Architects Climate Action Network Calls For Radical Change in Design Education

Calling all architecture students, graduates, professionals; your education is failing you!

ACAN Poster
ACAN poster about education.

Architects CAN!

It is a source of dismay and anger for me, as a teacher of sustainable design at Ryerson School of Interior Design at Ryerson University in Toronto, that my course is an optional one-term course for third and fourth-year students. That's about ten lectures to a small subset of self-selecting students (you can see some of the lectures here). I have been complaining for years that it should be mandatory, it should start in first year, and it should be part of everything we teach.

That's why I was so excited to learn about the Architects Climate Action Network, "a network of individuals within architecture and related built environment professions taking action to address the twin crises of climate and ecological breakdown."

call to action
A call to action. ACAN 

Why?

We are in a state of climate and ecological emergency. There is a compelling body of scientific work indicating our present trajectory will lead to catastrophe if we do not make ambitious and radical changes as a matter of urgency...This state of emergency calls for a new kind of professionalism. We can no longer remain secluded within our personal and professional silos. Instead we are harnessing our collective agency; as citizens with a shared professional background and a common goal, mobilising to bring about necessary changes to our industry.
Activists protesting the arrest of Tom Bennett
Activists protesting the arrest of Tom Bennett. Keith van Loen

The group was actually founded by three architects on Waterloo Bridge during an Extinction Rebellion protest in 2019 and is multidisciplinary, telling Treehugger that "though the majority of individuals involved are architects and students, our network also includes various professionals from engineers, developers, landscape architects, educators, journalists, communications/marketing and photographers." 

ACAN has initiatives and working groups covering a number of issues, including the circular economy, embodied carbon, carbon literacy, and professional standards, all of which "were selected on the basis of relevancy towards helping our three overarching aims being met":

DECARBONIZE NOW!

We seek to radically transform the regulatory, economic and cultural landscape in which our built environment is made, operated and renewed in order to facilitate rapid decarbonisation of the built environment.

ECOLOGICAL REGENERATION!

We advocate the immediate adoption of regenerative & ecological principles in order to green the built environment, prioritise communities and ecosystems at threat and promote the recovery and restoration of natural environments.

CULTURAL TRANSFORMATION!

We call for a complete remodelling of our professional culture. We must challenge and redefine the value systems at the heart of our industry and education system. We seek to create an open network to share resources and knowledge to aid in this transition.
education has to change
Education has to change!. ACAN 

However, their major initiative is the one that I am all in for: The revolutionizing of design education, The Climate Curriculum Campaign, where they have just delivered my 2021 sustainable design curriculum on a plate. ACAN notes that "architectural education needs an overhaul. Presently, schools across the country are not imparting basic carbon literacy skills, failing both their students and the wider public."

After five years in formal education, architectural graduates are entering the workplace unaware of the severity of the climate emergency, and without the technical know-how to tackle it. Essential knowledge now needs to be embedded within curriculums, educating on the environmental impact of architectural practice and the wider construction industry.
course plan
Course Plan.  ACAN

Here's the course plan, but I can't do this in 10 lectures. It has to be baked into the entire school for everyone. "We believe teaching around environmental design must be incorporated into every module, utterly normalising it and removing its specialist status."

As part of the education campaign, they have a draft letter that you can send to your head of school, which I am sending to the chair of my school and department. It is totally au courant, including:

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted all aspects of our lives and university education has been no different. The current estimate of the unprecedented drop in emissions caused by the pandemic will be between 4-7% by the end of 2020.1 Yet globally, we must reduce emissions by 7.6% every year for the next ten years, if we are to meet the IPCC target of a 1.5 degree rise. Our profession and our generation has huge responsibility in achieving this reduction with constructing and operating buildings accounting for 40% of emissions. The task ahead is enormous and requires immediate, collaborative action. You, as an educator, have a duty to equip students with the skills and focus not just to tackle, but excel under this pressure.
Carbon Literacy Must Be Embedded
Carbon Literacy Must Be Embedded. ACAN 

The list of activists who have signed on to ACAN is extensive, but all appear to be from schools in the UK. (I intend to join today!) The campaign is evidently having some impact in the schools; Sarah Broadstock, architect and University Tutor, who according to ACAN has been instrumental in ACAN's education campaigns, writes:

Since launching our Climate Curriculum Campaign in July we've seen the huge appetite amongst educators for change in how architecture is taught and used to tackle climate crisis. We've recently organised an interdisciplinary workshop with over 160 tutors, taking them out of their academic silos and providing a platform for them talk to each other about collaboration and empowering individual action. The sign up and subsequent response exceeded all our expectations, and we’re now hosting a second emergency workshop in a fortnight’s time. The intention is for the Educators Climate Emergency Workshop to be a repeating platform for sharing resources and ideas about what’s working and not working in our schools of architecture. Though naturally big institutions and regulatory bodies are slower to change, the overwhelming support from educators, including heads of schools and the RIBA means education will be changing by this Autumn.

Read more on The Climate Curriculum Campaign.

Architects Admit

Architects Admit
Architects Admit. ACAN 

But it's not all fun and games in the schoolyard, there are other initiatives. You may have heard about Architects Declare, where the likes of Norman Foster agree to not build carbon-spewing buildings that support carbon-spewing functions, like airports in Saudi Arabia. Now Lord Foster of Thamesbank and others like him can "confess their environmental sins in a climate-based confession booth."

The process of admitting your sins and reading other anonymous confessions hopes to spark reflection, generate conversation and develop an understanding of the construction industry’s impact on the environment and your role within it.

Visit and confess in the online confession booth.

Also on Twitter as @architectsCAN