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The UK is one of the largest historical contributors to climate change and there is the prospect of real benefits to UK citizens: cleaner air, healthier diets, improved health and new economic opportunities from clean growth.  Climate change is fast becoming a necessary requirement as oppose to a thought for the future and the need for change is becoming more predominant daily as the world faces Irreversible changes, Distribution of risks, Ecosystems, Climate extremes.  With this in mind, climate change is at the forefront of design and sustainability has become an integral part within the design process with more and more people petitioning for radical reform using appropriate urgency and the fact that the systems we use currently are being made redundant through a just transition. Low-carbon power, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CCS) are key considerations and changes such as switching from natural gas to hydrogen, applying CCS, installing heat pumps to replace gas boilers across the existing housing stock and GHG removals.  The demand for energy is likely to increase alongside technological changes and enhancements evolving within modern day society but the pressure we face is to reduce the supply and demand for energy using current methods through the integration of Eco friendly systems is high.  ‘Eco-friendly’, may engage an individual to envisage the colour green, a space which is defined by biodiversity and encapsulates a form based upon its function which effects societal choices by means of adaptation which may not be favourable and costly, below quotes by the Comittee on Climate Change (May 2019) which highlights the appropriate urgency for radical reform

“In full, challenges that have so far been out of scope must now be confronted. The UK must make firm plans for housing and domestic heat; for industrial emissions; carbon capture and storage; road transport; agriculture; aviation and shipping. There is a manageable cost to tackling these challenges, and the lesson of the last decade is that costs fall when there is a concerted effort to act”.  Where there are remaining emissions these must be fully offset by removing CO₂ from the atmosphere and permanently sequestering it, for example by using sustainable bioenergy in combination with CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage).  I urge the governments of the UK, in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff to consider our advice carefully and legislate for these new targets as swiftly as possible. We must now increase our ambition to tackle climate change. The science demands it; the evidence is before you; we must start at once; there is no time to lose”.

The appliances used to generate sustainable energy require space, space that is designed to facilitate the operation of the appliances which makes the way in which we will be required to design very different to of we do currently.  A key challenge is to ensure that the distribution of costs does not disproportionately affect some groups and that policies are put in place to mitigate the effects of what will be a major structural change.  Every tonne of carbon counts, wherever it is emitted and over ten years after the Climate Change Act was passed, there is still no serious plan for decarbonising UK heating systems and no large-scale trials have begun for either heat pumps or hydrogen.

“Across all sectors of the economy to drive the necessary innovation, market development and consumer take-up of low-carbon technologies, and to positively influence societal change” – Comittee on Climate Change (May 2019)

The perception of sustainability requires change and radical reform in order for the reform climate change requires to be facilitated through good design.  The way in which we Design requires knowledge of sustainable systems that designers are able to incorporate into everyday design and not only as part of creating stereo-typical Bio diverse designs which become renowned based upon their sustainable principles but the way in which the design has been created using sustainable principles so that the focus of ‘Design’ is not detracted from societal changes that require reform.  All infrastructure has been designed to date which has evolved and integrated within society through its designated function.  This will continue through creating functional and aesthetic design which incorporates sustainability but should not define it.

Design can have different connotations in different fields of application, but there are two basic meanings of design: as a verb and as a noun. Design is the intentional creation of a plan or specification for the construction of an object or system or for the implementation of an activity or process.  Although it states that Design is the intentional creation, to create is to have been inspired by something which co-exists as part of an ideology.  to create good design and for Architecture to be at its best, its important that it doesn’t become restricted within an expectation to conform to societal and technological change but elements such as these be integrated within as part of a development process.

“My concept of architecture is that it is invisible. It’s intangible. But I believe it can be felt through the five senses”.  “Like the universe, architecture comes out of nothing, becomes something and eventually becomes nothing again,” Isozaki said. “That life cycle from birth to death is a process that I want to showcase.”  Isozaki has said that because of the political and economic uncertainty of the period, he “could not dwell upon a single style.” As a result, he said: “Change became constant. Paradoxically, this came to be my own style.”

Opinion by Christine Murray: "It's time for architects to choose ethics over aesthetics"

“It’s time for architects to choose ethics over aesthetics”

Architects can limit the environmental impact building has on our changing climate using their power as specifiers, they just need to take responsibility and do it, says Christine Murray.

Architects are quick to bemoan their loss of status, sensing the growing lack of respect for the profession. The unveiling of £250m trinkets, such as Thomas Heatherwick’s stairs-to-nowhere The Vessel, do little to subvert the public perception of architects as court jesters to the rich, complicit in the crises of our time.

Most architects are blase when it comes to climate change. I’ve often been told, “designing a building to last one-hundred years is the most sustainable thing you can do”. Not only is this untrue, it’s dangerous nonsense.

At current rates of warming, most places will become uninhabitable due to floods, wildfires, drought and heatwaves – triggering mass migration. War and famine will follow as we move inland and scrabble over resources. This is not happening in the distant future. Read the news: from cyclone Idai to the Central American caravans, Southern Californian fires to the war in Syria, the process has already begun.

It will unpredictably, radically, grow worse. One quarter of Boston will be underwater at some point in the next 25 years. By 2100, southern Europe will be in permanent drought and the areas burned by wildfires in the US “could quadruple”, David Wallace-Wells writes in The Uninhabitable Earth. By then, 1.5 million homes in the UK will face coastal flooding and 100,000 homes will fall into the sea. We’ve been given 12 years by the UN to dramatically lower carbon emissions to reduce the chances of the earth’s sixth extinction. Instead, CO2 is rising.

What is the point of firmness, commodity and delight in the face of crop failure, nothing to drink, or breathe? Forty per cent of insect species are in decline; if we lose them all, we have no pollination – nothing to eat – and the entire ecosystem collapses due to starvation. What matters is now, not whether your stone facade is still standing at the fall of mankind.

The frustrating thing is that architects do have power, even if they fail to wield it, in the unsexy realm of specification

I’ve written about my frustration with the lack of discourse on climate change at major events such as the MIPIM property fair. Investors are slowly waking up, according to a recent report by the Urban Land Institute, but architects are still daydreaming, despite the recent rousing of industry titles such as The Architects’ Journal.

Few starchitects have responded to the crisis. Foster’s contribution, which includes the Bloomberg HQ in London and Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, are full of contradiction, belying a love of technological gadgets encased in new-build tonnages of glass, steel and stone. Projects such as BIG’s New York U flood defences are temporary mitigations, not solutions.

The frustrating thing is that architects do have power, even if they fail to wield it, in the unsexy realm of specification. And this matters more than you might think.

Over the lifetime of a building, 55 per cent of carbon emissions are from products and materials – not including shipping, which adds another 10 per cent, according to the UK Green Building Council.

Given construction itself is responsible for half of all global carbon emissions – yes, half – that’s a whopping contribution to climate change. Cement alone emits eight per cent of global carbon, while steel contributes nine per cent.

Architects are lazy and unprofessional when it comes to material selection

There’s a reason why product manufacturers spend millions every year on fancy showrooms, sponsoring architectural awards, free CPD lunches and stands at trade exhibitions: architects hold massive sway over the use of products. Even where the client has the final say, architects present the shortlist of three-to-five types of stone, or toilet…

Yet architects are lazy and unprofessional when it comes to material selection. A major survey by the AIA reveals seven out of 10 architects specify products based solely on their personal relationship with the supplier, and rarely do any research at all. “It’s an extremely relationship-driven market,” said Nik Werk, manager of the research. In short, it’s who you know, not what.

In addition, the study found that 57 per cent of architects copy-and-paste their spec from a previous project, with 16 per cent reusing it wholesale. The result is an industry stuck on repeat and plagued by corruption and nepotism.

Interestingly, the AIA study points out that multidisciplinary firms with significantly more women are more likely to take environmental factors into consideration when specifying, suggesting that if you are forward-thinking in one respect, you are in other ways, too.

The impact of specifying green is huge: 20 per cent of a building’s carbon emissions can be prevented by changing to less wasteful, more recycled materials

The impact of specifying green is huge: 20 per cent of a building’s carbon emissions can be prevented by changing to less wasteful, more recycled materials, according to UK waste charity, WRAP. A further 15 per cent can be saved by designing lean in terms of structure, and efficiently for less wastage of materials, such as reducing off-cuts.

Further carbon reduction can be found in reducing transport and the use of construction vehicles and generators – responsible for 14.5 per cent of the most dangerous fine particles in the air around us – by using methods such as prefabrication and offsite construction.

Children are already dying from polluted air. There’s been a 25 per cent rise in asthma deaths over the past decade, including the death of a nine-year old girl in Lewisham, London, linked to the air quality outside her home.

Meanwhile, green products suffer because architects don’t demand or specify them. A small percentage of concrete sales are from lower-carbon brands. The miraculous Novacem, a concrete that absorbs CO2 as it dries, sold its intellectual property to a rival and folded in 2012. It’s never returned to market.

Take responsibility, own that you are part of the problem, and do something about it.

Just 10 per cent of projects use permeable paving, even though the alternative contributes to both flooding and drought. Paving over dirt increases run-off to sewers, which stops rainwater from replenishing the water table. This means even rainy England can be flooded one month and ban watering lawns the next.

It’s time for architects to choose ethics over aesthetics. Take responsibility, own that you are part of the problem, and do something about it.

Developers are not interested in every last detail of your specification, as long as it contributes efficiently to the bottom line. As any product company will tell you, architects hold sway. Do your research, ask tough questions about ‘green’ products on offer, and seek out alternatives. It worked for vegans, with major supermarkets and restaurants now investing in choice.

Our civilisation faces its end date. Cities are expanding refugee camps for a species in crisis. Every particle matters. What can you do differently today?

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