COP26 kicks off in Glasgow with talks, exhibitions, and a CambridgeSeven-designed Resilience Hub

Glasgow Calling

COP26 kicks off in Glasgow with talks, exhibitions, and a CambridgeSeven-designed Resilience Hub

The Resilience Hub at COP26 in Glasgow. (Courtesy CambridgeSeven and the Atlantic Council)

Following a rousing kick-off speech by Sir David Attenborough, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, is now officially underway in Glasgow. For those on the ground in Scotland’s most populous city, there’s no shortage of planned exhibitions, talks, and other activities during the run of the 12-day conference that squarely focuses on the critical role of the built environment in creating a healthier, safer, and more equitable future for the global population while minimizing greenhouse gas emissions and working with renewed urgency to ameliorate the dire climate projections.

Underscoring the importance of this role, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has sent a delegation of architects to COP26, marking the first time that the AIA has formally participated in the conference as a non-governmental organization and official COP observer. The delegation includes AIA President Peter Exley, FAIA, along with architects Julie Hiromoto (FAIA, COTE 2020 Advisory Group Chair); Mike Davis (FAIA, AIA Government Advocacy Committee Chair), and Dr. Mark Breeze (AIA, AIA UK Sustainability Chair).

“The design community is committed to addressing climate change, but we know that we can’t do it alone,” said Exley in a statement. “AIA is participating in this global convening because it is going to take the concerted efforts of both industry and government to make meaningful action on climate change.”

This all said, there’s a lot of interest going at COP26, both in-person and virtually, outside of key climate negotiations between the roughly 120 world leaders attending the summit. Below are just a few highlights, and AN will continue to add more as the conference, which concludes on November 12, gets underway.

It also should be noted that COP26 is spread throughout two zones: the U.N.-hosted Blue Zone is centered around the sprawling Scottish Events Campus (SEC) in which UNFCCC accreditation is required of attendees. The Green Zone, located across the River Clyde at the Glasgow Science Centre, is managed by the U.K. government and will be home to over 100 exhibitors and 200 special events. It is described as “a platform for the general public, youth groups, civil society, academia, artists, business and others to have their voices heard through events, exhibitions, workshops and talks that promote dialogue, awareness, education and commitments.” Thursday, November 11, a day dedicated entirely to Cities, Regions & Built Environment, will be a particularly busy one at the Green Zone as it plays host to a substantial number of intriguing and important events pertinent to the AEC industry.

rendering of a temporary pavilion
Rendering of the Resilience Pavilion (Courtesy CambridgeSeven)

The Resilience Hub (Blue Zone, Glasgow Caledonian University)

Located within COP26’s Blue Zone, the Resilience Hub is a multifaceted pavilion playing host to a range of programming, both physical and virtual, throughout the conference. The bi-level, 2,195-square-foot indoor space is home base to the Race to Resilience, a U.N.-backed initiative described as “a global campaign to build climate resilience and move towards ‘global net-zero.’” Commissioned by a global alliance of the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center and the Atlantic Council, the Resilience Hub was designed in Massachusetts by CambridgeSeven, contracted in France by GL EVENTS, and fabricated in Poland before being shipped to Glasgow for build-out.

As detailed in a press release, key features of the pavilion include a multi-use upper-level theater; lower-level meeting and events areas that combine “cutting-edge media activations, digital art, and augmented reality graphics; living walls that “metabolize carbon dioxide and provide moisture and oxygen to the pavilion as it filters the slowly circulating ambient air;” a virtual art exhibit accessed by QR code; dynamic lighting featuring “floating, illuminated ceiling graphics” that engage visitors with key issues of the conference, and a slew of sustainable design features such as bamboo flooring and environmentally-themed graphics printed with plant-based inks.

Global Cities Climate Action (Green Zone, Glasgow Science Center)

Presented by Arup and C40, the Global Cities Climate Action exhibition will bring together 11 C40 cities (Auckland, Beijing, Bogotá, Istanbul, Jakarta, Lima, London, Los Angeles, Mumbai, Nairobi, and Washington, D.C.) to share different city-led urban climate solutions that have already been implemented or are on the horizon. As noted in a press release, these solutions jointly impact over 109 million inhabitants and “are measuring tangible positive climate impacts through reduced emissions, improved resource efficiency, and strengthened climate adaptation and mitigation, while enhancing citizens’ quality of life and social equity.” A range of mayors and global city leaders are expected to attend the exhibition include the Mayor of London and Chair-elect of C40 Cities, Sadiq Khan, along with Bogotá Mayor Claudia López Hernández, and the Mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem İmamoğlu.

Physically comprised of a series of 11 different “virtual rooms” where each respective city will showcase “case studies and initiatives that have demonstrated proven positive climate impacts,” the full exhibition will also be available virtually via an interactive digital platform.

rendering of a spherical virtual pavilion at COP26
The virtual Build Better Now exhibition (AECOM)

Build Better Now exhibition (Virtual)

Housed within an immersive virtual pavilion designed by AECOM in collaboration with Install Archive, the wholly digital Build Better Now exhibition showcases 17 exemplary works of sustainable design from around the globe ranging from timber high-rises to experimental 3D-printed clay domiciles, and much more. The exhibition also features the Fountain of Circular Recovery, a 3D installation (and accompanying film) by Make Architects that “highlights opportunities for recovery, reuse and recycling in the built environment to establish a truly circular economy.” The virtual Build Better Now pavilion will also host a range of free public events throughout COP26 programmed in collaboration with the World Green Building Council. No events, however, will be held on November 11 as not to draw eyes and ears away from official events held on Cities, Regions & Built Environment Day.

UNFCCC Climate Breakfast with Mayors: a Dialogue with Norman Foster and John Kerry (Off-site at Glasgow City Chambers, streamed live on November 3)

An off-site highlight of COP26 is a breakfast-time conversation between architect Norman Forster and John Kerry, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, on the topic of the post-COVID city. Leader of Glasgow City Council (Mayor) Susan Aitken will moderate, and mayors from across the world are invited to join and participate. Non-mayors can also tune in and watch live via the UNECE YouTube channel bright and early November 3 from 7.30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. GMT (5:30 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. EDT). Foster + Partners has also organized a small handful of other talks during COP26 accessible via live stream.

Select Green Zone panel discussions (Check the events page for times and specific locations):

Commercial Buildings: A real asset in addressing climate change? (November 4)

Presented by the Better Buildings Partnership, this panel discussion will “provide an insight into the critical role that the commercial real estate sector plays in addressing climate change, highlighting some of the toughest challenges and exploring how meaningful progress can be accelerated through Collective Commitment, Sustainable Finance, and Collaborative Action.”

Polar Net Zero (November 5)

Presented by the British Antarctic Survey, this interactive event “challenges young people around the globe to think about the part they can play in creating a low carbon future. By questioning world-leading experts who are developing sustainable solutions to reduce energy use at British Antarctic Survey research stations school children will learn how human ingenuity, creativity, and technology can help people live with and adapt to climate change. Its key message to students is ‘you can help ensure a greener, more resilient future for us all.’”

Women leaders transforming street design (November 10)

Presented by U.K.-based nonprofit Living Streets, this panel discussion is chaired by Susan Claris, vice president of Living Streets and associate director at Arup, and will include: Carly Gilbert-Patrick, team leader for Active Mobility, Digitalisation & Mode Integration with the U.N. Environment Programme (live from Kenya); Leslie Kern, urbanist and author of Feminist City (live from Canada); Councillor Anna Richardson, Glasgow’s City Convener for Sustainability & Carbon Reduction (in person), and Janet Sanz, Deputy Mayor of Barcelona (live from Spain).

“Too often women, children, older and disabled people are excluded from designing and planning our public spaces,” the official event description elaborated. “If we want urban worlds that are liveable, healthier and better, then we need to include more diverse groups in their development. The panelists will discuss their approach to putting a more equitable society at the heart of their work.”

Construction: The Built Environment (November 11)

“Come and learn how the Construction Leadership Council’s Construct Zero industry-change programme is targeting the most impactful actions to mitigate this, leading the industry’s charge to meeting the Prime Minister’s 2035 Net Zero target,” reads the official event description for this Construction Leadership Council-hosted event.

A full list of Green Zone exhibitors and events can be found here and here; the Architects’ Journal has also published a comprehensive guide to COP26 events including official Green Zone happenings and fringe events taking place across Glasgow.