Architects and Climate Change

Daughter of an architect, I’ve noticed an uptick of articles over the past two years speculating that #architects will increasingly find themselves – wittingly or not – at the center of global climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

As architect Alice Guess has written:

“Architects are, by the very nature of what we do, best positioned to lead the response to [sea level rise and climate change] in a way that not only insures we can persist but that persisting can be beautiful and comfortable and safe and functional. So architects need to step up and take our seat at the table and start leading the way (emphasis added). We need to reclaim the conversation from the insurance industry and statisticians who focus on “hazard” and “risk”. Let’s start talking about possibilities and opportunities, to start designing our future.”

Based on a quick* Internet search, the majority of recent articles linking architects and climate change have focused on urban architecture and/or urban planning. This is justified, given that 54% of humanity currently lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to two-thirds by mid-century.

Not to be overlooked, however, are hundreds of beautiful and innovative projects designed primarily for rural areas. For two stunning examples, look no further than Arturo Vittori’s architectural firm which designed the WarkaWater Tower project in Ethiopia and Bee’ah’s environmental waste management project in the Emirati desert (see image below) designed by visionary architect Zaha Hadid, who passed away suddenly last month.

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 8.28.47 PMThe following set of links provides a few examples of the myriad strategies currently available to architects, designers, engineers and urban planners to reduce emissions, conserve energy, build resilience, and prepare for inevitable sea-level rise in coastal urban centres:

But of all the projects I’ve seen on the Internet recently, my absolute favorite is Strawscraper, an urban wind farm proposed by the Swedish architectural firm Belatchew Arkitekter. As a renewable energy photographer, I’m clearly a sucker for anything and everything wind. But after watching the video below, I seriously wondered if I have made a mistake by not following in my father’s footsteps:

* Note: This short post was only meant to be a quick introduction to what I hope will become, over time and with your input, a more substantial essay on the important role that architects must play as we adapt to climate change, especially in large coastal urban centres. Neither architect nor architectural historian, I am sure to have overlooked important contributions from the architectural community that deserve to be highlighted here.  I welcome your feedback, criticism and collaboration to jointly enlarge this post over the coming months before sharing it more widely in print.


Joan Sullivan is a renewable energy photographer based in Québec, Canada. Since 2009, Joan has focused her cameras (and more recently her drones) exclusively on solutions to climate change. She is convinced that the inevitable transition to a 100% clean energy economy will happen faster – and within our lifetimes – by creating positive images and stories that help us visualize and embrace what a post-carbon future will look like.  Joan collaborates frequently with filmmakers on documentary films that explore the human side of the energy transition. She is currently working on a photo book about the energy transition. Her renewable energy photos have been exhibited in group shows in Canada and the UK. You can find Joan on Twitter and Instagram


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