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RIBA must commit to ethics commission’s recommendations

Hattie Hartman
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Now the institute’s Ethics and Sustainable Development Commission has released its final report, resources and leadership must be given to implement its findings, writes Hattie Hartman

Icebergs 1 ej

Icebergs 1 ej

Olafur Eliasson’s Ice Watch, an installation of glacial ice from Greenland at Tate Modern and London’s Bloomberg building, was by far the most visually compelling event timed to coincide with the COP 24 climate talks which concluded in Poland in December. Visitors of all ages peered and poked at the irregular blocks of ice – highly Instagrammable. 

COP 24 unleashed a host of announcements and initiatives. One at the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) and another at the RIBA pertain directly to AJ readers. 

The UKGBC has launched a task force to unravel the long-debated definition of ‘zero carbon’, now reframed as ‘net zero’, for new buildings. Four architects number among the industry heavyweights that make up the 35-strong group. Public consultation will take place in February, and the recommendations, due in spring 2019, could well have a knock-on effect on planning requirements and building regulations. 

The report’s ambitious recommendations include upskilling the profession and greater transparency within the RIBA

Equally urgent and tougher to crack is the retrofit agenda. Hopefully, similar initiatives will tackle retrofit soon. 

At the RIBA, the institute’s Ethics and Sustainable Development Commission released its final report just before Christmas, approved by RIBA Council last week. Its ambitious recommendations are spot on and are accompanied by a roadmap with specific actions mapped on a one, two and three year timeline. These range from ensuring that architectural education and teaching staff are fit for purpose, to upskilling of the profession through desperately needed CPD and guidance to greater accountability and transparency of the institute. 

Commission chair Peter Oborn observes that the report signals the Institute’s profound recognition that the profession must reshape itself to be fit for the future. ‘The RIBA is charting a new course and committing to an action plan,’ he says. The commission recommends that RIBA Council creates a board level director to drive this change. 

Highlighting the urgency of the 12-year time horizon projected in the latest IPCC report, Michael Pawlyn of Exploration Architecture says that the profession needs ‘a paradigm shift’. The commission’s report could well kickstart this shift if the Institute commits appropriate leadership and resources to follow through on the recommendations. 

Meanwhile Gary Clark, director of sustainability at WilkinsonEyre and newly in post as chair of the RIBA’s Sustainable Futures Group, intends to complete two workstreams initiated by his predecessor Simon Sturgis: updating the green overlay to the Plan of Work (due in summer 2019) and consolidating the changes to the sustainability statements which accompany RIBA awards submissions. Also in the pipeline is an operational guide to handover and commissioning. 

Architecture 2030, an American initiative highlighted in the commission’s report as a model for the RIBA to examine for its applicability in the UK, is driving change in the States. It is a voluntary disclosure initiative for tracking operational energy use adopted by the American Institute of Architects in 2009 and is part of a larger initiative led by the AIA’s Committee on the Environment (COTE) which involves extensive online CPD and guidance. Stephen Kieran of KieranTimberlake, an Architecture 2030 signatory, notes, “It’s a marathon, with gradual improvement year on year.’ 

We also need more trailblazers. The industry sadly lost one such trailblazer last month with the premature death of Neil May MBE, a name which, perhaps tellingly, is not widely known to AJ readers. Neil’s company Natural Building Technologies pioneered the import of many sustainable vapour permeable insulation products from Europe. His passion led him to establish the Sustainable Traditional Buildings Alliance and author numerous publications on ‘responsible retrofit.’ This, in turn, led him to UCL where he founded the UK Centre for Moisture in Buildings in 2016. 

Neil May will be greatly missed, and his career path and highly collaborative approach is one we can all learn from. Determined incremental change can kickstart a paradigm shift. Education, upskilling, and transparency are good places to start. 

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