Architecture and the Kindness Economy – learning from Mary Portas

“Architecture is not just about what we build – but how we live.”

We have been captured by Mary Portas’ work on the Kindness Economy. This new value system requires businesses to understand the fundamental role they play for the wellbeing of people and the wider fabric of our society. At the heart of this approach is the need to balance commerce with social progress. We also see the need to balance our architectural and design business with the environment. In this post, we reflect on what we have learned about the Kindness Economy that resonates with our work at RISE Design Studio.

Mary Portas ii

Our shifting relationship with buildings

As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, we are realising just how much buildings influence every part of our lives. After spending more time in our homes and immediate neighbourhoods than ever before, we have become more aware of how we interact with the buildings we inhabit and how nature is reflected both internally and externally within and close to our homes.

In her recent podcast with Amanda Levete CBE, Mary Portas suggests we are going through a radical shift in our relationships with buildings. Architects are therefore at the forefront of designing our world post-pandemic. Buildings are the greatest expression of the idea of community and we need to understand who we are building for, particularly as different communities have different values, which need to be reflected in the architecture that surrounds them.

Lead by example

There is growing concern that volume housing is often built cheaply, with a focus on maximum profit for the developer, rather than on achieving maximum impact for the people who live there. As architects, we need to understand who we are building for and tailor designs accordingly. Different communities need different buildings, and housing should be designed around shared values not the value of a project or the resulting profit.

In an era of spending more time living and working in the home, it seems conceptually inappropriate that the design is in many cases driven by profit for someone who is not rooted in, or connected with, that community. This raises questions about how to encourage a shift in approach – Mary Portas would argue that this can be done by leading by example and showcasing successful projects for others to take inspiration from.

Between office and home

What will change as many of us start to return to the office? It is perhaps hard to predict but within the Kindness Economy there lies potential to re-imagine the office as a family home. Small companies may move from warehouses into townhouses, creating a homely office or a neighbourhood co-working space. It will be important for companies to have conversations with their staff about the future, to achieve a more positive work/life balance.

Attracting people back to the office will also require more thought about what kind of spaces people want and whether they want to work in those spaces. There is an opportunity to design buildings from which everyone has access to some outdoor space, nurturing the connection between inside and outside, and the local environment that we have all got to know so well when our movement was restricted.

Nurture community and connection

Although we live in an increasingly digital world, we are arguably more disconnected than ever before. Enforced remoteness and distance has negatively affected the culture and connectedness of our lives. As we re-emerge, we need places to meet, to learn new skills, and to feel a sense of culture around us. As we look to new ways of living and working, social interaction will be very important. How can people be put at the heart of buildings?

As many town centre properties lie empty, there is now an opportunity to begin a transformation but this will need risk-taking, innovation and creativity. Mary Portas points out the immediate opportunity to re-purpose these buildings without extensive demolition, in a way that exploits the characteristics that make a building so difficult to convert – a large central atrium, perhaps, or large indoor spaces with no natural light.

While challenging, these are exciting opportunities for architects – perhaps we can convert old department stores into spaces that are home to community functions and activities that will help to bring us all together again? Perhaps they could become places where people can grow food, making use of the latest technology in hydroponic farming? People’s concepts of a shop have changed and there is growing agreement that we need to re-purpose and re-vision these properties to create spaces and activities to bring people together.

You can visit one of Mary’s Living and Giving Shops across the UK.

 

Refurbishing homes for net zero – upskilling our design team

 

Refurbishing and retrofitting existing homes is a large part of the challenge of transitioning the built environment to net zero. We are faced with a significant task, especially as every home is different – efficiency measures that work in one home may not be appropriate for another. Retrofitting is also a daunting task for homeowners, particularly in terms of engaging a contractor with the right skills and experience for the job. At RISE Design Studio, we have worked on several projects that have included energy efficiency measures and, as the push to net zero becomes ever more critical, we are working hard to upskill our design team so all our projects are as energy efficient as possible.

Retrofit flat London

Embracing refurbishment

The 2008 Climate Change Act committed the UK to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. The buildings sector accounts for 37% of total UK GHG emissions and, of these emissions, 65% are from the residential sector. As a result, there has been growth in the residential retrofit industry, with buildings being adapted to be more sustainable and energy-efficient. The majority of our existing residential stock requires some level of retrofit to enable the government’s ambitious emissions targets to be reached.

Common measures include improving insulation. A new heating system might also be installed, or double glazing might be fitted. Yet, conserving energy is not the only reason to retrofit a building. Improving indoor environmental quality, reducing dampness and mould will all lead to increased health and productivity levels of residents.

Upskilling our design team

Recognising the increased momentum in London around reaching net zero, we have really enjoyed working with clients on refurbishment projects that incorporate environmental considerations. Modern architects are well-placed to add creativity and innovation into the drive to retrofit existing housing stock, particularly those that may prove very expensive to retrofit. For example, historic buildings such as Edwardian terraces are protected, and increasing energy efficiency can pose a real challenge. However, there are exciting options to retain the façade and rebuild the living spaces within the building.

More and more clients are seeking energy efficient homes and we are fully aware of the important role architects play in helping to reach the government target for 2050. As a result, we have been working hard to upskill our design team to work on these types of projects.

Maximising design benefit

There are several industry standards designed to increase the efficiency of residential property, including the Passivhaus and EnerPhit certifications. A Passivhaus project tends to use energy sources from within the building, such as body heat, heat from the sun or light bulbs, or heat from indoor appliances to create a comfortable, healthy living environment. However, it can be difficult to reach the exact requirements of the Passivhaus standard in a retrofit project.

Recognising this, the Passivhaus Institut has developed the EnerPHit standard for projects that use the Passivhaus method to reduce fuel bills and heating demand. We are working hard to implement this standard in our projects and our design team has developed the skills to align retrofit projects with this approach. EnerPHit takes into account the limitations associated with retrofit projects and relaxes some of the Passivhaus criteria to reflect this. Nevertheless, it is still a very demanding standard and generally results in a building that outperforms a new-build property both in terms of energy and comfort.

New build in the countryside – dream or possibility?

 

As the world tries to move on from the Covid pandemic, there is anecdotal evidence that we are increasingly seeking life outside the city. Building a new home in the countryside and becoming a rural dweller may seem like a impossible dream but it is becoming an increasing reality for some. One reason is that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) allows new, isolated homes to built in rural areas, if they are of exceptionally high quality of design. We explain the rules below.

RISE Design Studio - new build in the countryside

The right house in the right place

Current NPPF policy recognises that new housing can be very homogenous – the ‘cookie cutter’ developments that have been all too common across the country. This has led to a push to improve the design quality of new housing, particularly in terms of environment considerations.

In the new NPPF, paragraph 79 encourages local authorities not to approve new developments on unbuilt land in the countryside. However, there are some important exceptions to this rule. These include where a house is designed to exceptionally high quality, helping to “raise standards of design more generally in rural areas”. In addition, a house would have to “significantly enhance its immediate setting, and be sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area”.

No single route to success

The requirement for “truly outstanding or innovative” design means that there is no ‘right’ type of house that would receive planning permission. Instead, there is the need to focus on the individuality of a project and be aware that it is likely to be a long and intensive process.

It is clear that the sustainable design elements of the new build are key. Using natural, local materials can help the property to ‘take root’ in its local context. Equally important is how the property would positively impact the site, complementing and enhancing the existing landscape. Planning committees are more likely to approve houses which ‘belong’ in a landscape and use sustainable building technologies that are unique to the site.

Chances of success?

It is worth noting that the number of applications and the corresponding success rates are both quite low – a study found only 66 approvals between 2012 and 2018 (this was a 58% success rate, compared to an 88% success rate across all residential applications). Each case tends to have it own unique circumstances and the rules may be applied differently in different local authority areas. Engaging the local authority and any local communities or stakeholders early on in the project is very important. This will help to ensure that those making the final decisions about the build are confident in the quality, suitability and acceptability of the design and location.

We considered a lot of these aspects in the design of our Clogher Forest Village project.

Kitsungi – the art of repair

 

Celebrating the beauty of a naturally imperfect world is a tenet of our work here at RISE Design Studio. By embracing impermanence and accepting that we are always in a state of flux, it becomes easier to appreciate what we have, rather than compare ourselves to others. It is this mindfulness and ‘living in the now’ – with all its imperfections – that we try to capture in our work. An important influence on our approach is the Japanese art of kitsungi – ‘golden repair’ – which respects the unique history of an object.

Reclaimed bricks RISE Design Studio

An accidental art form

It is thought that kitsungi was developed in the 15th century when a Japanese shogun broke his favourite tea bowl. He was disappointed that the repair involved stapling the pieces together, which left the bowl looking unattractive. Instead, local craftsmen filled the crack with a golden laquer. This made the bowl more unique and valuable, and prompted a new style of repair. As the style developed, the lacquer was likened to natural features like waterfalls, rivers, or landscapes.

The need to accept change

We often feel regret when something breaks or is wasted. For the Japanese, this is ‘mottainai’, a feeling that dates back to the original era of kitsungi and remains present in contemporary Japanese environmentalism.

In London, we are tackling the challenge of developing a circular economy to support net zero targets – mottainai and kitsungi can provide us with the inspiration we need. In our ‘throwaway culture’, we often miss opportunities to transform broken or used objects into something new, perhaps even making those objects more rare and beautiful than the originals.

This is the essence of resourcefulness – making the most of what we already have (or what already is) and highlighting beauty alongside any flaws. The perfections and imperfections are what gives our surroundings a story and meaning.

Embracing the past in the home

What does this mean at home? It can include choosing authentic furnishings that create a lived, harmonious space. It might also mean sourcing used furniture and allowing each scratch to add to the narrative of an item’s history. It might mean repairing walls, floors and external materials to reflect the history of the building and the changes it has seen through the years. Sourcing local or reclaimed materials might also help to root the home in its local environment and landscape.

Imperfections are gifts

The art of kitsungi is not only about objects – it is also about how we live our lives. It helps us to realise that we, like the tea bowl, are all fallible. We heal and grow, and we often survive emotional blows and live to tell the story. However, it can be hard to admit our failures and accept that bad things can happen. If we are to learn something personal from the local craftsmen who repaired broken items with gold, it is that imperfections are gifts to be worked with.

We take pride in working with imperfections in our projects, whether those be in buildings with a story to tell, with materials that reflect the local landscape, or with furniture and other fittings that have existed for several generations.

Working towards a Net Zero London

 

Earlier this month, New London Architecture (NLA) published a report on ‘Zero Carbon London‘. Part of NLA’s Net Zero programme (#NLANetZero), the report provides new insight into progress in the built environment profession in the fight against climate change. It is based on results of a survey of over 100 London-based companies in the sector and points out some of the biggest challenges and opportunities for the city to get to Net Zero. In this post, we pull out some of the key points that ring particularly true for our firm.

Net Zero London RISE Design Studio

What is Net Zero London?

‘Net zero carbon’ is often used as a proxy for the six greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide is the most common of these. ‘Net’ refers to the sum of carbon emissions and carbon offsetting/sequestration (e.g. via absorption of carbon dioxide because of new woodland creation) being equal to zero. It is now widely-proven that climate change is caused by the increased concentration of greenhouse gases emitted in the atmosphere from human activities. This leads to an increase in global temperatures (global warming). Reducing the emissions of man-made greenhouse gases is therefore vital for tackling the climate emergency, and this is why ‘net zero carbon’ is so important.

For cities, which account for over 70% of global emissions and consume over two thirds of the world’s energy, reaching net zero is urgent. London has been one of the first global cities to commit to becoming carbon neutral by 2050 – the Greater London Authority has a plan to achieve this ambitious aim. 27 of the 32 London Boroughs and City of London have so far declared a climate emergency. London is also one of the major global cities that has signed the C40 Net Zero Carbon Buildings Declaration, committing to ensure that all new buildings operate at net zero carbon by 2030 (and all existing buildings at net zero carbon by 2050).

Achieving net zero in construction

The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) explains net zero in construction as ‘when the amount of carbon emissions associated with a building’s product and construction stages up to practical completion is zero or negative, through the use of offsets or the net export of on-site renewable energy’. A net zero carbon building tends to be highly energy efficient and powered from on- or off-site renewable sources, with any remaining carbon balance offset.

There are plenty of exciting initiatives and projects being undertaken by public authorities and the private sector: from a citizens’ assembly facilitated by Camden Council to come up with recommendations for zero carbon homes, to the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge that sets out the actions that chartered practice like RISE Design Studio will need to take.

More to be done

The NLA survey highlighted good progress in the sector. First, the vast majority of those who took part have signed up to one of the industry pledges such as Architects Declare (we have signed up). Second, those in the industry generally feel that they have the skills to address climate issues.

However, those who completed the survey feel that the biggest barriers to positive change are regulation and finance. The lack of green finance is a critical barrier for the London Boroughs to implement and achieve their targets. For organisations like ours, the current policy frameworks are not effective and act as a barrier for implementing measures that will get us to net zero. For example, a recent government consultation on banning the use of combustible materials in buildings suggests that a lack of joined-up thinking remains an issue – timber plays a very important role in decarbonsing construction.

The Covid-19 lockdown between March and May 2020 demonstrated that it is possible to reduce emissions and address behaviour change in a short time – carbon emissions in London dropped by 60%. But, the challenge is to achieve this reduction at the same time as people living their lives freely.

There is strong optimism in the sector that there is now an opportunity to transform our way of life and act in a more environmentally-conscious way. The upcoming inauguration of a US President who ran on a manifesto of clean energy and net zero no later than 2050 is also encouraging, particularly if he manages to rally the rest of the world (and our Prime Minister) to take the same steps.

Architecture and the planet: a crucial moment

 

David Attenborough’s ‘A Life On Our Planet‘ brings into sharp focus the destruction of Earth’s habitats that he has witnessed during his nearly 70 years in broadcasting. There is no mistaking the significant scale of the issues currently faced by our planet. At the end of the film, Attenborough offers us some rays of hope: the power of the right financial incentives to encourage reforestation and renewable energy development; the potential to replenish the seas with fish by protecting our coastlines; the importance of raising the global standard of living to slow population growth. But what role can architects play in tackling the pressing issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution?

Garden studio RISE Design Studio

Cultivating a circular economy

It is common knowledge that buildings have a significant impact on our environment. In 2014, a European Commission report noted that construction and builing use in the EU accounts for 40% of all energy use, 35% of greenhouse gas emissions, 50% of all extracted material, 30% of water use and 35% of all generated waste.

Armed with this information, it has become imperative that architects consider how their design decisions can reduce the impact of the industry. It is time to move away from the traditional ‘take, make and waste’ system towards a ‘take, make and reuse’ approach – a circular rather than linear economy. Recycling materials becomes paramount, working hard to divert construction and demolition debris from landfill and reusing, repairing or remanufacturing materials where possible.

Burrows road home renovation RISE Design Studio

– This glazed extension to the rear of a house in London used bricks reclaimed during the demolition to create a feature wall in the new space. 

Building in biodiversity

We also now know that plants and trees in our cities play an important role in tackling climate change and improving the health and wellbeing of residents. Green infrastructure – networks of green space and other green features in our communities – is central to quality placemaking. There is a compelling case for developing more natural and semi-natural habitats in our cities, towns and buildings, and architects play a key role in considering green infrastructure in the earliest stages of design.

Mill Hill new build RISE Design Studio Green roof

– Our new build house in Mill Hill features a green roof (along with other Passivhaus principles) to minimise the environmental impact and energy consumption of the house.

Embracing energy efficiency

Increasing the energy efficiency of buildings is a concern that has been increasingly recognised in UK legislation and policy. This may involve retrofitting buildings – using new technologies and materials such as insulation to increase energy efficiency. Conserving energy not only has environmental benefits – improving the quality of the indoor environment and reducing dampness increase health and productivity levels of residents.

Rise-Design-Studio-Douglas-House-ph-Edmund-Sumner-25-600x817

– Our Douglas House renovation features a range of passive and active environmental technologies (insulation, airtightness, solar panels, a mechanical ventilation heat recovery system, rainwater harvesting and smart thermostats).

At RISE, we see the importance of contributing to positive change in the way we conceive, construct and deliver the built world. We have made a serious commitment to reducing the impact of our projects on the environment and creating designs that improve the health and wellbeing of our clients and communities.

How will architecture adapt to Covid-19 and beyond?

 

The global Covid-19 pandemic has created a new world for all of us. While the fight against the virus continues, we are all learning to adjust to life in a socially-distanced society. How we move through our cities, towns and villages has changed, and we have had to refamiliarise ourselves with adapted indoor and outdoor spaces. What will these changes mean for the design of housing, work spaces and placemaking in the future? We think there will be some key changes that architects will need to respond to.

RISE Design Studio architecture and Covid-19

Seeing our homes in new ways

Even those of us who have always loved spending time in our homes will feel, after many weeks of lockdown, overly familiar with our own living space. Bedrooms have become the office or the home gym, kitchen tables have become the home school, and the quiet space that was once a reading nook may now be overrun by all members of the family seeking that rare moment of solitude.

As we contemplate the reality of more time in our home in the weeks and months to come, we are valuing our homes more than ever before and thinking about how to maximise the space. Storage has become more important as we appreciate the simplicity and order of life at home while the world outside seems increasingly complex. What was originally a temporary workspace may become a permanent feature and this presents an opportunity to create a soulful space that inspires creativity and productivity.

Even the tiniest bit of outdoor space has provided a huge boost for those lucky enough to have some. For those without, sunrooms or spaces with good quality natural light for urban farming provide a welcome alternative.

Perhaps the most important question is about how we delineate the spaces in our home that we use to rest, eat and play from those in which we now work. How can smaller spaces be used to perform these multiple roles but still allow a separation of home and work life? The creative solutions need to flow.

The importance of our local surroundings and supply chains

The pandemic has made us all acutely more aware of our local surroundings and what effect these can have on our health and wellbeing. Encouraged to walk, run and cycle close to home, we have become very familiar with our local streets, paths and parks, perhaps much more than we could have ever imagined.

As many of us continue to spend more time at home during the working week, there is an opportunity to implement energy-efficient standards, and push for faster decarbonisation of heating systems to ensure the carbon footprint of the home is reduced and energy costs are manageable.

New developments will need to adopt strong placemaking principles likely walkability to local social infrastructure. This will be crucial to ensure that local businesses can be accessed quickly and safely, particularly as home workers are likely to make these sorts of trips more regularly than in the past.

The longer we spend without regular social contact, the more important our greenspaces become for our mental and physical wellbeing. There is a need to embed these spaces in our local communities and look after them for the years to come.

Adaptable and healthy cities

Perhaps most striking has been the decline of the use of cars in our cities. Streets have been left empty and air pollution levels have dropped significantly. As people are converted into ‘full-time pedestrians and cyclists’, the benefits of making streets safer for those of us not in vehicles couldn’t be more apparent.

There is likely to be a greater focus on health in city planning and development. For example, in Singapore, therapeutic gardens have been built into public parks, and in Tokyo citizens are working with urban designers to create more greenspace in their neighbourhoods to improve their health.

Across the world, architects have been working hard to identify and adapt buildings and other spaces into temporary health care facilities. The pandemic has highlighted the need for fast design and build projects, which has made the use of modular construction – buildings assembled using prefabricated modules – more common.

Perhaps most exciting is the growth in the adaptive reuse approach to design. Using existing structures to serve new purposes, this is a real opportunity to use a sustainable and efficient approach to upgrading our living environments in this new world.

Passivhaus residential architecture: learning from Goldsmith Street

 

The Goldsmith Street council housing scheme in Norwich is a gem of contemporary architecture, a precedent for the direction architecture should take as it wades through the challenges presented by today’s world. More than just a pleasant place to live, the scheme stands up to housing difficulties, faces dilemmas about inequality, and all the while tackles environmental concerns reaching Passivhaus standards.

Photo by Tim Crocker

Sustainability, equality, dignity, character, ecological and social consciousness, and the much-sought-after-but-rarely-achieved Passivhaus standard… we are all compelled by these terms and, in an ideal world, would like to implement them in our homes and our designs.

The truth, however, is that a very small percentage of new builds are willing to raise their standards to meet environmental and social demands, and that most home-owners and developers who do want to respond to these concerns are often deterred by the cost increase or the toll it takes on aesthetic aspirations. Indeed, for many years it seemed that too much had to be given up, that quality design and Passivhaus were a luxury… But then Mikhail Riches designed the Goldsmith Street housing scheme, and the Norwich City Council decided to build it.

Goldsmith Street is not remarkable just because it has achieved Passivhaus for social housing, it is remarkable because it is living proof that budget, design, and environment are not the irreconcilable points of a triangle we thought they were (read an earlier post we wrote on sustainable architecture principles).

This seemingly futile event has had a big impact on British architecture; council houses are constantly being commissioned and built, but few of them manage to have an impact, let alone a game-changing impact, on the way we see the future of architecture. And this is a future that is important to think about: as big cities like London face evermore pressing housing crisis and the effects of the damage to the environment start to be felt globally, it is crucial to identify a direction for architecture that addresses these issues.

The fact that Mikhail Riches’ design has received so many awards is a hopeful sign. To date, it has been bestowed with the RIBA East Award 2019, the RIBA East Client of the Year 2019 for Norwich City Council, the RIBA East Sustainability Award 2019, the RIBA National Award 2019, the Neave Brown Award for Housing 2019 and the RIBA Stirling Prize 2019… and there are probably more to come!

The scheme deserves each and every one of these prizes because of its relevance and uniqueness. For being innovative using humble forms, for proving that it is worth taking on a challenge such as is council housing, for having the courage to stick with its priorities, for designing with the people that will become occupiers in mind, for caring about the details, for not being afraid of using the traditional British street as a precedent, for understanding the difference between fashionable and good… and for inspiring other architects, like us, to strive to meet the same architectural and ethical standards.

You can read more about the Goldsmith Street design on the RIBA website.

Image © Tim Crocker

Looking back at 2019

 

Happy New Year to all our clients and followers. We finished some really exciting projects in 2019, two of which were shared widely online due to coverage from some of the architecture and design world’s top websites. Douglas House, an extension of a terraced house in Kensal Rise in London, transformed the property into a contemporary and light living space. The second, the ‘Brexit Bunker’, nicknamed by its owner in Kensal Rise, added a garden office and ‘place of serenity’.

Douglas House renovation Kensal Rise London Brexit bunker garden studio Kensal Rise London

Douglas fir-lined extension

“180 metre square project features an oriel window which sits in dialogue with a third-floor reading pod”

Dressed in Danish timber, the family rooms have taken over the ground floor to extend into the garden. The ground floor also houses a carefully designed utility room and built-in larders that extend from the floor and hide in the walls of the living room. On the first floor, the children’s rooms are decorated with wooden details and other natural materials, and the family bathroom is full of natural light. The loft conversion is home to the master bedroom, which has a second half-floor that extends upwards to a reading space from which you can look out over the local area.

The house also features a range of environmental technologies, including high levels of insulation, airtightness, roof-mounted solar panels, a mechanical ventilation heat recovery system, rainwater harvesting, and smart thermostats.

Douglas House renovation Kensal Rise London 2 Douglas House renovation Kensal Rise London 3

We were delighted that this project was featured by:

Architect’s Journal: ‘RISE Design Studio completes Douglas fir-lined extension to London house
ArchDaily: ‘Douglas House/RISE Design Studio
Dezeen: ‘RISE Design Studio adds Douglas fir-lined reading nooks to London house
Architecture Today: ‘RISE Design Studio has maximised the spatial and environmental potential of a semi-detached house in London

An oasis of calm in a busy city

“A calming retreat from the hectic outside world”

The ‘Brexit bunker’ was added to a small garden – although novel, it does not interfere with the property’s existing architecture and the raw aesthetic ties the entire garden together. The walls are built with reclaimed bricks and the interior is clad with birch plywood, giving the space a warm glow when the light reflects from the skylight in the roof. Spanish steps lead towards the roof light and a relaxing space to contemplate life without seeing any visual cues that the structure is in the city rather than the countryside.

Brexit bunker garden studio Kensal Rise London 2 Brexit bunker garden studio Kensal Rise London 3

This project was featured by:

Architizer: ‘The Brexit Bunker, London
designboom: ‘The Brexit Bunker is an oasis of calm in north-west London
Archilovers: ‘Brexit Bunker

You can also read more on our Projects page.

Architects Declare: the climate emergency and why it is more important than ever to think about sustainable architecture

 

Why the climate emergency is a crisis, and not just a concern:

The words ‘climate’ and ’emergency’ have only recently started to spring up in the news in relation to each other. Until now, we would talk of climate change, global warming, sea-level rise… so, what has changed, and what does it mean to be in the midst of a climate emergency?

Architects and the climate emergency

We have all seen the numbers before, but it is important to understand that the numbers are not just statistics. They are not predictions. They are the breakdown of our reality; unwanted guests that have already installed themselves in our living rooms… we are the ones who let them in and only we can tell them to leave. If we try to think about the numbers beyond their abstract measure, we may just be able to grasp the precarity of the times we live in:

– Loss of biodiversity fact: Our Living Planet Report 2018 reveals how there has been a 60% reduction in population sizes of wildlife worldwide since 1970. This does not just mean that we will see four instead of ten elephants on our next safari. This means that: a) entire groups of species have disappeared, forever; b) those who are still around are seeing their numbers reduce dramatically and struggling to keep up with reproduction rates, and paired with the loss of habitat this will likely lead to scenario “a” for many them at a vertiginous speed. However, this is not just about the effect these species have in the natural world. The plants and biome that the human race depends on are being affected just as much. Medicine and food are examples of resources that come in their majority from the natural world, and two of the things that we will witness being dramatically affected during our own lifespans. The consequences of their shortage will change our lives as we know them.

– Global warming fact: since the industrial revolution, the average temperature of the planet has increased almost 1ºC, and it is getting worse. The planet has natural cycles of heating and cooling, but these natural cycles happen slowly, which means that ecosystems can adapt to the changes. However, the exorbitant amounts of carbon dioxide that we have released into the environment since the industrial revolution have accelerated the Greenhouse Effect at an unprecedented speed. Among other things, this means that the natural atmospheric and oceanic currents are being disrupted and altering the natural climate that we knew as little as half a century ago. And the planet is not just getting warmer: hurricanes and cyclones are getting more violent, desertification is advancing and rendering miles of previously fertile lands sterile, and the poles are melting leading to a measurable rise of the sea-level. To put it into perspective, we are facing a situation in which our growing population will be left with less area to live in and less land to feed from… each of us can draw a conclusion of what this scenario may look like.

How it will affect the future

The consequences of any single factor that accounts for the climate emergency we are living will be far and wide. To make matters worse, climate change, global warming, sea-level rise, and loss of biodiversity do not act alone nor do they act on a single other element of their environments. Like any foreign agent introduced in an ecosystem, they interact with the ecosystem and with each other in such intricate ways that their full aftermath is often nearly impossible to predict. What we do know, however, is that the consequences will be bad. There is no sugar coating it. From floods to desertification, from arable land to drinkable water, the effects of the damage we are inflicting on the environment today will come back to haunt us on a scale that is difficult to come to terms with.

Why it is so crucial to act now

One of the main issues stopping real action from happening is that it can be hard to wrap our minds around this doomsday scenario from many of our perspectives. We can live in London, recycle our waste regularly, cycle to work and follow Greta Thunberg on Twitter and be at ease with ourselves. We can genuinely care about the environment and yet not fully understand the scope of the danger we are in as a species and as a planet… and that is why it is so important to act now; because, when the consequences are here, when there is no denying that we have gone too far, it will be too late to do something about it.

How architecture plays a role

That is why architects in the UK and around the world have been called to action and to unite in order to change our industry standards and respond to this climate emergency. It is a sad day in an architect’s career when they learn that the construction industry is responsible for almost 40% of the total energy-related carbon dioxide emitted to our environment. However, this also means that there is a lot of room for improvement and that real results can be achieved if we change the way we build across the board.

What is Architects Declare?

Architects Declare is a pledge to take on this responsibility and to be an agent for change within our industry. Along with almost 800 UK based architects, RISE Design Studio has committed to be an ambassador for the environment in the construction world and to contribute to a positive change in the way we conceive, construct, and deliver the built world. Together, we have the opportunity to make a real and positive impact in our world and our future through sustainable architecture, responsible building techniques, and environmental education at every stage of construction.

To find out more about Architects Declare and our commitment, you can visit the website at www.architectsdeclare.com. We hope you support us in our decision to tackle the climate emergency together.