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Academics give support to student-led environment campaign

Shutterstock climate change extinction rebellion april 2019
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Architectural Association director Eva Franch i Gilabert is among almost 700 signatories to an open letter calling for a higher focus on environmental change at building design schools

Franch was joined by Central Saint Martins programme director of spatial practices Mel Dodd and Bartlett School of Architecture director Bob Sheil in backing the student-led Architecture Education Declares campaign.

The move echoes last week’s rallying cry by 17 winners of the RIBA Stirling Prize – including Foster + Partners, ZHA and Rogers Stirk Harbour – calling for practices across the UK to join them in declaring a ‘climate emergency’.

As of this morning (Thursday 6 June), more than 630 people including students, tutors and senior academics had signed the Architecture Education Declares letter, with the number growing rapidly.

‘Our education has a key role to play in addressing the ongoing ecological crisis,’ reads the letter. ‘Our generation will encounter unprecedented social, political and ecological challenges, and we all need to respond with the urgency these circumstances demand.’

It adds: ‘We are concerned that at present our education does not give sufficient weight to the inherently ecological and political basis of architecture, nor to our responsibility to meet our uncertain future with socially and environmentally informed practice.’

The letter urges architecture schools to take steps to work towards better informing their students about environmental change. These include setting up working groups, publishing an annual implementation plan, and pressing the RIBA and the Architects Registration Board (ARB) on the importance of the issue.

Rosa Whiteley, a student in the first year of her masters in architecture at the Royal College of Art and part of the Architecture Education Declares movement behind the letter, told the AJ: ‘We want the reality of the climate situation to be recognised in our education.

We want the reality of the climate situation to be recognised in our education

’We would like to see ecological breakdown as part of the core syllabus because it is as fundamental to understand how the environment will be in 50 years as it is to know how structures will stand and materials will behave.

‘We do not feel prepared for the change that will take place and we feel a responsibility to be prepared.’

Responding to the calls for professional and educational change, an ARB spokesperson said: ’We set and enforce professional standards in order to help maintain trust in the profession. Given the legal impact of the disciplinary sanctions we are required to apply, our Code must reflect the minimum standards expected of architects.

‘We keep the Architects Code under review, and periodically update it to reflect changes in society and developments in the profession. We are always happy to meet with interested parties to discuss perspectives as part of this process.

’In addition to this, we are currently carrying out a review of the criteria for the prescription of qualifications required to be met to become an architect. As part of this process there will be a public consultation which welcomes feedback from all interested parties.’

Ben Derbyshire, president of the RIBA said: ’The climate challenge we face is vast and urgent. The report of the RIBA Ethics and Sustainable Development Commission identified tackling this issue as a top priority for the RIBA, and it will be a focus for the key debate at our council meeting next month.

We need to do more than make symbolic statements

’What is clear is that for our profession to make a significant impact, we need to do more than make symbolic statements, but to galvanise skills, knowledge and educational priorities globally. It is important that any declarations are underpinned with real, meaningful actions. At a practical level the RIBA is undertaking a range of initiatives, including better embedding Post Occupancy Evaluation into the RIBA Plan of Work and the introduction of enhanced sustainability requirements in our awards and validation criteria, whilst seeking to influence Government policy on whole-life zero carbon regulation.’

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Readers' comments (3)

  • the first campaign should be 'educate the educators'

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  • We cant leave this to future generations anymore though, we need to educate business leaders!
    The first UN climate declaration about the next generation was made in 1987, when i was born. Millenials are this next generation that all the countries of the world declared they would ensure didn't have a reduced quality of life...

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  • When debating how to improve the education system I would encourage looking at the Centre for Alternative Technologies. I studied there after my Part 1 at Cambridge and graduated feeling thoroughly prepared and empowered for the impending climate challenges. The teaching and knowledge remains highly topical to the day.

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