The long, hot summer of ’18 should mark a turning point in the cavalier way we treat our world, suggests Phil Coffey
In 2018 we began to accept that climate change was and is the issue of our time and urgently changed the way in which we developed our cities and our architecture for our future good.
We accelerated the greening of our city, we started to value the intangible. Spreadsheets properly valued parks, green public realm, water, rooftop terraces, balconies that have given us the ability to connect to our environment, to work and live outside, to walk to cycle, to shade and cool our public spaces and to remove pollution from our air.
The glut of tall glass towers of 2018 that we will now live with forever were the last spurts of a community that believed that technology and comfort cooling were the equal partner of solid walls, solar shading and passive design. Short-term financial solutions in a long-term existential paradigm.
Today in scorching London we build with depth in our elevations, with solid facades and – with our cleaner air and quieter electric roads – a significant majority of our buildings are naturally ventilated. Why didn’t we think ahead?
Context. Remember that ubiquitous “c” word of architecture in the early 2000s? It all changed in 2018. No longer did we fetishise brick, the then new London vernacular. We recognised that that “pesky” layer of insulation, a response to our climate had led us all to decorated buildings and that the planners knew it. Why clad a building in any other material if London was our closed myopic environment? We began to truly investigate the possibility of lighter materials, quicker to build, less embodied energy, easier to transport, and we used strong environmental arguments to build more intelligently.
Architects began to interrogate the layers of structure, waterproofing and insulation as a driving force in making buildings that respond to our macro and micro climate. Elevations became thresholds for light, air and future inhabitation not just historical narratives of material and décor. Wrapping lightweight timber frame structures with brick skin facades to keep London brown, it all seems so backward now.
In that important year we doubled down on the idea that the global context was just as important as the local and ensured buildings were orientated to the sun, not to the historical twisted and winding streets of the past. We densified London to create shade and more homes and were concerned less about overlooking and privacy. Planning departments employed Design and Environment Officers, rather than Design and Conservation Officers, whose name suggested the problem.
2018 and the following years also changed the public perception of architecture. Architects began a conversation with communities about the importance of an industry whose product consumed over 40% of the world’s energy and directly affected their daily lives in the most crucial way.
Architects truly connected with an issue that would drive design solutions and put the profession at the heart of a global discussion. Incredibly the public began to believe architects were professionals who cared about our shared futures, or at least that’s how I remember it…
…the hot, sticky summer of 2018, when architecture changed, and we all drank iced drinks as England won the World Cup. Or was it all just a dream, an opportunity lost, just more of the same? We all enjoyed the sun, packed up our picnics, went home, applied the after sun and thought nothing more of our devastating impact on the slow and seemingly inevitable warming of our planet.