Architecture schools must reform their education to fight climate change

But architecture schools cannot begin to achieve this without a late reconciliation with our rapidly changing world and its climate. Whether its ethics are rooted in practice or highly conceptual, a school of architecture is a space for experimentation with no real consequences. But they shouldn’t be places that normalize ignoring the consequences. Schools must recognize and teach the weight of our collective responsibility, transforming it, with imagination and optimism, into an opportunity for change.

The Anthropocene School of Architecture (AAS) was created in recognition of architecture’s responsibilities in the climate crisis and to urgently catalyze proactive emergency responses. Despite the heartbreaking 2018 special report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it was not enough to push architecture schools, RIBA or ARB to take paradigm-shifting action on a scale equivalent to the climate emergency.

Education in architecture schools today still does not prepare students for practice in the context of the climate crisis. A public school of architecture, activism and climate literacy was therefore a necessary response. Tutors from the AAS Crisis Studio project assessed students’ understanding of sustainable design. With the average at 32.76 percent, there is therefore an urgent need for action – also called for by the recently launched CAMP Climate Studies Campaign.

Since its launch in 2019, AAS has mobilized more than 1,500 people internationally and organized 25 workshops: climate literacy sessions for architectural firms; multidisciplinary sustainable design studios for students; public climate literacy workshops; and a climate literacy session specially designed for educators at the Mackintosh School of Architecture.

Having lectured for schools of architecture; facilitated workshops with Extinction Rebellion and set the tone for the climate emergency at the national RIAS convention, the AAS then collaborated on the Lockdown Festival of Architecture, an exploration of the potential of design within activism through workshops participatory audiences, initiated by Peter Brooks.

To schools of architecture that intend to respond pragmatically to the climate emergency, I say: first of all, accept that your program does not provide education in line with the climate emergency in its current form. Claims that sustainable design is taught “implicitly” must stop.

Radical action is overdue. As author and activist Naomi Klein puts it, when it comes to climate change, “there are no more non-radical options on the table.” But is it so radical to suggest that students are simply prepared to contribute to a zero carbon society, instead of accepting that they will inherit a crisis?

Start incorporating sustainability into all aspects of your program and end reducing it to an afterthought with check-and-mark exercises – and grade it as it should. Start demanding that those who teach in your institutions, in whatever capacity, have a thorough grasp of climate knowledge and zero-carbon design skills, and make supporting CPD a contractual obligation.

Most importantly, campaign, lobby and pressure the ARB and RIBA to restoratively revise the learning outcomes of architecture education to accelerate the changes the profession is facing. requires.

The role of the school of architecture is to provide education adapted to a climate emergency, while cultivating the imagination of students so that they can respond to climate change and the systemic problems it amplifies. Anything less now is neglect.

My final piece of advice to schools of architecture is: instead of blaming professional bodies for your continued inaction in the face of the climate crisis, organize yourself collectively and challenge them. Creating spaces to spark these conversations can even inspire your students to rebel alongside you.

Scott McAulay is coordinator of the Anthropocene School of Architecture


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