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Prof David Coley, University of Bath

Awards RIBA President's Awards for Research 2019
Category Design & Technical

The public’s view of climate change has shifted in the last year. As little has changed in the climate science in the last twenty years, this shift must have other, non-scientific, causes and hence represents a clear epistemological shift. In the UK, buildings represent the largest source of carbon emissions, and these emissions present the greatest challenge to architecture. Although government and others have made various attempts for decades to reduce energy use in buildings, the success has been modest. These attempts have been based around possibly stale sounding logical augments backed by non-emotive quantitative analysis. Given that the energy use of the national stock has not fallen dramatically, it would seem this is an unsuccessful approach. Here we advocate a different narrative that embraces the public’s epistemological shift, and suggest: (i) as we are aware of the impact climate change is having on the natural environment and on those in the poorest nations, and (ii) given that we know how to, and have successfully built low energy buildings, our failure to make this the norm might be viewed as a near deliberate stance, where our aesthetics has overruled morality. We hence suggest a new way of scrutinising buildings, or elements of buildings. This is based on viewing buildings, or components, that unnecessarily exacerbate climate change as simply ugly. This moves the narrative from an unsuccessful quantitative one based on kWh and kgCO2, to an aesthetic one. To do this, we introduce a new term, defornocere, meaning ugly through harm, and suggest this form one element of a new, inclusive, way of looking at the harm buildings do that includes, but also goes beyond, the issue of climate change.

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