British architects declare climate and biodiversity emergency

Architects Declare
Screen capture Architects Declare

Architects all over the world should be doing this too.

The Stirling Prize is awarded every year to the best building in the UK, and its recipients are considered among the most important architects in the country. So when 17 of them announced Architects Declare, it was a very big deal. The architects note that "Buildings and construction play a major part, accounting for nearly 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions whilst also having a significant impact on our natural habitats." They were joined by about 400 other firms, who declare:

For everyone working in the construction industry, meeting the needs of our society without breaching the earth’s ecological boundaries will demand a paradigm shift in our behaviour. Together with our clients, we will need to commission and design buildings, cities and infrastructures as indivisible components of a larger, constantly regenerating and self-sustaining system.

James Stirling in EdinburghJames Stirling would probably approve/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Some of their goals:


  • Raise awareness of the climate and biodiversity emergencies and the urgent need for action amongst our clients and supply chains.

  • 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 modelling 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.

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

Tulip from the air© Foster + Partners

It's easy to be skeptical of this, especially when signatories include Zaha Hadid's firm and the architect of the dumbest building proposed in the UK, Norman Foster and his silly Tulip. As Hattie Hartman of the Architects Journal notes, "The 17 founding signatories to Architects Declare must now walk the talk. An obvious first step would be for them to share their sustainable design best practice, both current and planned. These should include measurable targets, reported regularly. A handful of practices already do this but they are in the minority."

More recently, Will Jennings writes in AJ that it is one thing to sign a pledge, but another thing to walk away from work. He notes that "it’s easier to be a critic on the outside than having to implement change from within, not least when so many pay cheques and livelihoods are directly and indirectly dependent upon these decisions."

It’s sexier to proudly make a visible stand than to address systematic change within. It’s genuinely fantastic that local authorities, political parties and now architects are declaring a climate emergency, but if it remains as a slogan instead of an immediate and fundamental change in direction then it’s not only meaningless but could cause more damage by acting as a PR mask concealing inaction and propping up the status quo.

You will have to click on the AJ site to see what he thinks of Foster's Tulip.

In related links below, you'll see some of the architects that we have covered in TreeHugger, who signed the pledge.

British architects declare climate and biodiversity emergency
Architects all over the world should be doing this too.

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