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Climate crisis: ‘It’s more important architects are involved in airports than walk away’

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Architects have a duty to influence the sustainability of airport projects, says Stephen Barrett, a partner at Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners 

Stephen barrett rshp crop

Stephen barrett rshp crop

Stephen Barrett of RSHP

Some estimates predict the number of air passengers to double to 8 billion passenger journeys per annum within 20 years. Without addressing fundamental societal and economic questions, and without significant technological change, this is clearly unsustainable from an environmental and planetary perspective.

Both as designers of airports and as a practice that in very many ways relies on international travel, the question that is posed is one that we debate regularly.

At a practical level, we believe we have a duty to try and make a positive difference when and where we can. To this end, we believe it’s more important to be sitting at the table and influencing the shape of infrastructure that is likely to be with us for generations, ensuring this is built and operated to the highest possible environmental standards.

For example, our new pier at Geneva airport is carbon-negative. By incorporating more than 4000m² of photovoltaic panels, 110 geothermal piles for heating and cooling, high-performance glazed façades with solar protection guaranteeing a low dependency on artificial lighting, energy-efficient chilled ceilings, intelligent LED lighting with responsive control systems and low water consumption methods including rainwater harvesting, the building consumes less energy than it produces. Our Terminal 1 extension at Lyon Airport was the first airport terminal to meet the French HQE standards.

Of course we are conscious that these are specific examples and the design of the buildings is only one part of a much wider picture, not addressing the wider environmental impacts of flying.

We are therefore committed to contributing positively to developing sustainable mobility generally. We work towards delivering forms of the compact city in all our work and our airport designs seek to incorporate public transport within integrated masterplans that deliver well-connected mixed-use neighbourhoods in their own right.

Our multidisciplinary study for the Paris region on the impact and potential of electric and autonomous transport proposes transforming the road network into an adaptable, long-life multi-purpose, energy-producing and bio-diverse armature that is of net environmental benefit – rather than a negative – goes some way towards this, as does our work A Blueprint for Electrical Vehicle Charging Infrastructure for the UK.

The fashion industry emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined

In the end, we must all get far better in meeting the challenge of a more sober, reduced-carbon future and continue to ask these critical questions. The urgency of the situation cannot be understated. That said, and without this being in any way a reason not to do more, it may be useful to put this question in perspective: The fashion industry emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined.

Architects working in that field, and perhaps retail generally, should perhaps be asked the same question as those of us working towards making airports more sustainable.

Ra 10300 07 a4 rogers geneva

Ra 10300 07 a4 rogers geneva

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