'What Is Net Zero?' started as a way to engage passers-by with the idea of net zero and how to contribute to that. When we got a group of young people from London involved, the challenges, and the message really came to life.
As an industry we are shifting our focus more and more towards sustainable design. Architectural Forums, institutions and awards are trying to push the agenda forward, putting on events, conferences, debates and looking to celebrate and reward best practice. But it is easy to see that we are often preaching to the converted when it comes to the climate agenda.
Last summer we took a step back and looked at some of the wider issues around climate change. In the run-up to COP26, ‘global warming’ and ‘net zero’ were headline topics delivered by everyone from politicians to popstars. It was clear that we needed to make significant changes on every level to keep global warming to below 1.5 degrees. But how much did the general public really understand about what that meant to them? Did they understand what net zero means, what impact their personal choices might have on the wider picture, and how empowered did they feel to make that change?
This resulted in a collaboration with designers Thomas.Matthews on a graphical window installation in our London studio aimed very much at passers-by rather than our peers within the architectural community. But even though this was accompanied by a purpose-built website and social media campaign we were keen to push beyond our normal network and out of our comfort zone.
Teaming up with social enterprise, Beyond the Box, we commissioned a group of content producers aged between 18-25 from across London to create a range of multi-media content aimed primarily at a youth audience. Supporting them on this journey was very much a two-way collaboration. Their ability to tap in to networks, technologies and trends beyond our normal remit taught us a lot about how we should be engaging with a youth audience, whilst we provided workshops on net zero and climate change, and professional training and support in project management, design and delivery.
The resulting outputs – a series of three podcasts, a zine and a live online event – were in some respects for us a leap of faith. Can we place our reputation in the hands of a group of young people? The answer was clear. At every turn not only did they surprise, but they excelled. They challenged, and probed. They researched and questioned. They injected a sense of humour. They were willing to lay their own lifestyle choices open to scrutiny, and they produced work that was not only refreshing but professional and of which they, and we, were proud.
Fome Owuasu, now a second year Politics and International Relations student at LSE, fed back that
”...The project was both a learning experience and opportunity for me to work on my interpersonal skills. Taking on the role as a content producer encouraged me to research more about net zero carbon and read articles on this issue. Plus find out what governments/big corporations and local businesses/ individuals are doing to lower carbon emissions and protect the planet. Another aspect of the project which I enjoyed was how much independence you gave to us as a group of young people. I really enjoyed taking on responsibility, especially reaching out to guests to feature on the podcast, booking a podcast studio etc.”
As a practice, social and environmental responsibility has been at the core of how we work for over 40 years. Whether collaborating, teaching, mentoring, consulting we are committed to engaging with the communities for which we design.
Reaching groups that are representative of our future cities is vital to engagement exercises in the scoping and design of our built environment. Investing real time and money in social value projects with clear measurable outcomes requires creativity and commitment.
As architects, we must take as much of a creative approach to community engagement as we do to our design work.
The end result benefits us all.