David Walker believes architects have a responsibility to articulate an optimistic vision of a future that is more sustainable and less frenetic than the world we live in now.

As Covid becomes normalised, it is worth reflecting on the way in which the pandemic provided a glimpse of a brighter, more sustainable future, by showing us how we can survive and thrive on less.  Less travel, less fuel, less meat, less stuff, less waste, less demolition, and less building.

It turns out that the reduced levels of CO2 emissions during lockdown closely match the annual reductions we need to achieve to meet UN emissions targets. And while many aspects of lockdown were tough, particularly for the young, elderly, isolated, etc, there were many benefits of a less frenetic world. Less air pollution, less traffic, less noise, less waste.

How then, can this lesson be applied to architecture. How can we re-engineer practice so that the buildings, cities and countryside we create are better because they reduce carbon (and methane) emissions. As architects, we have the ability and responsibility to envision, and articulate how the world will be better because it is more sustainable.

Too many of the prescriptions to reduce emissions are expressed as painful (and perhaps futile) sacrifices rather than an opportunity to create a qualitatively better world. We must offer this vision of a better world to combat the nihilistic instinct to give up, because the effort is too great, and the solutions too grim.

Our commitments to meaningful reductions in Co2 emissions and comprehensive mitigation strategies must be conceived and positively articulated as a pathway to a better future rather than a necessarily impoverished one. Otherwise, as my friends and family in California remind me, we will give up on a future perceived as bleak and inevitable, and let the fires burn!

David Walker
London W1