Design for Climate Adaptation at the UIA World Congress of Architects 2023

Design for Climate Adaptation at the UIA World Congress of Architects 2023

The UIA World Congress of Architects 2023 is an invitation for architects from around the world to meet in Copenhagen July 2 – 6 to explore and communicate how architecture influences all 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For more than two years, the Science Track and its international Scientific Committee have been analyzing the various ways in which architecture responds to the SDGs. The work has resulted in the formulation of six science panels: design for Climate Adaptation, design for Rethinking Resources, design for Resilient Communities, design for Health, design for Inclusivity, and design for Partnerships for Change. An international call for papers was sent out in 2022 and 296 of more than 750 submissions from 77 countries have been invited to present at the UIA World Congress of Architects 2023 in Copenhagen. ArchDaily is collaborating with the UIA to share articles pertaining to the six themes to prepare for the opening of the Congress.

In this second feature, to learn more about the science panel on design for Climate Adaptation we met with Billie Faircloth, Partner and Research Director at KieranTimberlake, Adjunct Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and Maibritt Pedersen Zari, Associate Professor at the School of Future Environments, Auckland University of Technology.

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Awareness by Design Observing the Lonja Field/ By Mia Roth. Image © Marko Mihaljević

Read on to discover the conversation. 


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Rethinking Resources at the UIA World Congress of Architects 2023


You are co-chairing Panel 1: Design for Climate Adaptation of the UIA 2023 CPH Science Track. What are the most urgent considerations to address for architecture and the built environment when developing practice and research on design for climate adaptation, and how has this been reflected in your work with the panel?

Billie Faircloth: Designers must consider the rapid pace of climate change and the injustice to people, communities, and ecosystems. Adaptation is a massive global undertaking transforming our knowledge and actions, requiring us to confront and rethink the impacts of building and construction systemically. Our panel at UIA 2023 CPH, Design for Climate Adaptation, convenes experts to share adaptation projects, studies, and stories documenting the progress, challenges, and limitations worldwide. We prioritize conversations on knowledge, actions, and outcomes, beginning with Adaptation with Indigenous Knowledges, a subpanel recognizing the role of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) that Indigenous peoples have cultivated for millennia and how their insights shape approaches to adaptation planning. We explore policies, methods, models, feedback loops, and technologies in two subpanels, Adaptation Through Frameworks and Feedback, and Adaptation Through Architectural Technologies. Adaptation Through Nature-Based Solutions discusses the possibilities of designers interweaving nature and the built environment to solve local and global problems, including biodiversity loss, extreme weather events, and human health and well-being concerns. Our subpanel Adaptation Through Behavior Change and Action addresses the importance of architecture in enhancing effective human behavioral change to continue to adapt to a changing environment. Our primary goal at UIA 2023 CPH is to collectively broaden and diversify our understanding of adaptation through multiple perspectives.

Maibritt Pedersen Zari: Professionals of the built environment must thoroughly understand and then urgently take action on the interlinked climate and biodiversity crises. This is because the built environment contributes to these issues at high rates through various drivers, but also because rapid ecological and climate changes will impact people, primarily in urban settings as the place where most humans live. Cities will and must change, so it is vital that we try to strategically initiate and manage this change in ways that move towards just equitable outcomes. This is important because not all peoples have contributed to the causes of climate change at equal rates, and people are impacted by climate and ecological changes in disproportionate ways both within the same nations and in different parts of the world. Our panel at UIA 2023 CPH, Design for Climate Adaptation, aims to discuss and show ways to address these issues by breaking climate change adaptation into key themes as described by Billie above.

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Contextual As a Prerequisite for Social A Survey-Based Adaptation of a Housing Case Study In Abu Dhabi. Image © Apostolos Kyriazis
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Contextual As a Prerequisite for Social A Survey-Based Adaptation of a Housing Case Study In Abu Dhabi. Image © Apostolos Kyriazis

We already see the effects of climate change and witness urgent needs for the implementation of design for climate adaptation, but what about climate change mitigation? In your view, how can architectural practice and research contribute to mitigating climate change? What are your thoughts on how the built environment can take on the responsibility of being part of practices that are currently exacerbating rather than mitigating climate change?

BF: The design and construction of the built environment have a large role in reducing carbon emissions. Architects who choose low-embodied carbon or carbon-absorbing materials, and integrate carbon modeling into their design of structural systems, building envelopes, or interiors, work to squash carbon emissions and practice climate change mitigation. Landscape architects who work to design carbon-sequestering landscapes practice climate mitigation. The need for rapid and transformative climate mitigation cannot be overstated, and we will fully represent it in our conversation at UIA 2023 CPH. However, our focus on mitigation technologies alone could overlook who is adapting now, why, how, and where. As we learn from the most recent IPCC report on adaptation, Climate Change Impacts 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, adaptation is unfolding, as are its potentials, impacts, and limits. If we are to “leave no one behind,” as the UIA 2023 theme challenges, we must better understand and learn from the immediacy of adaptation and its realities.

MPZ: Climate mitigation and adaptation must go hand in hand of course. Without intense and rapid work to decarbonize the built environment, the impacts of climate change will be more extreme and more difficult to adapt to (if that is possible at all in some settings). To date, most discourse about climate change and buildings has tended to focus on mitigation efforts. It is clear however that climate change is happening and impacts are already keenly felt (particularly in my part of the world – Oceania). Even if all Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions stopped overnight we would still have to determine how to adapt to the impacts of climate change that have already been locked into place by historic GHG emissions. In a context of just change, we must collectively focus, or extend our focus now on how to adapt to climate change ALONGSIDE continued efforts to reduce GHG and/or sequester carbon in built environments. This is important for marginalized peoples of the world who bear the brunt of climate change impacts but are likely to not have contributed significantly to the causes of climate change.

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An Environmentally Adapted Design Strategy of Rethinking Resource Utilization – Small Bamboo Architecture Design. Image © Yinyi Shi, Guang Chen
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Awareness by Design Observing the Lonja Field/ By Mia Roth. Image © Marko Mihaljević

Through your research and professional practices, you have both worked with sustainability and the built environment for many years. In which ways do you find that engaging with the 17 UN SDGs can contribute to architectural research and practices? How do we grow and support a continued understanding of and commitment to architecture’s active role in creating the urgently needed sustainable transformation of our societies?

BF: The 17 UN SDGs essentialize the aim of buildings, landscapes, and infrastructure, enormously expanding their boundary and, therefore, the consequences of design. Ultimately, architecture is only successful if it enhances human health, provides spaces for education and employment, promotes equity and inclusivity, improves water and air quality, and reduces carbon emissions. The SDGs make the slippery slope of our actions present and global.

MPZ: The SDGs are a useful framework to encourage more holistic thinking for design professionals related to being more ambitious about performance goals for the buildings and neighborhoods they design. The SDGs usefully link social, ecological, and climate issues into one framework. Growing an understanding of the vital role of architecture in rapid and radically transformative change agendas is supported by: 1/ an overhaul of traditional architecture education to center ecological and social outcomes of design alongside aesthetics; 2/ encouraged continued professional engagement and learning about these issues by the practitioner community; 3/ demand that buildings themselves become active agents of creating ecological health in a regenerative design framework rather than default to ‘business and usual’ models or sustainably frameworks that reduce damage rather than create health; 4/ policy change at national levels; and 5/ more transformative goals set in building ratings system tools such as LEED, BREAM, Greenstar, and the Living Building Challenge.

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Neobrick Environmentally Informed 3d Printed Lattice Brick for Modulating Indoor Thermal Comfort. Image © Ji Yoon Bae and Jenny Sabin
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University of Stuttgart Paper/ Adaptation to extreme sea level events/ use of pneumatic building envelopes by Piotr Fabirkiewicz. Image © ITKE(2019)/ ITECH Research Demonstrator 2018-19

What are the most exciting developments and promising movements you have identified in the papers submitted to Panel 1: Design for Climate Adaptation?

BF: The global design research community responded to each subtheme with candor! We are excited to see researchers challenging the state of our adaptation knowledge through local, traditional, and Indigenous Knowledges. Researchers are scrutinizing the efficacy of our policies and certification programs and the potential and limits of modeling and measurement. They challenge the form, function, and life of materials, systems, and assemblies and the depth of tech of adaptation technology. Is technology low or high? They demand space to talk about the role of human behavior, patterns of living, and activism’s role in climate adaptation. The provocations are just the beginning— designers are also conducting field research to create working adaptation knowledge.   

MPZ: I have been excited to see the depth and breadth of the papers submitted that cover a wide range of issues and ways to address the themes presented. Of particular note, in my opinion, is the growing engagement with ecosystem services and nature-based solutions in architecture, and a reframing of the architect’s role in understanding and engaging with issues of social and climate justice.

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Half-Baked Developing a Hybrid between Traditional and Modern Building Typologies in the Indian Village of Bahuarwa. Image © Daniel Haselsberger
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Traditional Knowledge Systems and Values within Planning In Order To Mitigate the Effects of Climate Change Case of Cold Desert Area in the Himalayas. Image © Shiekh Intekhab Alam

The challenges related to climate change – and the resources available to tackle these challenges – vary considerably across geographies and societies. What have your considerations been on knowledge exchange across these differences in conditions? And what reflections have you had on the significance of exchanges of practice and research knowledge across different knowledge cultures?

BF: The global design community must confront a range of presumptions and views on adaptation resources, their availability, access, and distribution. Communities and their leaders are working to adapt; however, as documented by the IPCC, maladaptation, or the inability to adapt, is a threat deeply connected to systemic inequity. Knowledge exchange promotes a deeper understanding of adaptation planning, and demonstrates value arguments, and designs strategies.

MPZ: Yes, this is an issue we have been aware of. We have tried to make sure that people from different parts of the world and with different backgrounds have been included in the final list of presenters. We have also allowed non-traditional papers, such as photo essays, and argumentative papers to enable different world views, approaches, and ways to engage to come to the fore.

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Bundanon Art Museum and Bridge. Image © Kerstin Thompson Architects
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Parameters for Bio-Receptivity in 3d Printing. Image © Ariel Cheng Sin Lim and Ayoub Lharchi

What are you hoping the congress delegates will take with them from the UIA World Congress 2023 CPH and what legacy from the event would you hope to see?

BF: Ultimately, we hope this event provides a forum for representatives from more than thirty countries to gather, share their worldviews, and build knowledge on climate adaptation. We encourage congress delegates to embrace a diversity of ideas that might challenge their thinking and expose them to new ways of adapting to a changing environment. We hope this congress serves not solely as a forum for gathering knowledge but also as an inspiration for swiftly and justly transforming the professional practice of adaptation in the built environment.

MPZ: We have chosen presenters and papers that we hope will challenge and expand the critical discourse on climate adaptation. We hope people will be inspired to challenge themselves and their local built environment professional communities to aim for more far-reaching and holistic goals for the buildings and urban spaces they design in order to shift architectural design towards regenerative paradigms for just outcomes.

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The Cooling Microclimate and Resulting Thermal Comfort of an Interstitial Fish Drying and Exterior Pavilion Space. Image © Jonathan Kim

Stay tuned to the collaboration with UIA World Congress of Architecture 2023 and to our coverage of Copenhagen, the UNESCO World Capital of Architecture for 2023.

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