The time for change is now: Architects declare

by Zoe Geyer on March 3, 2020

My musings at the dawn of 2020 turn to a clear and simple message for us. I am filled with optimism. The time for change is now.

Change is nothing new: we’ve all seen it, embraced it, or fought it off. However this time it’s not a personal challenge or obstacle but rather a collective change that needs universal action. The cynic predicts imminent failure and destruction – how can the human species come together to decide on anything, let alone act? The powerful opt for heads in the sand – this is nothing new, this is business as usual, it’s part of the master plan!  The optimist (is this me?) believes in the urgency and undeniability of climate change; the drastic need for us to act to not only save our planet, reduce mass extinction, but also preserve the human species (self-interest is a great driver) – we can make simple  changes that will have the momentum to cause positive and empowering change.

The good news is grass roots change can be fast. With a lack of political leadership, more and more people are speaking up and joining together to promote and embrace change. It is inspiring that the children are the ones stepping up to demand change – they will inherit the world. Their leadership is genuine not driven by ulterior motives. We need to listen to the lessons they are teaching us. On Friday 20th September 2019 we joined the School Strike 4 Climate (or Fridays for Future) in Melbourne with 100,000+ others, and millions worldwide.

Read more here:

The Climate Strike preceded the UN Climate Action Summit by three days. At the UN Climate Change Conference which followed in December, Secretary-General Guterres noted:

“What we need is not an incremental approach, but a transformational one.

We need a rapid and deep change in the way we do business, how we generate power, how we build cities, how we move, and how we feed the world.”

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In short, we don’t need to sit around and wait for someone to tell us what to do. The best thing we can do is act. The bushfires of the last summer have been a call to action and there is growing momentum for considered change.

In August 2019 we became signatories to Australian Architects Declare Climate & Biodiversity Emergency. Following the example of the UK chapter, Architects Declare AU clearly spells out why the status quo must change:

“The twin crises of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss are the most serious issue of our time. Globally, buildings and construction play a major part, accounting for nearly 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions whilst also having a significant impact on our natural habitats.

For everyone working in the construction industry, meeting the needs of our society without breaching the earth’s ecological boundaries will demand a paradigm shift in our behaviour. Together with our clients, we will need to commission and design buildings, cities and infrastructures as indivisible components of a larger, constantly regenerating and self-sustaining system.

The research and technology exist for us to begin that transformation now, but what has been lacking is collective will. Recognising this, we are committing to strengthen our working practices to create architecture and urbanism that has a more positive impact on the world around us.”

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 Architects Declare, Architects Act was the call for the first Melbourne meeting in early December at Tempo Rubato in Brunswick, led by local architects Jeremy McLeod from Breathe Architecture and Steffen Welsch of Steffen Welsch Architects A simple and easily achievable goal was suggested: in 2020, we need to be Carbon-Neutral. Step one is to switch to 100% Green Power by January 2020. Step 2 is a Carbon Audit by June 2020. Step 3 is to be Carbon Neutral by December 2020. Talina Edwards has written a fantastic summary of the meeting’s bigger picture here:

As I’ve heard many times in passing, it’s the same people doing good things. The Jeremy / Steffen / Talina crew are familiar faces I’ve come across over and over as a previous Director of ArchiTeam co-operative {who are ArchiTeam? In brief, a member co-operative for small practice architects to share the benefits of collaboration). Jeremy led ArchiTeam members on tours of The Commons (the predecessor of the Nightingale housing model, was a judge for the ArchiTeam Awards in 2015 and was a keynote speaker at the ArchiTeam conference in 2017. Steffen and Talina are long-term and active members of ArchiTeam, with Steffen a 2018 judge of the Awards (sustainability) and Talina a passionate and active member of the ArchiTeam Advocacy subcommittee Talina has stepped up again and is at the forefront of the ArchitectsDeclareAU committee. Great things can be done by a few, or with more eloquence: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”(Margaret Mead).

At ZGA STUDIO we have put our hands up to be part of the change.  It’s an exciting thing to innovate and evolve, to question how we have acted up to now, and to adapt for a future vision. We have already taken the Architects Declare action plan step 1 (it took 10 days to actively switch to Powershop’s 100% GreenPower) and step 3 (we love Colleen at Fifteen Trees – and the xmas hamper was spectacular!; and BushHeritageAUS are doing sensational things) but look forward to learning from the step 2 Carbon Audit – how can we become carbon positive?

We’re high on change and 2020 is the year for clear vision; and coincidentally the year of ZOZO, my childhood nickname. So many good things. All bodes well.


Zoë Geyer is Director and Principal Architect at ZGA STUDIO, a small highly-passionate multi-disciplinary architecture studio in Melbourne.