For architects, ‘care’ means many things. At its most basic level, architects design buildings which are used directly for the care of people – from hospitals at the beginning of life, to Maggie’s Centres at the end of life.
Last year, the industry’s response to the pandemic was swift and urgent – from fabricating face shields & portable intensive care units to adapting existing buildings into care facilities.
But what does ‘care’ mean for architects? From inaccessible playgrounds and unsuitable play equipment to sometimes outright hostile design – sometimes it can seem there’s a distinct lack of care in our built environment.
The Grenfell Tower fire is perhaps the most tragic example of not only a systematic lack of care but also of wider uncertainties around governance and accountability of the profession.
But it’s not just the profession. The theme of ‘care’ opens up questions about our civic duty as individuals to care more.
The UK was one of the first major economies to pass laws requiring greenhouse gas emissions to be cut to net zero by 2050. In global cities such as London where population expansion continues to fuel a construction boom, meeting an ambitious decarbonisation plan requires extensive changes across the built environment sector.
In November the UK will host COP 26. Is this our industry’s chance to take responsibility and rethink methods of constructing new and preserving old buildings, neighbourhoods and infrastructure?
Architects should be driven by the practices of care, not only taking into consideration energy footprint or use of sustainable materials, but also how these materials were obtained and their impact on mental wellbeing and physical health of the people using buildings.
The virus too has altered our perception of our urban environment, how we move, meet and interact. One of the main challenges for employers was to provide a safe and healthy work environment, which for many resulted in an immediate shift to working from home.
Architecture as an industry has always been slow in accommodating alternative and more flexible ways of working. Yet it is precisely architects that need to rethink the future of workplace and to find a balance in between prioritising human health and providing spaces for face-to-face collaboration.
The profession too is beset by a long-hours culture, that hardly demonstrates care for our staff. How should the profession better care for its staff?
The murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests have again highlighted society’s widespread lack of care on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender and income inequality.
In June 2020, thousands of architects and designers stood together in solidarity with the BLM movement against racism. But is that enough? Statistics still portray the sector as predominantly white, with men occupying most leadership positions. And while gender and racial diversity within the profession is gradually improving, isn’t there still a lot of work to be done to engage and support all underrepresented groups across the sector if we are to be a caring profession?
Isn’t it time, as Cedric Price once said, that “like medicine, architecture must move from the curative to the preventive.”
This year’s LFA is a chance to examine ‘care’ in all its forms. And perhaps an exhortation for us all to care more.