Studio 1.5° at the Welsh School of Architecture

From September 2019, Matt and I will be leading an MArch II design unit one day a week at the Welsh School of Architecture. We’re extremely excited about doing this because it gives us a chance to get students engaging positively with the climate crisis and for us to develop some of the themes we’re exploring in practice.

The focus for the studio we wanted to run was immediately obvious to us. We are currently facing an ecological crisis which will cause unprecedented social, political and ecological challenges – responding to this with the urgency required is perhaps the biggest challenge ever faced by humankind. “It may sound frightening, but the scientific evidence is that if we have not taken dramatic action within the next decade, we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies.” Sir David Attenborough[1]

 

As a studio, our challenge will be to develop a rapid response to the findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)  and the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) which highlight that we have a decade to convert to a zero carbon economy in order to prevent global temperatures rising above 1.5° C; a temperature beyond which mass extinction and human displacement will occur. 

We need to accept that the status quo in architecture is a major contributing factor to climate change, social isolation and a lack of sense of place in a homogenised built environment.Some of the statistics are shocking. The construction industry in the UK is responsible for over half of the vast and intensive extraction of the Earth’s resources as raw material and 59% of waste arising, ultimately driving our planet’s life support systems to breaking point. As designers and specifiers, architects are clearly implicated and have a responsibility to change this.

With buildings (including their operation) contributing 50% of total CO2 emissions in the UK, all aspects of building anatomy will need to be interrogated; materiality, environmental approaches, structural strategies and technical approaches. It’s no longer good enough for buildings to be carbon ‘neutral’; they need to give something back to their environments in a positive way to help regenerate the natural systems from which they are derived.

This is the time to question everything; including existing and widely held values and beliefs. We need to explore and test alternatives within architectural, environmental and socio-economic contexts.

Opportunities lie in exploring bioregions and harnessing the potential of natural materials, using circular economy principles and embracing regenerative design. The texture, tactility and character of natural, reclaimed and living materials offers opportunities, not only to reduce the carbon impact of building, but to enrich the bodily experience of users.

 

As designers we need to develop a respect for what already exists contextually and reveal the hidden value of local resource, as well as empowering local people to form a symbiotic relationship with these resources.

In order to respond to these challenges, we will be creating an architectural response to a changing climatic condition through site specific interventions in an extreme seasonal environment on the Isles of Scilly.

Anyone who knows us well will know this is an obvious choice of location; white sandy beaches, subtropical gardens, gig rowing and a strong sense of community…. but these islands also best exaggerate the connection between an existing community and the implications of climactic extremes; sea level rise, coastal erosion and extreme storm surges.

The Isles of Scilly is no stranger to the effects of climate change. In the 15th Century, as a result of sea level rise, the island of Ennor off the coast of Cornwall became a group of smaller rocky islands known as the Isles of Scilly. Compared with the sea level rises we can expect this century, as a result of climate change, this rise was relatively small but it was enough to overwhelm the islands defences and swallow up a fertile valley.

 

This serves as a stark warning for coastal communities on mainland Britain and the community on the Isles of Scilly, is once again on the front line of countering the impacts of climate change; leading the way in terms of responding to land erosion, extreme weather events and increasing temperatures.

 

We’re really keen to connect with people from disciplines across the construction industry who are tackling these questions and have insight or experience to offer our students as speakers or visiting tutors. Together, we can inspire the next generation of architectural activists; ambassadors for a positive future!

[1] McGrath, ‘Attenborough Fears Climate “Catastrophe”’