07 - 09 March 2023 | ExCeL, London

07 - 09 March 2023
ExCeL, London

Are graduates climate-aware built environment professionals of the future?

10 December 2021

An opinion piece by Adam Endacott FRSA Creative & Communications Director, Editor, Architectural Technology Journal, Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists

The skills of built environment professionals will need to evolve to reflect changing needs and contexts, becoming more diverse and specialised, with professionals who are agile and adaptable.

Newly qualified Architectural Technologists are already climate aware, and it is important to give them the confidence to become influencers and leaders, and for their voices, input and solutions heard.   Architectural Technology professionals of the future are in an optimal position to lead on climate change issues, as their core skills are in achieving sustainable solutions to architectural and design challenges. They are already implementing the approaches necessary to respond to the climate emergency, in terms of reducing the impact of construction methods, materials and components and minimising carbon emissions.

Built environment professionals must be able to design and construct not only to reduce climate change BUT also be able to mitigate its impact – for example considering severe flooding and heat. 

The Architectural Technology profession plays a key and critical role in implementing sustainability within the built environment, as it combines creativity and scientific innovation. This impacts all of society as it interacts with the built environment. In terms of education, a broad knowledge set and the ability to apply aspects from the three pillars of sustainability (environment, economy, society) are essential at an early stage in the Architectural Technologist’s career.

The Architectural Technologist has a key and critically important role when designing, adapting, maintaining or refurbishing projects of all sizes and types. It would be beneficial if all young professionals focused on the life cycle of a building and where they can contribute, influence and action.  It is also important that sustainable communities are created, and projects are not considered in isolation.

This would include minimising waste and unsustainable materials and components, optimisation of the production of a building including retrofit, maximising the use of sustainable materials and components to improve performance in use, including energy efficiency, disassembly, and recycling of building materials and components.

Newly qualified professionals must also appreciate the established building stock, and how they can affect real change in order to refurbish and adapt these buildings to meet the net-zero goals. An appreciation of the context of conservation and how innovative solutions are needed to meet the climate change targets. Knowledge sharing between experienced professionals with the newly qualified are essential to facilitate the best results.

The parallel rapid digitisation of the industry and associated digital transformation is problematic as many university departments are not structured in a way to embrace this and this skill set is lacking amongst its existing staff, which will impact those starting out in their career of choice

In the wider Industry, change will come through strong legislation. We are currently being inundated with climate change plans and targets being set by built environment organisations, but many miss the important distinction between what clients and contractors request (which is usually dictated by budget) and what is recommended within many of the climate change plans and targets being produced. Architectural Technology professionals and other designers are bound by their clients and contractors. Whilst industry leaders can set targets and outline plans, there should be a greater focus on clients and contractors and creating an understanding of why a more sustainable but often more costly design is favourable. In addition, if the targets set out by industry are set higher than legislation dictates, then clients and contractors will almost always opt for designs in line with legislation rather than designs that are more sustainable and potentially costly. Industry leaders should be working with legislators to set high and achievable targets and standards. There should be collaboration and not multiple plans and targets by individual organisations.

This is not just about skills and there are many different skills’ facets. It is practical skills, cognitive skills, professional skills, communication skills, influencing skills, digital skills, ICT skills etc. There is significant underpinning knowledge and understanding required in this subject from environmental and materials’ science, engineering, design, construction, assembly disassembly, recycle reuse, waste, efficiency, and effectiveness etc. and the various reports, policies, strategies, actions etc.

Time alone will tell as we look towards the future and the outcomes from COP26.

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