Last month I took part in a seminar and I started my presentation with the classic image of Buzz Aldrin of Apollo 11 on the surface of the moon. I was 12 at the time of the Apollo 11 mission and that single event made a lasting impression on me. There has to be a common political will of course and I still have JFK’s heroic 1961 speech. It is now 50 years since Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon’s surface and we have big challenges ahead regarding climate change. But I’m equally optimistic we will resolve them.
Architects are vital to the climate change debate. Emissions from buildings account for 40% of total UK greenhouse gases, so this is one of the profession's biggest challenges. We need, however, the political nudge to ensure our clients move in the right direction and we can help. The RIBA in June passed a resolution to declare a climate change emergency across all aspects of the Institute including heating, travel, menus (less meat more plant based) and our advocacy to ensure RIBA members act equally responsibly.
True we have as a race, and probably as a profession, been complicit in huge mistakes. Our reliance on air-conditioned environments, on the motor car, on concrete structures, on plastics, were poor choices, but they were not malicious choices.
My own practice Weston Williamson + Partners specialises in transport infrastructure. Transport is responsible for 27% of greenhouse gas emissions and we are passionate about encouraging travellers from their cars onto safe, efficient beautifully designed and integrated public transport. The creation of civilised cities is our mission and we see public transport and transport related development key to this. London has led the way in gradually increasing the price of driving into the centre of the city and investing in great public transport. We believe that this encourages social cohesion in a diverse society.
The need, or expectation, to be continually connected and constantly available is a pressure. Weston Williamson + Partners has recently drawn up a scheme for a Hyperloop (a vacuum tube with a maglev train travelling at 1,000km per hour between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane), which will change the way people commute and choose to live in the east of Australia.
The need to combat climate change will be a spur to these advances. If we want to move people out of planes and cars we have to make public alternatives much better; more reliable, more comfortable. Or perhaps the need for continual connectivity might render travelling speed secondary to speed of communication.
Our professional institute needs to work towards this scenario and encourage all architects to acquire the necessary skills to achieve this new reality. Focused and obligatory CPDs will help along with the political will to make it happen.
The RIBA has a goal to become a global membership institute in order to help solve these global issues. I believe the best way to do this is to become a worldwide community of modern highly educated professionals undertaking lifelong learning online as part of conditions of continued membership. That will ensure the future of architects as it will demonstrate our worth to clients, colleagues and politicians and thereby increase our influence on all future trends. As Abraham Lincoln said “The best way to predict the future is to create it”.