On 27th April 2021 Gina Windley wrote:

Architects Declare: Ideas into Action conference

Last week I attended the Architects Declare: Ideas into Action conference which featured inspiring speakers who sparked interesting conversation in various break-out sessions with other participants.

Day 1:

Ahead of COP26 in November 2021, we focused on the ‘Three Horizons’ approach, developed by Bill Sharpe, which is currently being used to train many of the COP26 negotiating teams. This framework is eloquently described by Kate Raworth, author of 'Doughnut Economics', here.

The first afternoon opened with Dr Gabrielle Walker sharing a rather stark reminder of our planetary situation. This frequently occurs in the openings to climate emergency events, but it is necessary to explain the harsh reality. However, she reminded us that radical changes are already taking place in the industry as responses to climate change gather momentum. In both 2020 and 2021, the governor of the Bank of England mentioned climate change and its financial impact in his yearly speech. This is a huge step in finally recognising that climate change will affect financial stability. Investors are now putting the pressure on to reach zero carbon and companies that do not step up will be left behind. Large organisations such as Hilton Hotels and Microsoft are setting ambitious targets and leading the way in sustainability.

Roman Krnaric, author of 'The Good Ancestor: How to Think Long Term in a Short-Term World', encouraged us to use ‘seventh generation thinking’ practised by Native American communities. Roman guided us through a thought experiment to broaden your mind to long-term thinking, which I would recommend you try here. He also gave an example of a Japanese movement; Future Design uses seventh-generation decision making in creating plans for their towns and cities. A group of residents is split in two, one is told they are from the present day the other is told they are from the year 2060 and tasked with drawing up and discussing plans for the places where they live. The group 'from 2060' advocates for more transformative city plans.

This method could be utilised in design reviews and consultation to allow designers and residents a different perspective when helping to rethink and redesign democratic decision making and extend out to the horizon. Looking at the lifecycle of the project, both short- and long-term, through time horizon mapping in seconds minutes, hours, days, months, years, decades, centuries and millennia can also transform the way we design.

The first afternoon closed in two talks focusing on the vital connection between construction and climate justice. Farhana Yamin and Jojo Mehta are advocating for criminalisation of Ecocide, defined as an act that causes the “mass extermination of flora or fauna, contamination of the atmosphere or water resources, as well as other acts capable of causing an ecological catastrophe, constitutes a crime against the peace and security of mankind”. Sign the international petition here.

Day 2:

The second afternoon showcased ideas from the previous afternoon that had been put into action, such as Chris Wise on Expedition’s transformation to a B-Corp and an Employee Benefit Trust, Erin Meezan on Interface’s zero carbon journey led by CEO Ray Anderson, and Juliette Morgan (head of sustainability development at British Land), who all shared successes and challenges of how they have transformed their businesses in response to the climate emergency.

This was followed by fantastic short presentations on disruptive and innovative ideas within the industry, which included products from Ehab Sayed at Biohm and its pioneering insulation product mycelium, structural engineer Steve Webb on disruptive structure, Wilf Meynell’s #NoBuildingasUsual animation from Studio Bark, Collective Works’ Alasdair Dixon’s consultation with children that lead to a self-build outdoor classroom, and Tara Gbolade on disruptive knowledge sharing through the Architects App resource.

We then took part in break-out rooms to brainstorm three strands of thinking and how they could be used within the built environment sector to initiate attitude change and lead to more effective action:

  • Horizon 1 (H1): business as usual
  • Horizon 2 (H2): disruptive innovation
  • Horizon 3 (H3): emerging futures.

As a collective, we created word clouds on H1, H2 Plus (things that could happen in a H2 scenario that would bring us closer to H3), H2 Minus (things that could happen in a H2 that could take us further from H3), and finally what we envisage H3 world is like. You can view the word clouds that the session provoked here. (Scroll through the word clouds using the arrows at the bottom left.)

For our final task within our small groups, we were encouraged to create an action plan using the following questions for the future of our respective businesses, using the previous presentations as inspiration:

What do you plan to do as an individual?

As architects:

  • Self-educate, whether in CPDs, doing a Masters or by reading and engaging with things
  • Write to your local MP as a professional
  • Engage in consultations such as Part L, Future Homes Standard
  • A personal commitment to stay up-to-date with the latest science, latest knowledge
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up and suggest ideas to management
  • Responsible for specification of materials – taking responsibility for choosing the good materials in terms of environmental impact, low embodied carbon
  • Collaborate and seek input from wider disciplines
  • Humbleness – knowing the extent of our knowledge and when to ask for help from others/from wider expertise
  • Make people aware of Architects Declare.

As a citizen:

  • Vote
  • Personal divestment of pensions/finances from fossil fuel industries
  • Write to your local MP as a citizen
  • Educate yourself by watching documentaries like Seaspiracy, Cowspiracy etc.
  • Listen to sustainability podcasts
  • Read some of the books mentioned in this post
  • Go plant based for one day a week
  • Try to produce zero waste for a month
  • Travel less – commit to not flying, cycling and walking more, and keep local wherever possible.