#DearArchitect is an open-letter from Talina Edwards to the architecture/built-environment profession, in response to the #ArchitectsDeclare movement. What started as a call-to-action, ended up being more of a mini-manifesto. Written during the intense summer bushfire season of 2020, one year later the message is the same (if not more) important than ever before…
(*Engineer/Building-Designer/Draftsperson/Builder/Interior-Designer/Student/Educator contributor to our built-environment – this is a letter to all of you)
Are you familiar with the concept that you should write the words that you need to read? At the start of a new year and a new decade, I feel compelled to write this letter. I’ve been reflecting a lot on what our indigenous brothers and sisters call ‘connection to country’ and how this has never been more essential. Our country is speaking to us – no longer in evocative whispers – but screaming out in pain to get our attention…and most people seem to have heard and are starting to listen.
I’m sure you are aware of the Climate Emergency Declarations happening across the globe, and the ‘Architects Declare’ movement. If you have not yet pledged your acknowledgement of the climate and biodiversity emergency, I invite you to sign up here. https://au.architectsdeclare.com/
With the recent devastation of the bushfires, a huge number of architects have signed up to Architects Assist to offer pro-bono services to help with future re-build efforts. So many people across the world have opened their hearts and offered generous support…because this climate crisis is one that affects us all. It often takes a disaster to bring people together to show true leadership and action, so this is our opportunity to make real change for a better future.
This global support has been truly inspiring, however now is also the time to be more pro-active not just re-active…of course the time to start was decades ago (and many of us chose this ethos a long time ago) but we’re here now in the year 2020, and this decade is going to be a hugely important one in the history of our planet. “We’re the first generation in human history to have the data to know what’s coming…and the last with a chance to do something about it.” https://lastenvironmentalist.com/
We have a small window of opportunity to slow-down climate change and its effects…we’re already seeing the consequences of inaction, and if the planet continues heating up at this rate it’s not a good outcome for any of us. (Footnote ICCC 1.5 degree report) The buildings we’re designing today will be here for the next 50 years and beyond, so we might want to ask if we’re designing for the future or the past? We might want to ask if we’re doing the best we can, or can we do better?
Hundreds of architects have shown up to recent Architects Declare meetings across the country (and around the world), to go beyond their moral pledge of declaration, and decide how to take action, in our time of need.
You feel deeply that this is of great importance, yet you’re not sure if you alone can make difference. You’re also unsure of what action should look like, or which actions will have the most impact? Where to begin? It can feel overwhelming and confusing, and this can lead to no action at all…or like many of our politicians who instead of ‘leading’ are ‘misleading’…
What if it is actually quite simple? What if, the answer of where to begin, is found by looking at the end?
As an architect, you have to look into the future, and create a vision for the end result for each project.
This is the same process, and it is time to use your creative problem-solving skills, your intuition, your professional and communication skills at a different scale, for the greater good.
- What if you have been commissioned to do this ‘project’…or that This is your mission, should you choose to accept it?
- What if You are the architect responsible for creating the vision for how you would like our world to be in 50 years time, and beyond…
- Your vision will have a positive impact on our wellbeing & the health of all life on our planet, restoring balance with nature.
- It is your time to rise, as you are the leader that everyone has been waiting for, and your leadership will result in a new cultural shift to ensure better outcomes for all.
- What if you knew you had no chance of failing to achieve this vision, and that only success will come your way?
- What is the legacy that you want to leave for future generations?
- Can you envisage the destination?
- How will you get there?
- Who’s joining you on this journey?
- What are the opportunities and constraints?
- Of course you’ll encounter obstacles (this is real life after all and not a fantasy!), but you’ll have the courage to be bold, you’ll be determined, you’ll listen and learn to find optimal solutions from the collective wisdom to overcome challenges.
- What steps would you take it this was an architectural project – can you apply the same process to achieve your vision?
What is YOUR vision?
I invite you to take a moment to really consider the future. Did you know you can scroll through the calendar on an iPhone and go hundreds of thousands of years into the future?
Can you image the world in 300,000 or even 3000 years time? What about 300? What about 30? Some people rarely look beyond 30 days – or perhaps even 30 minutes with our decreasing attention spans!
Indulge me (you) for a moment by contemplating the future and your vision for it. (Footnote: Thanks to Stephen Choi Living Future Institute Symposium – Sydney 2019. Biophilic Design workshop exercise).
- Close your eyes,
- Take a few slow deep breaths,
- and think about your “happy place” or a place that would bring you joy.
- How does this place engage your senses?
- What can you see, hear, smell, touch and taste?
- How do you feel here?
- Why does this place make you feel happy, healthy, joy, peace, or connection?
- How does this place enrich your soul?
These are the clues to the destination you are seeking.
You need to trust that you know the answers, because you do.
Your vision may not be the same as mine. However I’m sure that your vision DOES NOT include more extreme weather, more bio-diversity loss, more major natural disasters, more devastation, more loss of life, more scarcity, more poverty, more illness, more apathy, more greed, more hate….
If not you, who? If not now, when?
Of course, when I speak to you, I speak to all of us.
We each have a role to play. There is no “them versus us”. The reality is that climate action is everyone’s business. We are in all this together, and we’re stronger together.
We need to stop waiting for a knight in shining armour to come and save us; it is time for us all to be heroes (or sheroes if you prefer). We need to have the courage to take off our armour, turn up with open hearts, ready to be seen, ready for the truth and ready to be leaders.
It is not my responsibility to tell you what you SHOULD do, and even if I did, you probably would have a resistance to being told that my way is the only solution. We need to hear may diverse voices and differing views…so mine is just one perspective.
You are an extraordinary human who must make your own responsible choices and travel your own path…so perhaps some clear guidance would be useful to help you get your destination. If you don’t have some directions or signs for your journey, you could end up wandering in circles and getting lost and ending back where you began.
Perhaps by sharing my perspective from my experience, you may choose to meet me and my tribe along the same road…
WHAT is my vision?
I’d like to believe the year 2020 will be the year of perfect vision – as corny as it sounds, why not?!
I believe there is already an awakening of sorts, and there will be a shift in global consciousness, as together we make more of the right decisions.
I want to help create a living future where we live in harmony with nature and each other, with fresh air to breathe, unpolluted water, healthy food, a high level of wellbeing, a safe and caring community, comfortable and resilient homes, and where we feel inspired and connected every day…
Yes there’s a possibility that things could get a lot worse before they get better, but I’m optimistic we already have all the tools and solutions we need to make change, it is simply a matter of sharing that knowledge with the people who are best able to implement change.
Caroline Pidcock drafted a vision for the Architects Declare movement, and it sounds like the kind of world I’d like to live in too:
WHY do we need to act?
As a reminder of the context we’re talking about, this is the opening statement for Architects Declare:
“The twin crises of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss are the most serious issue of our time. Globally, buildings and construction play a major part, accounting for nearly 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions whilst also having a significant impact on our natural habitats.
For everyone working in the construction industry, meeting the needs of our society without breaching the earth’s ecological boundaries will demand a paradigm shift in our behaviour. Together with our clients, we will need to commission and design buildings, cities and infrastructures as indivisible components of a larger, constantly regenerating and self-sustaining system.”
I believe we are in a privileged position to make a big positive impact by drastically reducing the carbon-dioxide emissions of our industry. Like the Hippocratic oath where doctors swear to ‘do no harm’, as architects, I think we have an ethical and moral responsibility beyond our clients, to the wider community and the planet to stop doing harm, and start caring more about the health of our world and all living things. We are not separate from our environment; we are intimately connected. What if we consider that the earth is exhibiting symptoms of a planetary disease (or dis-ease) and that we not only have the answers for treating the symptoms, but we also have the understanding of the cause and how to prevent this illness…
WHEN do we need to act?
Action has begun.
However, I don’t like the sense of urgency that words like ‘crisis’ or ‘emergency’ evokes. This causes stress, and an inability to have clarity about where we are headed…and panic can lead to the wrong decisions being made in a rush.
However there is a rising swell of voices who are keen to make a difference so now is a good time while everyone is feeling motivated!
We need to focus on what is possible in a calm and considered approach. We have the knowledge, we have the resources, we have the solutions, we have the connections, all we need is the courage and mindset to do this, together.
The grassroots groundswell is gaining big momentum…it’s already commenced, we just need the ripple-effect to continue.
Will you join us?
HOW can architects act?
We need to avoid further disaster by stop earth’s rising temperatures. So, how does that relate to the Architecture/Construction Industry and the change required? What action can we take starting TODAY that will have tangible outcomes? Here’s a simple step-by-step guide outlined below that I think is a smart approach. I’m sure not everyone will agree and that’s ok. I’m always willing to listen and learn and see how this approach can improved… this is my professional opinion based on my experience and the feedback I’ve received and conversations I’ve had to arrive at this point.
Acknowledge the problem.
Sign the declaration! Then once you’ve pledged to do better, decide to act. Share your pledge to encourage others to do the same.
Keep existing carbon in the ground (commit to 100% renewable power now). Jeremy’s initiative on this for our industry (& beyond!) is a smart first step as we are showing leadership, taking responsibility for our actions, and encouraging others to follow in our example. Join the revolution. Understand your carbon-emissions and environmental footprint, and make behaviour changes to improve. At home, at work, in your communities. Change your bank and your super if they’re not aligned with clean-money ethos too. #architectsDECARBONIZE #architectsDIVEST https://www.breathe.com.au/carbonneutral
Stop carbon dioxide emissions due to the operational energy used in our buildings. Understand the actual as-built building performance (not just predicted) and understand how buildings can be carbon-neutral/net-zero now (and the design decisions that can impact this). We can’t afford to wait and do this in ten years time. This is easy to implement immediately.
Stop carbon dioxide emissions due to the up-front carbon (embodied-carbon or embodied-energy) of the materials used in our buildings and do life cycle analysis assessments to understand impacts.
Go beyond a ’sustainable’ approach to a ‘regenerative’ design approach that not only does ‘less harm’ but does ‘more good’. An integral design approach could incorporate living building challenge principles, urban ecology, bio-diversity regeneration, indigenous knowledge, social-sustainability, walkability, food and waste, biomimicry, permaculture, etc. All of these are the visionary ideals I’d like to see implemented today by everyone… but first we really need to decarbonise and halt the effects of climate change before it is too late.
When implementing change, we need make a conscious decision to take one step at a time in the intended direction. Just put one foot in front of the other and keep going! Easy, right!
You may already be well on your way, so your knowledge and experience will be very beneficial to others. The steps/stages here are ideal to do in this order, as they gain complexity as you go. If you’re a super-human who wants to do all at once and take a huge leap, that’s fine too! But you might be making things more difficult for yourself and you end up back where you started without any progress.
WHAT strategies should architects implement to take these steps and achieve our vision?
As mentioned above, Step 1 is being covered by Jeremy McLeod of Breathe Architecture with the support of Architects Declare, so I’ll focus mainly on Step 2 for now (building-performance and operational-energy) and a plan of action to achieve this.
(Footnote: Thanks to Andy Marlow of Envirotecture/Australian Passive House Association for our robust discussions about this approach and provision of an online calculator to help understand how measured operational energy compares to RIBA 2030).
Is there an ESD tick-box checklist to net-zero nirvana? Not exactly.
Is there one answer. No. But you need to make an informed decision, so I’m sharing this knowledge to assist you, and I encourage to continue to learn more!
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) have released their 2030 Climate Challenge for all architects, in conjunction with their Sustainable Outcomes Guide.
This document outlines simply that our current “business as usual” approach is not good enough. Our Australian building code is the “worst standard of building you can legally build”, and it is approximately 30 years behind the USA and Europe, and we should be aiming for world’s best practice if we want to reach these targets.
The buildings we’re designing now need to be suitable for 50+ years in the future, and we also need to consider the retro-fitting of our existing building stock. The RIBA 2030 challenge has rigorous targets for building performance based on science. It clearly outlines the targets we need to achieve by 2030 – if not before.
We don’t have time to waste on re-inventing the wheel, or arguing about details….it would be a smart strategy to adopt this standard here and now. It is a possibility there will soon come a time where we could be considered negligent (or be penalised) for not taking these actions…so why wouldn’t we do better now?
The four key areas outlines in RIBA 2030 are:
- Operational Energy
- Embodied Carbon
- Potable Water Use
- Health and Wellbeing
FABRIC FIRST, THEN EFFICIENT SERVICES, LOW-CARBON HEATING/COOLING/MAXIMISE ONSITE RENEWABLE POWER
- Start with this first as it is the ‘lowest hanging fruit’ – the easiest to achieve to make the most positive impact.
- Start with a high-performance fabric-first approach which can reduce operational energy by up to 90%. There are many rating tools to measure designed-performance of a building-envelope (however some of these are hit and miss in terms of as-built performance, so it is time to start measuring this.)
In my practice, I have chosen to implement the voluntary international Certified Passive House (Passivhaus) standard which focuses on a rigorous application of building-physics to achieve a pre-determined outcome. We found it was increasingly difficult to predict performance (and heating/cooling requirements) based on having faith solely on solar-passive design principles and the NATHERS star-rating system…which often resulted in unpredictable levels of comfort. Our clients love that their designs are modelled in the PHPP (Passive House Planning Package) which provides a high level of quality-assurance and predictability before construction commences.
- ‘Electrification’ of our buildings which sounds frightening, but basically means to stop using gas as it is a non-renewable resource. All-electric, efficient services/appliances. Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR), efficient reverse-cycle heat-pump air-conditioners for small amounts of supplementary heating/cooling, air-sourced heat-pump for hot water, induction cooktop and electric oven. (Find out more at https://www.facebook.com/groups/MyEfficientElectricHome/
- On-site Power Harvesting: Add Solar PV on-site to meet net-zero targets or create surplus energy to feed back to grid.
- A conventional building’s operational energy accounts for approximately 80% of its lifetime energy use, with embodied carbon from the materials used to construct it only accounting for about 20% over the life of the building, here in Australia. https://www.yourhome.gov.au/materials/embodied-energy
- This should be a secondary consideration once you have taken the first step. There’s a lot of information out there about choosing better materials, but to really measure the impact you need to look into doing Life Cycle Analysis Assessments.
Potable Water Use
- I would hope that this is fairly well-known and reasonable straight-forward. On-site Water Harvesting: add more Rainwater Collection Tanks. Install greywater system, low-flow fixtures, water-efficient appliances, be smart with water-use, drought-tolerant gardens, etc.
‘Health and Wellbeing’
- This perhaps should be the first step, but health impacts of our buildings were rarely discussed in the past in Australia – this has become more topical however due to outdoor air pollution and bushfire smoke. As our planet’s health and our health are inter-connected, we have to look after both.
- We spend 90% of our time indoors, often our indoor air quality is worse than outside. Asthma and respiratory illnesses are the highest they’ve ever been, and we’re exposed to high toxins and VOCs, high Co2 levels, high levels of particulate matter, mould and other chemicals every day.
- We are responsible for creating healthy and comfortable indoor environments, yet this is being ignored. There are a number of ways to achieve “net-zero” buildings, but only the Certified Passive House Standard regulates the provision of controlled filtered fresh air at all times for a healthy indoor environment, and a constant comfortable temperature which is optimal for human health. Rating systems like NatHers and others can crunch some numbers for potential operational energy, but it unfortunately doesn’t account for as-built comfort or for health.
I believe the way to achieve these goals is simple (but that doesn’t mean it is easy.) The Passive House is a tool to achieve this goal.
Health, comfort, durability and energy-efficiency should be fundamental first principles of all our designs, and as the Passive House standard achieves this, it is a common-sense approach to take. It also has predictable performance for quality assurance. In our experience, once people learn about the benefits of a Certified Passive House, they all want one!
Once you know Passive House, you can’t unknow it! You start to look at buildings in a new way. There is huge growth in the uptake of this standard across the world, as once you understand why it works, it is hard to go back to anything else. It is also applicable to retrofit/renovation projects “Enerphit” standard too. I’d recommend all architects to learn more.
The only real resistance to uptake to date has been the perceived higher up-front costs…but that’s already changing as the early adopters have shown what’s possible (including the lessons learnt with one of our projects). With low operational costs over the lifetime of the building, plus more suitable passive house components and materials coming onto the market, and new green home loans (link: https://www.bankaust.com.au/personal/borrow/home-loans/clean-energy-home-loan/ ), means the economics of Passive House are now looking a lot better!
Is that it?
No, I think these are just the starting point to “stop doing harm”; to have a ’sustainable’ built environment. But the word ‘sustainable’ is no longer necessarily a good thing…we don’t just want to ‘sustain’ the status quo. ‘Sustaining’ is survival mode…but surely we all want to not only survive, but thrive!
To go beyond sustainability, we need to transition towards a more holistically regenerative approach too and understanding each individual building as part of an interconnected whole – as this is the way we start to actually do “more good” by regenerating the earth for a thriving future (instead of just focusing on “less bad” outcomes).
More holistic approaches like the Living Building Challenge (LBC) can be implemented together with the Passive House standard – it is not a matter of choosing one or the other. Passive House is really just a tool to understand the building-envelope, and in my opinion should be our building code standard (like many other places in the world). Then the LBC is a more holistic next step beyond just “net-zero” and energy-efficiency, taking into account much broader ideals and aims to strive for our built environment, in terms of place, water, energy, health & happiness, materials, equity, beauty, etc. There’s a couple of examples we know of that are under construction that are aiming to achieve both Passive House and Living Building Challenge, including John Wardle Architects Lime Stone House in Melbourne-Australia, Green Point project in British Columbia-Canada.
What might be stopping me from doing this?
Good question! You tell me!
Fear of the unknown? Beyond your expertise?
False stories you tell yourself about how you ‘don’t do numbers’ or that this nerdy building-science-stuff is boring/not relevant/hard to understand…?
Acknowledging the resistance is a helpful step in the right direction, and it may also be beneficial to explore where any resistance is coming from.
It could be considered negligent of architects NOT to understand how their buildings perform…but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be become a Building-Science expert any more than you are expected to become a Structural Engineer. You only need to understand the basics, and the design implications, and then you collaborate with a consultant who is passionate about the data (we know a bunch of them!) and will help you integrate solutions to achieve the best outcome.
Will it kill creativity? No! “Applying knowledge, scientific or otherwise, is an art. An artist is somebody who knows what to put where and when to put it”. -Wendell Berry
If you’re a fatalist and believe the end is nigh and there’s nothing anyone can do to help, then you are free to believe that…but what if that’s not the case?
Don’t you want to at least try to make a better future for the next generations? Or do you just give up now?
Any other skills we might need to learn?
Of course science and technology doesn’t have ALL the answers to all the world’s problems. I’m advocating for sound building science as a good base foundation to get right. The pioneers in the Passive House community do love their numbers…but if you dig a bit deeper, there are other characteristics that are inherent which I feel contribute to the success and spread of this way of designing and building.
So, here’s a different strategy to consider: start in the heart.
Humans make decisions based on our feelings and instincts…usually fear or desire.
Our feelings inform our thoughts. And our thoughts inform our behaviour.
If we only speak to the fear and the negative messages of doom and gloom, then we start to shut down and disengage and ignore what is in plain sight.
However, if we consider taking a heart-centred approach, and engage from a place of truth, then our positive energy can be contagious. Deep listening, genuine connections, common goals, and collaboration are key.
Passionate people are inspiring and motivating!
I’m not comfortable with the term eco-warrior. I don’t like the etymology that suggests that this is a battle that needs to be won. I am not here to ‘fight’ climate change. This attitude is part of the problem. I’m choosing to show up because I care about healing nature.
Biophilia is considered a bit of a ‘trend’ at the moment, but I think this is also really fundamental. I don’t mean just filling our interiors with indoor plants (as lovely as they are – and we certainly embrace our indoor jungle in our studio!), but going to the core of what biophilia means:
bio = life (all living things – humans, animals, plants, earth…)
philia = love (kinship, affection, deep friendship)
I’m proud to say “I’m a biophile” as I do love life (don’t you?).
A deeper understanding of this concept is both poetic and profound in its essence.
We are all connected to life on this planet, and if we remember that connection and choose compassion, understanding and love instead of fear, then magic happens. (Footnote: The Path Made Clear – Oprah Winfrey)
Trust life. With trust there is also hope.” (Footnote: The Path Made Clear – Oprah Winfrey p115 Brother David Steindl-Rast)
I’ve learnt that I share the values of an ecological worldview – responsibility, integrity and positive reciprocity. Understanding these values can help us transform to become agents for positive evolution.
(footnote: Designing For Hope, University of Melbourne’s Dr Dominique Hes and University of Pretoria associate professor Chrisna Du Plessis)
I’ve also learnt to embrace a benefit mindset. This means going beyond understanding just what to do, and how to do it – to focusing instead on why to do it. (footnote: Simon Sinek, Start With Why). This mindset is not just about developing yourself for higher levels of achievement, but in developing your strengths towards a more meaningful contribution to a future of greater possibility. (footnote: https://www.gettingsmart.com/2017/05/better-off-with-a-benefit-mindset/ )
Is there another option?
Well, I guess the most ethical/sustainable/responsible development would of course be no development at all. Civilisation has historically been all about power, progress and conquering earth.
Stopping all development doesn’t seem like a plausible option, so let’s rethink how we develop instead.
What is your declaration? What is your action plan?
The Climate Declaration has 11 aims that the Architects Declare movement seeks to follow…perhaps all of these speak to you right now, or maybe only one. Architects Declare is a collective movement, but it’s also our individual endeavours, so it is time for us each to find our own voice, and make our own declarations.
I’m passionate about designing buildings that are healthy, beautiful, functional, comfortable, resilient and sustainable that inhabitants love, that don’t cost the earth – this forms our elemental-design philosophy (footnote: www.talinaedwards.com.au).
I will use the international Passive House standard as a tool to achieve this, with the aim of moving towards the goals of the Living Building Challenge for our projects, whilst continuing to learn about regenerative philosophy and practice.
I will show up with a whole-hearted ethos, generously share my knowledge with others, continue having genuine conversations and build new relationships for more effective collaboration, and be a passionate advocate and industry-leader until this approach to more sustainable/regenerative development is so desirable it becomes the new normal.
This is what I believe to be the way forward.
What do you believe?
Brene Brown has said that ‘the way to move information from our head to our heart is through our hands’.
I’ve made a choice to be outspoken and write this letter, in the hope that some of this will resonate with you.
Now I invite you to do one simple, but important action – to write your own letter of declaration
I’ll help you get started with the opening line: “Dear Architect, …..”
SUSTAINABLE ACTION TEMPLATE
Your intention sets your direction, so this is a great first step to help you choose your path forward and help get your thoughts in order. It might be one sentence about the action/s you will take, or one paragraph, or it might be a manifesto! You might want to write a letter to your younger self, (like this awesome Parlour series https://archiparlour.org/topics/advice/letter-to-my-younger-self/ ) or perhaps to your future self?
Not much of a writer? Then develop the practice of speaking out instead.
You’re a creative soul; you’ll find your own voice.
Then, I invite you to share it with me, and the world!
Post it on social media with the hashtags #architectsdeclare #architectsdeclare_au #deararchitect
One Million Women’s anthem for the new decade is You’re the Voice, #IMTHEVOICE so include this too if you support their amazing work. https://www.1millionwomen.com.au/
It is time to create a chorus of independent and diverse voices who are united in this movement.
It is time for us to all be the leaders we wish we had.
It is time to believe in ourselves and our future.
It is time to build positive change.
What will you choose to do?