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Architects and the Global Climate Strike

26 September 2019

Matt Milton, Professional Knowledge Manager in RIBA's Practice team, writes about RIBA members and staff experiences at the Global Climate Strike.

RIBA members and staff were among the millions around the world that participated in the Global Climate Strike’s day of action on Friday 20 September. It was inspiring to see and hear so many architects joining their peers in the built environment in calling for urgent action on climate change. To summarise all the activity that practices and their associates got up to on the day would be impossible; what follows is merely the tip of the iceberg (pun intended).

A group of RIBA staff, bolstered by members of the RIBA’s Sustainable Futures Expert Advisory Group, joined up with a throng of built environment practitioners who massed outside the offices of the UK Green Building Council before marching down to Whitehall. The turnout at the UKGBC exceeded all expectations, and it was hugely gratifying to see so many architects gathered in one place, all responding to the urgency of the climate crisis.

Placards featuring the names of practices large and small were held aloft shoulder to shoulder, with representatives of Architects Declare, the London Energy Transformation Initiative (LETI) and numerous campaigning groups all out in force.

Sheppard Robson were one of the numerous practices whose staff congregated there in solidarity with the students taking part in the Climate Strike. Preet Panesar, one of their architects, stated that his practice was proud to be part of the day.

“We believe that no building, space or place can be considered well designed if it does not positively contribute towards environmental sustainability,” he stated.

The practice annually collates its environmental impact and carbon emissions, determining targets for reducing its footprint year-on-year.

Architects gathered outside UKGBC

Activities on the day were not exclusively about taking to the streets. Staff at building services engineers Max Fordham carried out a variety of activities in their offices up and down the UK.

“We held discussions in all of our offices about how to deliver net zero carbon both in our own offices and for our clients’ projects,” explains Simon Lovell, Communications Manager and Partner.

"We set over 30 climate emergency-related tasks for people to complete: campaigning and lobbying, analysis of our own carbon footprint, researching green pensions and banking, researching direct air carbon capture and storage; and even developing a concept design for a global electrical distribution grid for renewable energy."

“We also held project critiques for current projects, about how to make the projects net zero carbon, and hosted architects for workshops on how to make their own offices or projects net zero carbon.”

An impressively detailed placard from an unknown protester en route to Whitehall

In Norwich, employees at Hudson Architects used the day to protest locally. “We also held a climate crisis exhibition at our studio,” explains Sian Davies, Director of People, Culture and Communications at Hudson. “We have been active in encouraging other local businesses to take part.”

Juliet Talbot, a RIBA Member Support Manager, took part in activities with RIBA East on the day. “I was at RSPB Minsmere, a nature reserve very close to the coast,” she says. “People from this region are desperately worried about the climate and the natural world around them – particularly as many woodland areas and sections of natural land are being sold to the highest bidder, it would seem. There’s so much happening in this region and people are starting to come together. Although there were only about 100 of us at this particular strike, it was a really positive day with local camera crews and reporters there”.

Thanks to Preet Panesar, Sheppard Robson; Simon Lovell, Max Fordham; Sian Davies, Hudson Architects; and Juliet Talbot, RIBA.

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