Is climate action and protest within an architect’s scope?

Last night, Studio Bark’s Tom Bennett spoke about climate change and protest at the latest in a series of ‘Negroni Talks’. Alongside Tom were Maria Smith, Julia Barfield and Paul Finch, collectively representing a diverse range of views on the severity of climate change, and the urgency and response required from architects – both personally, professionally and politically – in response. 

The premise was whether climate action and protest was a worthwhile pursuit for architects, though conversation moved into broader territories around ‘what the profession could do’.

Barfield spoke of the need to act on all fronts: personal, professional and political. Bennett made the case for an increased sense of urgency and for all citizens to engage in activism on this issue, loosely structured around Extinction Rebellion’s 3 demands. Smith focused on economics and the chimera (/loch ness monster) of ‘green growth’. Finch expressed scepticism over the timescales given by scientists, suggesting that everyone was being too gloomy and that “the city that stops building is dead”.

The panel had varying opinions about whether protest is a worthwhile pursuit for architects. Barfield and Bennett have both written pieces on their involvement with Extinction Rebellion (XR), while Finch, an architectural journalist, was more dubious about whether protest is worthwhile (despite the recent declaration of a climate emergency in the UK Parliament and public concern for the environment reaching an all time high).  Though Finch was at odds with the other Panel members on several counts, he appeared to agree that legislative change and action in response to climate change is necessary.  

Another topic was the establishment of the ‘Architects Declare‘ network, with over 550 practices signed up in declaration of a climate emergency, Studio Bark included. Although the aims of the network are very laudable and necessary, some of the founding signatories are engaged in carbon intensive projects, such as aviation expansion, in apparent contradiction to the notion of a climate emergency. Some have questioned whether the Architect’s Declare campaign can deliver on the scale and pace of change required by science (we hope it does).  Smith who sits on the steering group suggested that this is about working together in a professional capacity rather than looking at the nature of the projects which signatory organisations are working on.

Other offerings from the floor included measuring the carbon footprint of practices, building in timber, tree planting and various discussions around post-occupancy evaluation.

Also present were ACAN (Architect’s Climate Action Network) – a group of individuals, including some Studio Barkers, seeking to create rapid change to regulation through targeted lobbying and knowledge sharing. Anyone interested in being part of this growing network can sign up for more information at www.architectscan.org

Thanks to Fourthspace and Ombra for hosting this thought-provoking evening!

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