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We are seeing a paradigm shift in the way practices think and work

Emily Booth
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Architects Declare has attracted significant support in the profession and is changing building design, says Emily Booth

As we emerge from lockdown, it’s clear that the coronavirus pandemic has prompted a rethink about how we act as a society, and the implications of our actions. There are opportunities here to start to put right many past wrongs. One of these opportunities is how we address the climate crisis.

There is no point just doing what we’ve done for decades. We must consume less, pollute less – but without losing the ability to dream big. We need to refocus our energies and our ingenuity.

There are already many calls to think differently. The news that the designs of a range of planned garden cities will lock residents into car dependency, for example, underlines the need to get the basics right, and that includes transport links. If you can’t walk or cycle to local amenities, there’s a problem.

And, used appropriately, different materials, such as timber, have an important role to play in greener buildings (see the La Borda social housing complex in Barcelona by local architecture co-operative Lacol for inspiration). So it’s heartening to see that the Construction Industry Council has cautioned the government against prohibiting the use of timber as a structural material.

It has been a year since Architects Declare launched, driven by 17 RIBA Stirling Prize winners, calling for a ‘paradigm shift’ in the way practices design and work. Since then it has garnered significant support, with almost 1,000 architects and practices signing up to its far-reaching pledges. Its influence has been significant and, while it is not without its detractors, it has gone a considerable way to help to change practices’ mindsets, as our Architects Declare survey shows.

Architects Declare is part of a broader cultural awareness, which means practices increasingly consider the climate implications of their buildings and are increasingly able to have more robust conversations with clients about materials and approaches.

There is also emphasis on the future. A common response to Architects Declare has been that firms will only be able to deliver on their commitments in forthcoming projects – that carbon zero has to be embedded into the early stages of jobs (‘those on site now and in late design phases can’t really comply retrospectively’).

Retrofit is a crucial part of a more sustainable future

Well, to a point. Measurement seems to be a big issue here. Life cycle costing, whole-life carbon modelling and, crucially, post-occupancy evaluation, make up one of the Architects Declare pledges. There is little excuse for not doing post-occupancy evaluation if you’ve promised to do it.

Yet, according to the AJ100 survey (the vast majority of whom have signed up to Architects Declare), 26 per cent of the top 100 practices never carry out POE, and only 48 per cent do it occasionally.

Another of the pledges prioritises retrofit. Here, it chimes with the AJ’s own RetroFirst campaign, which calls for changes in tax, policy and procurement to promote retrofit over new build where possible. Retrofit is a crucial part of a more sustainable future – it is invariably more carbon-efficient to work with existing structures than to bulldoze what’s already there and then build anew.

We are delighted that our RetroFirst campaign now has an amazing 250 supporters – ranging from architects to clients, developers to engineers, campaigning groups to consultants – and we want to thank you all for your support, suggestions and insights. This week we have put forward the campaign proposals to the relevant government ministers. We’ll keep you posted.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • where is the evidence of anyone changing at all , let alone a paradigm shift? it looks like more greenwashing to me

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