In May 2019, 17 renowned architecture firms launched a declaration of a climate, justice, and biodiversity emergency now known as
Soon after the original
Architects Declare is a global initiative started in the UK that asks architects to demand a change for justice.
This belief was summarized into 11 core changes or requirements. The requirements set by UK Architects Declare include:
- Raise awareness of the climate and biodiversity emergencies and the urgent need for action amongst our clients and supply chains.
- Advocate for faster change in our industry towards regenerative design practices and a higher Governmental funding priority to support this.
- Establish climate and biodiversity mitigation principles as the key measure of our industry’s success: demonstrated through awards, prizes and listings.
- Share knowledge and research to that end on an open-source basis.
- Evaluate all new projects against the aspiration to contribute positively to mitigating climate breakdown, and encourage our clients to adopt this approach.
- Upgrade existing buildings for extended use as a more carbon-efficient alternative to demolition and new build whenever there is a viable choice.
- Include life cycle costing, whole-life carbon modeling and post-occupancy evaluation as part of our basic scope of work, to reduce both embodied and operational resource use.
- Adopt more regenerative design principles in our studios, with the aim of designing architecture and urbanism that goes beyond the standard of net-zero carbon in use.
- Collaborate with engineers, contractors, and clients to further reduce construction waste.
- Accelerate the shift to low embodied carbon materials in all our work.
- Minimize wasteful use of resources in architecture and urban planning, both in quantum and in detail.
Declare in Practice and Its Recent Controversy
The Declare movement has been replicated all over the world with countries taking ownership of Declare and using it to define their own list of commitments inspired by the one above, host town halls to execute these ideas, and to help local activists push for policy change.
More than 20 countries have actively created their own “declaration” and call for firms to sign the agreement. Still, adding a firm as a signatory does not mean that you are designing buildings as “green” as the statement demands. Two original signatories and renowned architecture firms,
Architects Declare did not actively rebuke the firms, explaining that they “have a principle of not naming and shaming out colleagues in the industry.” Though the group did not directly “name names,” they did publicly state that Declare was being “undermined by a few practices who are not supporting the efforts of the initiative,” and expressed future plans to conduct a survey and make tighter restrictions to the pledge. Declare also aired concerns that some companies may be using the Architects Declare platform as a PR program, seeking recognition for the agreement but not adjusting their practices to meet the demands.
Still, while many agree that Declare stands for an important shift in architecture and other professions in the construction industry, some companies disagree with the potential new restrictions and how Declare has otherwise been using its platform. Declare believes that no matter what sustainability measures are implemented, an airport in the desert is simply not the minimally invasive project that architects should be investing in. However, many other architects feel this is an unfair ask. Why should designers dictate this large-scale change? Why should firms have to turn away an important commission when policy is not limiting the project’s environmental impact?
Zaha Hadid Architects
Similarly, Foster + Partners left Declare following criticism of their Saudi Arabian airport that would serve a high-end resort. In response to these comments, the firm released a
A shift in sustainable architecture will surely be a long and difficult process. After becoming complacent in a building process that at best, “mitigates damage,” change will be easy to talk about but challenging to accomplish. Many may see reason in architects’ unwillingness to refuse commissions, yet many others will demand integrity from those who promised to take the climate crisis seriously.