Maria's project at Studio Weave, Ecology of Colour, 2013. © Jim Stephenson
A new podcast from The Architects’ Journal profiles sustainability innovators in architecture. The first episode launches with Maria Smith of Buro Happold. Harriet Thorpe speaks to hosts Hattie Hartman and George Morgan about how and why the podcast started.
On a dark November evening in 2019, Hattie Hartman, Sustainability editor at The Architects’ Journal (AJ) trudged towards a pub in Dalston for her first ACAN meeting. She was soon re-energised and sitting at a table talking to like-minded communication specialists in the architecture industry.
At that table, Hartman met ACAN member George Morgan, an architect who had recently set up his own practice, One Point Five Architecture, focussed on sustainable design. A discussion unfolded about the lack of podcasts on the market tackling sustainable architecture, and the idea for a podcast was born.
"The more we looked into it, the more we felt we could plug this gap. And that an AJ/ACAN partnership could draw on ACAN's nimbleness and energy and build on the reach of the AJ platform," says Hartman.
The Climate Champions podcast seeks to profile change-makers and innovators working in sustainable architecture. Enter Maria Smith, Director of Sustainability and Physics at Buro Happold, RIBA Council member, Architects Declare steering committee member. Hartman had first seen Smith in action at the Architecture Foundation's packed-out The Architecture of Emergency event at the Barbican.
“I’ve spent a lot of the last decade talking to engineers, especially service engineers, and Maria’s observations about the need for collaboration and trans-disciplinary working really resonate,” says Hartman. This is where the podcast begins.
Smith defines trans-disciplinary as when an individual is trained in multiple skills across different silos. Meaning they can “join the dots quicker and make things happen.” At Buro Happold, her team consists of a ‘motley crew’ of economists, planners, consultants, architects and scientists, and she believes that bringing these disciplines all together is the most effective way to make change.
Smith herself is an example of a ‘trans-disciplinist’. She trained as an architect at the University of Bath and London Met, before going on to found Studio Weave in 2006, and then Interrobang in 2015, a trans-disciplinary practice of architecture and engineering within Webb Yates Engineers. She then decided to train as an engineer. It was a ‘boiling frog’ moment – she couldn’t go on being an architect knowing that there was a more urgent task for her elsewhere.
In the podcast she highlights a few projects over her career that ‘shifted her focus’ towards pursuing a career dedicated to sustainability. Ecology of Colour, 2013, designed under Studio Weave – an ecology island in Dartford featuring a small building for wildlife workshops and a garden of plants that yield natural dyes. And working on the refurbishment of the art deco Hoover Building at Interrobang, where she witnessed first hand the benefits of engineers and architects working closely together with “super tight coordination”. Now at Buro Happold, Smith is bringing all of these experiences together on a different scale, working with C40 Cities on climate action plans and the Clean Construction Forum.
Hartman sees the potential of the podcast for spreading the word about the activities of innovators in sustainability. “There is an immediacy and collaborative aspect to the podcast format compared to the printed word that is refreshing and appealing,” says Hartman. Stay tuned for five further episodes in the series.