by Jincy IypeAug 04, 2023
The planet, irrespective of the innumerable boundaries that crisscross over its harmonious canvas, now encounters a shared emergency brought about by a foreboding future. The climate crisis and planetary health have duly become mandatory partakers in discourses sprouting from spheres of art, design and architecture to those emanating from mundane lives. The construction industry, however, looms over the planet as an infamous antagonist—contributing nearly 40 per cent of global CO2 emissions and 35 per cent of total waste alone. Echoes of change reverberate in the architecture community that assays its current practices and their resounding repercussions. But is the pace of amendment on par with that of the damage? And does the call for urgent action take into account equality and inclusion to make sure none are left behind?
These are some questions that constituted the groundwork for discourses that animated the UIA World Congress of Architects in Copenhagen, Denmark. Over 6000 participants from 135 countries congregated at the global event for sustainable architecture that unfolded from July 2 to 6, 2023. With the overarching theme of 'Sustainable Futures – Leave No One Behind,' the congress programme featured more than 150 sessions by nearly 400 speakers, including acclaimed architects, rising talents, business leaders and influential politicians. The four days marked by engaging and crucial conversations concluded with the launch of 10 principles that delineated rapid and radical change in the built environment, 'The Copenhagen Lessons’ presented by the President of Congress, Natalie Mossin. "Speakers and participants have generously shared their professional knowledge and personal experiences, and a myriad of new connections and friendships have been established. Since we started the preparations, it has been of great importance to us that the congress would have both a big impact and a strong legacy,” says Mette Lindberg, CEO of the UIA World Congress in Copenhagen 2023.
Danish architect Natalie Mossin is the Head of the Institute at the Royal Danish Academy – Institute of Architecture and Technology, President of Congress for the UIA World Congress of Architects in Copenhagen, 2023, Region 1 Vice-President, UIA, and the Chief Editor of An Architecture Guide to the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals volumes. A spearheading voice for sustainable development in the sphere of built environments, she specialises in sustainable innovation in construction and has been involved in such initiatives at both political and strategic levels. The world congress culminated with Mossin presenting 10 principles for a rapid—and radical—change in the built environment that strive towards reaching the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs). “What I am hoping people will take from here is, of course, new inspiration and knowledge, but also an understanding of other viewpoints,” shares Mossin in an exclusive conversation with STIR. “We have to collaborate across borders to create peace and prosperity, share our knowledge and understand each other culturally. Because if we do not meet and begin to understand different viewpoints, how can we have development, collaboration and peace? This is more relevant than ever and I hope this congress would have created some of those meeting points,” she adds.
The 10 principles are:
- Dignity and agency for all people is fundamental in architecture, there is no beauty in exclusion.
- People at risk of being left behind must be accommodated first when we construct, plan, and develop the built environment.
- Existing built structures must always be reused first.
- No new development must erase green fields.
- Natural ecosystems and food production must be sustained regardless of the built context.
- No virgin mineral material must be used in construction when reuse is possible.
- No waste must be produced or left behind in construction.
- When sourcing materials for construction, local, renewable materials come first.
- In everything we build, carbon capture must exceed carbon footprint.
- When developing, planning, and constructing the built environment, every activity must have a positive impact on water ecosystems and clean water supply.
“With 'The Copenhagen Lessons,' we present 10 principles for what that means when we construct, plan and develop the built environment. The health of the planet and basic human needs are on the line, we have no time to waste,” states Mossin. Through the 10 guidelines, the congress noted that the architectural solutions already exist and are contributing to sustainable communities and quality of life. However, one cannot turn a blind eye to the built environment’s active part in the currently rampant challenges. The 10 principles have been determined in collaboration between the UIA World Congress of Architects 2023, Royal Danish Academy – Architecture, Design, Conservation, and the Danish Association of Architects, in partnership with Rambøll and Henning Larsen, who act as knowledge partners. Elaborating on the theme of the 2023 event, Mossin tells STIR, “We talk about sustainable futures because we need to reach that goal. But we know that the future needs to be localised—it will be complex and hybrid. It is not a future, but many futures.”
She emphasises on a development that does not cater to selective groups and pays heed to those at risk of being left behind vis a vis gender, poverty, age, ethnicity, religion and ability. “Think about those different categories of people who are at risk of being left behind or are being excluded. It might have a different form in each project but we always need to think about it,” Mossin comments. The inclusion does not limit itself to humankind; it reaches out to the innumerable non-human species as well, which play an equally—if not more—vital role in ecology. “I hope we are not ready to give up on the dignity of any life form. We cannot neglect one or the other, because they are all interconnected," the architect explains. Citing the Doughnut economic theory which is a visual framework depicting two concentric circles of social foundation and ecological ceiling, she talks about how many presentations made in the congress represent the possibilities to “enlarge the operating space.”
Moving on to the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs), upon being asked about the most critical of the goals, Mossin reiterates the criticality of goal 17. “Partnership for the goals is a different category than the other 16 goals. It is a process goal showing how to go about delivering the other 16, and that is a true collaboration,” she says. Another key goal to engage with, according to Mossin, is reduced inequality. The lineup of sessions and exhibits stemmed from and advanced towards these goals that epitomise inclusivity, equity, sustainability and most importantly, dignity of all species—iterating how in this complex web of life on the planet, each one is dependent on the other.
The discourses emanate hope for the future that, at the current pace of mindless practices, is on shaky grounds. But with the messages of hope, is a facet of despondence—shedding light on the skewed balance of destruction and salvaging. Hence, the lessons call for change not merely rapid, but also radical. In the midst of questions concerning the future of the planet and the human species, ‘The Copenhagen Lessons’ emerge as a common language to accelerate transformation in the industry and to encourage politicians to support local, national, and global built environment legislation. And for such a metamorphosis in and across industries, the essence is sharing knowledge, skills and perspectives—for a collective planetary emergency seeks a response of synergy and collaboration that leaves no one behind.
The UIA World Congress 2023 programme featured talks, panel discussions and presentations by influential and innovative creative practices. STIR as an official Media Partner, brings you the highlights of the congress through a series of interviews, visits and conversations.