Direct action and a new sort of education are the only way to really tackle the climate emergency – patching up the old ways is nowhere near enough
The list of what is missing in architectural education would take too long to compile. It is why I founded the Anthropocene Architecture School, which advocates immediate direct action from practitioners, staff and students to force climate emergency compliance from university level through to CPD: we do not have time to wait on the updating of an archaic curriculum.
An education system that encourages students to focus on aesthetics and buzz-words over resilience is effectively obsolete in the face of climate breakdown, and unravelling global systems – as the Greenland ice sheets start disappearing 70 years earlier than predicted.
Within this system, demonstrations of an understanding of ‘sustainability’ are not mandatory for staff nor for students, nor is even a basic understanding of the fact that buildings are never built in isolation; that they are placed into existing eco-systems, governed by three global systems: the air, the water and the soil (Commoner, 1976). A restorative overhaul is long overdue.
While watching city after city declare climate emergency with no follow-through nor plan, I realised that what we needed was not a (new) building typology – as primarily demanded in academic design studios. It goes far beyond that. The disconnection that exists between the silos of city infrastructure actively inhibits the necessary holistic response. So, I designed a workshop based on hackathon principles and activist facilitation techniques to address that disconnect.
The Climate Emergency Compliant Cities hackathon was tested in Edinburgh, as part of Extinction Rebellion Scotland’s artistic residency at Summerhall during the Edinburgh Fringe. Participants from various backgrounds – activists, architects, concerned citizens, engineers, NGO campaigners, the president of the RIAS, sustainability champions and youth strikers alike, gathered in small working groups, each focused on an element of city infrastructure – the built environment, infrastructure, the public realm and transportation – where a facilitator would channel their enthusiasm by ensuring no individual dominated the floor and that processes were followed. The process was: issue identification, solution storming and action pointing.
This enabled each group to rapidly identify what was stopping Edinburgh from being climate emergency ready, what potential solutions would be, who should be contacted to catalyse this, and who would take the action. After the workshop this was digitised and made available to the group, and volunteers stepped up to host a future meeting.
Alongside these guerrilla tactics, we still have to go back to the core of the profession. We must interrogate the architectural curriculum, its methods of delivery and the reasons behind its inertia in the face of two earth-shattering IPCC reports and more than 50 years of warnings from climate scientists. Business-as-usual cannot be salvaged – nor made ‘sustainable’, it cannot be upcycled so we must leave it behind.
We need a moonshot with far-reaching change. Perpetuating business-as-usual is to be complacent in damaging human and planetary health by default; the only solution is to civil disobedience and to disrupt it. The only rational response in the face of the climate emergency is to rebel – in our cities, on the streets; in our architecture schools and offices; in any sphere we can influence.
Scott McAulay is co-ordinator of the Anthropocene Architecture School