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The momentum for putting efforts to address climate change at the top of the agenda is showing no signs of ebbing. This continued sense of urgency is the least we need in order to make some inroads; the UN recently estimated that we have 11 years to prevent the damage to the planet caused by climate change from being irreversible.

A group of 17 Stirling Prize-winning architecture firms have joined forces to form the ‘Architects Declare’ initiative, which is predicated around the idea that while research and technology exists to transform construction towards low impact, what’s been missing is “collective will.”

Along with the usual statements around raising awareness, advocating for faster change and Government funding, and establishing best practice via knowledge sharing, is something that’s more challenging to the profession. As part of the move towards “more regenerative design principles,” the group advocates “upgrading existing buildings for extended use as an alternative to demolition and new build whenever there is a viable choice.”

The traditional model of architecture could perhaps be described as creating a unified and even hermetic vision for a particular need on a particular site, whose proportions ultimately need only be governed by its own form, in the most distilled interpretation. However, if we are to look at a much greater emphasis on re-use, reinvention and sometimes, extension of existing buildings, a much more multi-layered set of aesthetic and structural criteria come into play.

Of course, a lot of great architecture has come about as an adjunct to existing forms, but many of the most celebrated works create their own new language – or dialect at least – relating to nearby buildings but not depending on them, and normally not connected to them. Adaptive reuse projects such as recent standouts by Heatherwick have received worldwide architectural acclaim, but the notion of them being seen as on a par with something like Gehry’s Guggenheim seems hard to imagine.

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With the debate on climate change moving into a high gear of ‘must do now,’ rather than ‘needs looking at,’ approaches that address our existing structures in an exciting way need looking at through a new, carbon-first prism. However, driven by momentum such as that crystallised in the Architects Declare initiative, such projects should be judged on their own terms too. It could soon be a world less about new statements and more about preserving and enhancing the best of the past.

James Parker Editor


ON THE COVER... BDP’s new Community Hub in Bath is a shining example of how an enlightened client can maximise community capital, with the help of a like-minded architect.

MULBERRY PARK COMMUNITY HUB, BATH How BDP worked with an enlightened client to extract maximum social value from a cantilevered community centre

INTEGRA HOUSE, TYRIE, ABERDEENSHIRE One architect’s affordably simple timber self-build model

For the full report on this project, go to page 30 Cover image © Hufton+Crow



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