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ACAN temperature check #1

What shall we do about the airports?

July 2020


Why?


On the 30th June 2020, it was reported in the Architects Journal (here) that Foster + Partners are working on the design of another airport in Saudi Arabia, despite being prominent signatories to the Architects Declare initiative and self-proclaimed sustainability experts (refer to the Foster + Partners website for more on their sustainability expertise: https://www.fosterandpartners.com/expertise/sustainability/). The ACAN coordinators were alarmed at the practice's continued participation in the expansion of an industry reliant on the extraction and burning of fossil fuels - seemingly in direct contravention of their commitments as an Architects Declare signatory. This is particularly in light of the well-established arguments against further aviation expansion, including a piece by Steve Tompkins and Michael Pawlyn in the AJ recently (here) that debunked many arguments seeking to justify the status quo.


The Architects Climate Action Network coordinators decided to take a temperature check from the wider ACAN participants on potential responses to aviation expansion and this project in particular. On the 1st - 2nd July 2020, we surveyed our network with a 24 hour Temperature Check poll, to ask ‘‘what shall we do about the airports?’ We asked our network how much they agree or disagree with a series of statements. ACAN received 227 responses in this timeframe.


Findings

The results demonstrate a clear and consistent reaction to all statements, as illustrated by the above graphs. Over 80% of respondents either Strongly Agree or Agree with all of the statements listed. The very strong message that we have received from our network is that UK architecture practices should no longer be working on the expansion of the aviation industry and that ACAN should take action on this.


The survey allowed for additional comments from respondents. This raised a number of nuances and complexities around the issue of whether or not particular projects should be opposed. Many of these issues were also discussed in the AJ piece by Steve Tompkins and Michael Pawlyn. As this is a summary, we will not unpack all of the detail of these issues here, however, the broad themes that emerged include:

  • Focus on particular practices or projects vs a focus on certain types of project

  • The issue of calling out and holding to account practices; confrontation vs inclusivity

  • Building performance vs the wider environmental impact of a project in use

  • The agency of a practice to decline particular types of work. Asymmetry in agency of different practices (small/ large, renowned/unknown)

  • The issue of making a bad thing slightly better (and tacitly supporting it) vs opposing and refusing projects with the aim of effecting broader changes

  • Economic status of different countries, development and global equity

  • Possible longer term technological changes in aviation

  • The impact of Covid19 and short-mid term changes in travel behaviors

  • Legal case based on Paris Agreement (ie Heathrow ruling)

  • Other project types and 'red lines' in the context of the climate and ecological emergency.


Thank you to those who participated in this first digital Temperature Check. This provides a clear picture of the position of the wider ACAN network on this important issue.


ACAN will continue to make use of Temperature Check quick polls in the future given the high response rate to this one in such a short notice. This will enable us to be nimble and reactive when necessary, and we are pleased to receive such thoughtful notes from the network on their responses too, which we will heed and consider in our next steps on this.


Next Actions


Our immediate action will be to write an open letter to Foster + Partners to express ACAN’s position and concerns with this project and the practices continuing involvement in aviation expansion.


We will approach interested media outlets to explain the exercise that we have undertaken and explore some of the issues raised by these findings.


We will look at options for how we can best begin to advocate for no further aviation expansion industry by UK architecture practices, and aviation expansion in the UK in general.


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