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ACAN EDUCATION – Interview Series VOL.1

Scott McAulay


ACAN Education has been interviewing a diversity of leading lights in the climate crisis and education debate. These interviews form an ongoing body of research and outreach for us as a group and it was deemed that the material was too good not to share and, importantly, as Scott will agree, the time for knowledge sharing is now. We can only create positive change together!

Scott McAulay is the founder of Anthropocene Architecture School; a decentralised organisation aimed at ‘restoratively bringing architectural education into the age of climate breakdown with the urgency that necessitates.’ Based in Glasgow the school has provided countless talks and seminars teaching students and tutors alike about climate literacy whilst trying to force urgent change. It goes without saying that Scott is a great inspiration to the education group and ACAN as a whole.

Back at the start of April we sent 5 questions to Scott to answer. The questions were devised by the whole ACAN Education group and touched on key points of the debate. The fruits of these discussions have informed an RIBA article, to be published in Autumn 2020, and have become inspiration for upcoming ACAN Education campaigns so stay tuned and enjoy.

Q. What are your personal thoughts on the state of architectural education at the moment? In relation to the climate crisis or more generally.

SM. Architectural education is no longer fit for purpose: to prepare students for the future in which they shall work – even less so in today’s context of Climate and Ecological Emergency. Over the past 18 months, the Anthropocene Architecture School carried out research that revealed that when students assess their understandings of core elements of sustainability in architecture – from adaptive reuse to ecology, the average score was 59% (McAulay, 2019) and when assessed by practising professionals, that average crashes to 32.76% (McAulay, 2020).

Q. Students can become expert in a specific topic easily, and tutors cannot be expected to have the depth of knowledge that the internet has. Does education need to become more of an exchange?

SM. Yes and no because architectural education must be delivered by tutors with a fluency in what must be taught, and that is now zero carbon design skills. This fluency must be kept up to date by regular and relevant CPD, to enable them to facilitate an exchange that also cultivates students’ enthusiasms and passions. It is each institution’s responsibility to be delivering nothing short of a Climate Emergency Compliant Education and all its educators are part of this – and that must be legislated urgently.

Q. Should there be two tiers of architect - e.g. General Practitioner and Expert Consultant? And is there a specialist knowledge gap between education and practice?

SM. “Tiers” implies further hierarchy: architecture needs far less of that and more equality, and intersectional collaboration. All architects must be able to demonstrate being capable General Practitioners, so I would instead suggest accreditation streams of specialist focus alongside akin to the Conservation Accreditation – in BPE, building biology, earthen materials, retrofit, timber technologies etc. This is where the architectural profession must mobilise to act collectively and collate evidence-based outcomes demonstrating that this expertise translates into additional valuable outcomes. There are worrying gaps in specialist knowledges between and in both: I know from the education I received, and in delivering workshops to educators, practitioners, and students. We urgently need an Open-Source platform enabling cross-pollination of knowledge and upskilling between education and practice. It is time to put collective good before profit and share expertise.

Q. Will an emphasis on the climate crisis reduce creative freedoms and potentially predetermine a political standpoint? What is your approach to this debate?

SM. A non-emphasis on the climate crisis at this point is wilful negligence: I believe in compassion in design and the ethical imperative to do no harm - at the very least, students should receive an education that equips them with necessary knowledges and practical skills to contribute to a carbon neutral society and its built environment. Education in its current form does not, cannot and will not do that unless it is radically redirected, reformed, and grounded immediately in the reality of a Climate and Ecological Emergency. It is a matter of upholding ethical standards, not of debating predetermined political standpoints.

Q. The joint thesis is gaining popularity where it has been made available ( for example the University of Liverpool and the University of Sheffield). Do you think it should be offered at all schools?

SM. The joint thesis is commonplace in Scotland where I studied, and whilst I think that it should be commonplace, I do not think it should be limited as is between students studying architecture. We need transdisciplinary theses – seeing as carrying on with business as usual exacerbates climate change and purely architectural solutions shall not be the silver bullet. Other disciplines from the built environment and traditional knowledges should be brought into our design studios at every possible opportunity and students should be involved in “live” projects often to ground them in the practical realities of delivering/evaluating/retrofitting a building and the up-to-date, sustainable technologies involved.


We would like to thank Scott for the time he gifted us to respond to these questions. If anyone would like any more information about the Anthropocene Architecture School please find them on Facebook and Instagram @Anthropocene.a.s, on Twitter as @AnthropoceneAr1 or via email If anyone would like to join/contribute to ACAN and ACAN Education please sign up and let’s make change happen!



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