The firm’s UK head of sustainability on moving mountains and problem-solving, sharing responsibility and travelling as much as possible on foot 

Anna Louise McSweeney White Arkitekter

Why did you choose construction as a career?

Problem-solving and making meaningful change. When I started, my role was much more focused on space – design aesthetics and utility – but, as I have progressed through my career, my focus has turned to society and our place in the natural world; how we manage use of land and resources and the flows and structures of governance between them.

What are you most proud of in your career to date?

I am particularly proud of my role as part of the Architects Climate Action Network. I have had the opportunity to see it evolve, bring in new energy and support a community of people who really care and are working together to shift the industry.

What has been the biggest challenge of your career to date?

The nature of construction and the timescales associated with it mean that your headspace is often several years ahead of the projects you are working on, especially those in the latter work stages. This was especially challenging in 2019 just before the launch of Architects Declare and Architects Climate Action Network, where the impact of construction on the climate crisis was known but I had a total feeling of helplessness within it.

Activism within the industry and the amazing work by groups such as LETI to inform and guide professionals to make change has sparked widespread agency and enthusiasm.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

To make the industry more collaborative and built on trust. Currently there is little accountability, and a lot of passing on blame.

Preferably, we would have a model where risk is shared appropriately, with greater transparency and disclosure of learnings.

I would also change the perception of timescales, to make slower and more long-term decisions.

What is the most helpful advice that you have been given?

When things go wrong, it is just a matter of problem-solving.

It has been important for me to understand that everything is in flow, that “even mountains move”. Things that we think are static can change – we just need to identify and follow the forces that move them.

Reading Donella Meadows’ Leverage Points has been formative for my thinking around regenerative practice, thanks to colleagues at Architects Declare.

Louisiana museum copenhagen

The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art is the most visited art museum in Denmark. Its name is derived from the first owner of the property, Alexander Brun, whose three wives were all called Louise 

Name your favorite building in the world?

The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, in Humlebæk, Denmark, by architects Jørgen Bo and Wilhelm Wohlert. Both the architecture and its setting are a joy. 

What single piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in your profession?

We need to act fast to change “business as usual” and do things very differently. I would advise that anyone starting in the profession educates themselves in carbon literacy, and interconnected ecological, social and economic systems.

This will give them the mindset to approach the profession holistically, collaboratively and unafraid to challenge the status quo.

Who do you most admire in the construction industry?

I am lucky to have worked with very inspiring people, from tutors during my architectural education to colleagues in practice, namely when working at dRMM and now at White. I am surrounded by some amazing minds in Architects Declare and the community of people I encounter as we work towards a more regenerative future.

What is it like being you (and doing your job)?

Spinning many plates and wearing multiple hats. I have learnt – and am continuing to learn – so much from my work in practice and in advocacy, with both roles complementing each other.

Do you have a life philosophy?

Everything happens for a reason, and you make your own luck.

Tell us about a secret skill that we don’t know you have

I love drawing and painting in my spare time and have done life-drawing and portraiture courses. I have even gifted some of my works to loved ones and as wedding presents.

Early bird or night owl?

Definitely a morning lark, although I have a tendency to burn the candle at both ends.

What would your superpower be?

Boundless powerwalking: I enthusiastically walk everywhere, whether it be a restorative rural ramble, a psychogeographic urban jaunt, or simply the morning commute – even if it takes me an hour and a half to walk to work each day!