UKGBC Chief Executive Julie Hirigoyen drops into Architecture Today’s temporary HQ at the COP26 House in Glasgow to talk to Editor Isabel Allen about Build Better Now, a digital showcase of projects in the built environment offering solutions to the climate and ecological crises.


Build Better Now is a global showcase of best sustainable practice to inspire people across the world to take action on mitigating the carbon footprint of real estate. Featured projects include a cultural centre in Sweden that is one of the world’s tallest timber buildings; the largest certified Passivhaus building in the Southern hemisphere in Australia; a school in Indonesia built with bamboo and the first 3D-printed sustainable homes made entirely from raw clay – perfectly balancing ultra-modern construction techniques with historic, traditional materials.

As well as government-funded research into retrofitting Scotland’s iconic but hard-to-heat tenement homes, the exhibition features a favela in Brazil and affordable sustainable housing solutions in the UK, New Zealand and Pakistan. Also included are an adaptable cross laminated timber bridge concept designed for a circular economy, as well as an initiative to develop a sustainable mass timber building market building in East Africa.


Heart of School at Green School by IBUKU

Isabel Allen Why did UKGBC opt for a Virtual Pavilion?

Julie Hirigoyen The virtual pavilion is one of the many things we’re doing around COP. We wanted to capitalise on what we learnt through the pandemic and to harness the creative virtual space. So we’ve developed an inclusive, international virtual pavilion with 100+ partners which showcases 17 of the best projects from round the world. It’s called and it shows projects from every continent including new and existing buildings – the retro piece is really important here.

We wanted to showcase the art of the possible and to reach a global audience. We wanted to show that the built environment can be, and should be, a source of solutions to the climate crisis and the ecology crisis and that it actually has the potential to be a carbon sink rather than seeing it as a large source of carbon emissions. We’re really keen to flip the positioning a bit. We wanted to show that the future is here, and it can be done. It’s being done already.

Isabel Allen Are you going to keep adding to it with new projects and develop it as a live digital archive?

Julie Hirigoyen We’d love to. It has much longer shelf life than a physical space so we will keep it open as it is for months after COP as long as it’s getting traction. I checked yesterday and we’d had 12,000 people visiting the site. We’ve also spoken to other GBCs and other partners about refreshing the content. We’ve already got partners who want to do something similar or do something more local.


Monash Woodside Building for Technology and Design by Grimshaw

Isabel Allen Are you going to monitor the projects that you publish and update them with data on post-occupancy evaluation?

Julie Hirigoyen We wouldn’t have the resources to do that, but some of them have had post-occupancy evaluation done on them. Others are still at the design stage – they’re all at different stages of fruition. And they all showcase excellence on slightly different topics: nature and biodiversity, climate mitigation but also resilience and some of those social issues as well. For me, that cultural richness and diversity is really important.

I’m not sure the man in the street necessarily needs to have that kind of detailed technical information. We absolutely need to raise awareness about thinks like the heating in your home – the things you can do to reduce your own carbon footprint. But people don’t necessarily need to know about the whole construction process because some of those issues are quite specialist. The exhibition is about the art of the possible. We’re coming at it from an educational and inspirational point of view. And that’s really really important.

Isabel Allen So who do you see as your audience?

Julie Hirigoyen Absolutely our strategic priority is to reach the mainstream. I would say you only have to look at the noise around COP to see that, in terms of general awareness, we are definitely penetrating the mainstream. There’s a lot of noise around COP in terms of general awareness. That’s one of our biggest aspirations for this conference is to put the built environment first. Momentum is really growing. Our network is inexorably growing and accelerating. We have 75 partner associations around the world. So that’s really exciting.The other thing I’m really passionate about is attracting young talent into the sector. We wanted to really engage with a younger audience, so we’ve created an immersive virtual reality gaming type environment. We’re going to do a really big push, probably after COP, about getting into schools, about STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and maths). Young people are passionate about the planet and passionate about sustainability issues. But they’re probably not seeing the property and construction as an option or as part of the solution.

TECLA by MC A – Mario Cucinella Architects

Isabel Allen Over the last few days, while Architecture Today has been in residence in the COP26 House, we’ve been holding round table discussions with academics and practitioners from across the construction industry and there is a lot of support for the idea of replacing the first year of all degree courses within the built environment with a general built environment foundation course. Is that something you would support?

Julie Hirigoyen I think that would be awesome, actually. The reason UKGBC exists is to convene all the different parts of the sector into a much more collaborative way of working and to look at partnering solutions. I do think it’s an enormously fragmented industry. I’ve been working in this space for 25 years and we used to call it a vicious circle of blame. Every part in the chain blames the people that come before or after them. We need to introduce new forms of contracting to break that cycle and bring all parts of the process together. Our regulations need to acknowledge that as well, and our funding. The whole system needs to change. So it would be really great if everyone started with the same foundation because it would teach them to zoom out and see the sector as a whole.

Our thinking needs to be much wider, and that’s where you get to regenerative thinking. There’s some great work being done on regenerative design and making sure these buildings give something back rather than doing things less badly. We also need to see a real change in mindset. We do a lot of work on learning and development and leadership. It’s about changing attitudes and cultivating innovative breakthrough mindsets. Roger Bannister was the first person to run a four-minute mile, but within six months 16 people had broken that record. first to tun 4 min mile, btu within 6 months 16 people had broken that record. I love that story because we get really blocked by thinking something‘s impossible. That’s why I love that point about the art of the possible and getting people to believe that things can be done. So perhaps they’ll look at the projects in our Virtual Pavilion and think ‘if they can do that, what can I do?’


The Enterprise Centre by Architype

Editor Isabel Allen spoke to UKGBC Chief Executive Julie Hirigoyen at the COP26 House in Glasgow, where Architecture Today is hosting a series of roundtable events in partnership with Medite Smartply.

The modular timber house, which will remain installed on a brownfield site in the centre of Glasgow for the duration of the COP26 climate change conference, is an exemplar of sustainable and Passivhaus building principles. Once the conference is over, the house will be dismantled into its original 1.2 metre-wide panels and reassembled as part of a community of 12 affordable timber houses near Aviemore.