Architects Declare extends olive branch to Zaha Hadid Architects and Foster + Partners

Come Again?

Architects Declare extends olive branch to Zaha Hadid Architects and Foster + Partners

London Climate March in September 2014. (Steve Watson/Wikimedia commons, accessed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

Earlier this month, organizers of the U.K.-based Architects Declare (AD) collective issued a statement inviting Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) and Foster and Partners to re-sign the group’s agreement on addressing climate change through design. The leaders of the two high-profile firms, both headquartered in London, cited fundamental differences with AD’s approach to the global climate emergency in withdrawing from the pact earlier this year.

Architects Declare was jointly established by the 17 winners of RIBA’s Stirling Prize in the summer of 2019, a group that included Foster and Partners, ZHA, David Chipperfield Architects, and Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. It has since grown to include over 1,000 British firms, as well as over 5,000 signatories from 20 different countries under the broader umbrella ‘Construction Declares.’

The declaration, which includes a list of eleven action items, acknowledged buildings’ role in generating “nearly 40 [percent] of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions,” encouraging architecture practices to jointly commit to designing “buildings, cities and infrastructures as indivisible components of a larger, constantly regenerating and self-sustaining system.”

Architects Declare identifies itself as “a collective voice, liaising with other industry-based organizations and networks, constructively engaging with government, clients and the architectural press.” Its members have raised £15,000 to fund a paid coordinator and have begun compiling resources to guide architecture firms towards greater environmental consciousness and action.

In the first week of December, Foster and Partners became the first firm to pull out of the agreement, releasing a statement to AN that detailed its objection to the organization’s insistence that architects reconsider designing airports. Foster himself implored practitioners to “drive these positive changes through innovation rather than protest,” advocating for “a sense of proportion and serious consideration of the facts.”

The following day, Zaha Hadid Architects removed itself from the signatory list after coming to an impasse with AD over its commitment to the eleven principles outlined in the declaration. AD had issued an ultimatum to the firm of the late Zaha Hadid after its principal, Patrik Schumacher, publicly argued that economic growth and commitments to address climate change were innately incompatible.

In a statement released on December 8, AD expressed regret for “not having sought further dialogue with ZHA before suggesting that they withdraw from the declaration.” Inviting both Hadid’s firm and Foster and Partners to recommit their practices to the pact, the statement reads in full: 

“Over the past 18 months, UK Architects Declare has grown into a collaborative force of more than 1000 architectural practices in the UK working towards transformative change, but last week saw the departure of two of our founding signatories, Foster + Partners and ZHA. We are saddened and disappointed that two such globally influential practices have found it necessary to withdraw.

It continues to be our goal to work collectively to bring about change while recognising that this is a journey and not a simple linear process. Different collaborative groups are needed to bring different perspectives. For example, AD’s role with practice signatories, is different to ACAN’s with individual members, and from the outset it has been AD’s policy not to publicly “call out” our signatory colleagues’ work. We recognise that practices have varying approaches to meeting the goals of the declaration. What unites us is a shared vision of a built environment that addresses the climate and biodiversity crises.

The reason we felt compelled to respond to Patrik Schumacher’s recent statements was because they appeared to represent a shift away from this shared vision and thereby undermine the principles of the declaration. Having read ZHA’s withdrawal statement, we regret not having sought further dialogue with ZHA before suggesting that they withdraw from the declaration. We would like to encourage both Foster + Partners and ZHA to consider signing the declaration again soon in order to be part of this growing collaborative network.

We believe that high ambitions for change will benefit from unity and the coming together of all architecture practices, large and small, and that this collective, practice-level action is central to the strength of Architects Declare.”