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Foster + Partners challenged to ‘find leadership and courage’ on climate emergency

Foster + Partners' Amaala International Airport proposals
  • 5 Comments

Lobby group Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN) has written to Foster + Partners, calling on the firm to cease airport expansion work

As the AJ revealed earlier this month, ACAN had criticised Foster + Partners’ latest proposal for a new airport in Saudi Arabia, saying it contradicted the global practice’s endorsement of the Architects Declare and its claims of expertise in sustainability. The campaign group added it was preparing to challenge every UK architect involved in aviation expansion.

It has now written to the AJ100 top-ranked practice – a founding signatory of Architects Declare – saying the practice should temporarily withdraw from the environmental movement if it will not stop designing new airports.

ACAN said the ‘integrity and credibility’ of Architects Declare is at stake due to aviation’s significant and growing role in the climate crisis.

The letter called on Fosters to withdraw from the luxury Saudi scheme, known as the Amalaa resort airport, and also ’pause’ its involvement in aviation expansion ’until such time as the sector has achieved carbon neutrality’.

The letter continued: ’As a founding signatory of Architects Declare you have publicly proclaimed that we are in the midst of a climate emergency, which poses an existential threat to much of life on this planet. You have made pledges including to “Evaluate all new projects against the aspiration to contribute positively to mitigating climate breakdown, and encourage our clients to adopt this approach”.

’If a practice of your status, influence and renown were to walk away from aviation expansion, this would have a significant impact and send a compelling message about the urgent need to scale back the most extreme forms of extractivism.’

The letter concluded: ’Fundamentally this letter invites you to consider what your role will be in this extraordinary historical moment. Will you continue with business as usual, enabling a system that is pushing life on earth closer to the brink of disaster? Or, will you find the leadership and courage to make some difficult and uncomfortable decisions?

’Whether or not humanity is equal to the task of contending with this crisis may depend in large part upon the cumulative effect of many such decisions. We hope that you will consider the above carefully before deciding how to proceed.’

ACAN’s actions appear to respond to comments made by Architects Declare, which last month told the AJ that they would not be ‘naming and shaming’ practices they believed were failing to live up to its 11 far-reaching pledges.

ACAN carried out a snap poll of 227 respondents within its network at the start of July which found overwhelming support for the idea that UK architecture practices ‘should no longer be working on the expansion of the aviation industry and that ACAN should take action on this’.

After Fosters unveiled its proposals for a terminal and control tower serving the under-construction Amaala luxury resort, a project described as ‘akin to a private members’ club’, one commentator said the Architects Declare movement had ‘lost all credibility’, while sustainability expert and consultant Simon Sturgis accused the practice of a ‘climate betrayal’.

Foster + Partners declined to comment.

ACAN’s open letter to Foster + Partners

Dear Foster + Partners,

RE: Recently announced new Amaala resort airport

We’re writing to you as Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN), a network of individuals within architecture and related built environment professions taking action to address the climate and ecological crises. Following the announcement of your Amaala resort airport, we are concerned about this project and your continuing involvement in aviation expansion.

Our network strongly believes that UK architecture practices should not be working to expand aviation in the midst of this climate emergency. Aviation is an extremely carbon-intensive mode of transport. Expanding aviation capacity cannot be reconciled with meaningful action to achieve the rapid global decarbonisation that is urgently required. The way humans are living on this planet is fundamentally unsustainable and pursuing a business as usual approach will not bring about the change that we all know is necessary.

As a founding signatory of Architects Declare you have publicly proclaimed that we are in the midst of a climate emergency, which poses an existential threat to much of life on this planet. You have made pledges including to “Evaluate all new projects against the aspiration to contribute positively to mitigating climate breakdown, and encourage our clients to adopt this approach.”

As such, ACAN respectfully ask that you:

1. Withdraw your involvement in the Amaala resort airport. 2. Pause your involvement in aviation expansion until such time as the sector has achieved carbon neutrality.

If a practice of your status, influence and renown were to walk away from aviation expansion, this would have a significant impact and send a compelling message about the urgent need to scale back the most extreme forms of extractivism.

If you decide to continue with this project and aviation expansion more broadly, we wish to know how you are reconciling that position with your Architects Declare commitments and the global imperative for rapid decarbonisation. We invite you to open a dialogue with us on these matters.

If you are unwilling to relinquish your involvement in aviation expansion and find yourselves unable to reconcile these projects with the declaration points, we suggest that you consider stepping down from Architects Declare for the time being, in order to safeguard the integrity and credibility of the initiative.

Fundamentally this letter invites you to consider what your role will be in this extraordinary historical moment. Will you continue with business as usual, enabling a system that is pushing life on earth closer to the brink of disaster? Or, will you find the leadership and courage to make some difficult and uncomfortable decisions?

Whether or not humanity is equal to the task of contending with this crisis may depend in large part upon the cumulative effect of many such decisions. We hope that you will consider the above carefully before deciding how to proceed.

We very much look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely

ACAN

  • 5 Comments

Readers' comments (5)

  • Which sector of industry is likely to make fundamental technical changes: aviation, which in the space of a century developed from men running about with wings attached to their arms to putting a man on the moon; or construction? And by the way, what proportion of carbon emissions in the transport sector come from aviation compared with, say, merchant shipping? A refusal to see anything in the round hugely weakens the case of people sniping at big practices, who they take to be representatives of the capitalism many of them despise.

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  • Well done ACAN for calling out this hypocrisy. If Architects (inc. Fosters & Co) just signed up to Declaring a Climate & Ecological Emergency and left it there that would be fine; it's like stating the obvious. However Architects Declare then state what its signatories will do to make things better.... and that's where Foster & Partners and others are coming up short and looking like they are hypocrites or at best naive ..... but we know they know, so they are not naive are they?

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  • ..... and one other thing I'd like to point out which shouldn't be overlooked. Foster & Partners will no doubt design a stunning airport, AND they have the resources to make it as climate aware as possible. However the real problem lies with the building programme and the industry and lifestyle it supports. The question is "can you embrace a project while ignoring the consequences of it's function on the planet?"... It's a big question that we are all having to deal with and not many people are proffering the an answer as yet.... Not even Paul Finch

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  • There's also the issue of the need for this airport; it's to serve a new upmarket resort development in an area where the locals (and I bet there are some, likely with a very 'low carbon' lifestyle but counting for diddley-squat in the greater scheme of things, as we all know if we don't have our heads in the sand.

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  • Another Foster project that ACAN might comment on is the ridiculous Tulip tower in London ... how can such a huge environmental expenditure in materials, embodied energy and ongoing energy use be justified for such a doubtful purpose?

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