome for the buildings industry. As one of the largest contributors to carbon emissions, the industry has a long way to go to find a sustainable model for the future.
However, over the last few years, many practices have started making commitments to meet sustainability targets. The ‘Architects Declare’ movement has had significant uptake by practices globally and has shown lots of ambition amongst architects to find sustainable design solutions. Although there has been some skepticism and conversation around how attainable the commitments are, being a signatory is widely considered to be an important statement to make as a practice.
These commitments signal a move towards putting sustainability at the centre of design agendas. The more that sustainability and environmental design becomes the base-case, the more we will see sustainable design being implemented at the very early stages of projects, which is when designers can have the most impact on the project outcome.
The scale of the buildings industry is what makes addressing the climate crisis such a tough problem to tackle. However, there are ways of beginning to break down the scale of the challenge by taking on small changes at a time. Focussing on aspects such as legislation can have wide-reaching effects and can be affected by everyone. Planning and regulation systems should be actively promoting a regenerative built environment, with issues such as embodied carbon, biodiversity loss and pollution at the top of the agenda.
A big part of achieving this change is by expanding the conversation around architecture and making it more accessible to those outside the profession. By de-mystifying the language and terminology members of the public and those impacted by architectural projects can be more empowered to engage in activism and consultation.
Companies and brands respond to consumer expectations in all industries and this applies to architecture too. The building end user is an important part of the brief and the higher the climate crisis is on their agenda, the higher it will be on the agenda of developers, investors and policymakers. Architects, therefore, have a role to play in widening the conversation and understanding the change that is needed to implement sustainable design practices. Making sustainable language part of our everyday work is essential and having a good knowledge of the issues will improve how designers make decisions.
The last few years have seen a significant rise in activism within the profession with designers pushing for greater embodied carbon accountability, a move away from the demolish-and-rebuild model, and a growing interest in the intersection of human health and planetary health. I am excited and interested to see how the profession will use its creative capacity to start addressing the climate crisis, improving human health and creating spaces that are socially, economically and environmentally sustainable.
- Maria Henshall