Glass speaks to the students at the heart of Architecture Education Declares manifesto

Rewriting the script in architectural education – Glass speaks to some of the students at the heart of Architecture Education Declares manifesto demanding a much greater emphasis on the teaching of ecologically sound principles

Architecture Education Declares (AED) is an initiative brought forth by a student collective, seeking change in the teaching of architecture in higher education. Their manifesto demands a much greater emphasis on the teaching of ecologically sound principles at a time when our planet’s life-support systems are at their absolute limits. Glass finds out about how they managed to accrue over 2,000 supporting signatures, and counting, and what they ultimately hope to achieve.

Some of ths students from Architecture Education Declares manifesto the

Was there a specific turning point or moment in your experience in architecture that made you realise the urgent need for change?
(Barney Iley, The Bartlett School of Architecture): No. I think the need for change has always been implicit in the recognition that something was wrong. Our generation has grown up in the shadow of that recognition – I remember being taught about global warming at primary school. It’s not news to us. Studying a subject that plays a large role in many climate-negative industries and finding it totally lacking a serious regard for this fact, was quite striking.

(Jeanne Clerc, Architectural Association): Realising that practices in the global north are already having massive impacts in the global south, and how little they are discussed in the global north, is something that outrages and discourages me. For instance, the use of concrete is a very high sand-consuming industry. But are we ever taught where the sand comes from or what is costs to mine it? By digging on beaches, we are destroying seaside ecosystems which provide food to almost a third of the global population.

As if matters weren’t bad enough, sand-mining is increasingly carried out by violent, organised crime groups. We need to work hard at creating new aesthetic canons which will make unsustainable ones unattractive. The amount of things we need to change can be overwhelming, but discussing them and starting to propose alternatives is very exciting.

AED at Extinction Rebellion demonstration Trafalgar Square

There’s been a groundswell of activism among the millennial generation. How important is it for you to be the change you want to see?
Barney Iley, The Bartlett School of Architecture: I think there’s a real danger in forms of activism that sharply emphasise individual ethical records. Of course, it’s good to live in an environmentally friendly way and so on, and we need to encourage and get better at that. But the source of climate change and ecological breakdown is no more the product of individuals being wasteful than wars are the product of individuals being horrid. These problems are systemic and organisational. We need to analyse them at that level in order to solve them. Analysis at the level of individual habits tends to obscure the real reasons we’re in this mess, and that only benefits the people who are profiting from it.


Poppy Becke, The Bartlett School of Architecture: Changing the system through activism, self-determination and advocacy, through providing clear and valid alternatives to current practices is not only important but completely necessary. As stated and supported by the UN’s IPCC report, mass civil disobedience and other forms of direct action will be needed in order to shift the gears and cogs of the juggernaut of our economy and political systems in any reasonable time. We have to provide solutions – many of these will be grassroots – but we cannot do it alone as individuals or “the millennial generation”; we need mass cooperation, coordination and decentralised autonomous action to effect change at the vast systemic scale required.

We can change as much as we like as individuals, but that won’t change the fact that there are people with far greater power than us who are making decisions which are at cost to human rights, to global biodiversity and beyond planetary boundaries – this is where change is required. We must collaborate and work together.


It must have been empowering to see a student-led movement gain so much traction. Why did you opt to use an online petition as opposed to protesting at your university, as is so often the course of action?
Poppy Becke, The Bartlett School of Architecture: The open letter is an invitation to collaborate; it is an example of a form of consent and it can offer proposals for change, which are easily taken out of context or lost entirely when communicating through protest. An open letter is a way for anyone, anywhere to take ownership of the message, and have agency and autonomy in their own actions. We can embrace an opportunity to be supported in our actions by our universities – they are receptive to change.

In other instances, more direct action becomes necessary; for example, some of us have been involved with Extinction Rebellion and see those forms of peaceful protest and action as equally valid and appropriate to their context – the two go hand in hand. Some of us – both professors and students – have also been lobbying within the Bartlett for people to sign a Bartlett Declares petition; this was taken on board and the Bartlett has now declared a climate and ecological emergency, and we are allocating resources of people, time, and money to fulfil the aims of the declaration.


Barney Iley, The Bartlett School of Architecture: British students aren’t trained to be disruptive any more. Historically, students were vital antagonists. Compared with previous generations, this function has diminished drastically. I’d have loved more direct action, but I’m too scared. I hate confrontation, even when I believe it’s necessary and fair. The bureaucratic and market-driven higher education system we’ve been produced by has taken its predictable toll: students now are all too often a messy hybrid of anxious patient and demanding customer.

We don’t generally perceive ourselves to be in a position to protest and there’s nothing about the environment of the modern university that suggests it’d be valid. I think those who do maintain that spirit of direct action, in some universities, are really special.


Ye Jin Lee, Architectural Association: I remember gathering with several students from all around London, earlier this year, not knowing each other so well but having discussions on the importance of this to be submitted as soon as possible in order to build alliances. The open letter online was initially a call for multiple voices. Alongside the manifesto, we’ve actually created multiple working groups. I think it is important that beyond the online open letter, where people can sign up to a declaration, we are empowering each institution and their student bodies to intervene with the pedagogy in multiple ways.


How are you holding the powers that be responsible for responding and backing you, and helping turn this into a game-changer rather than a fleeting viral movement?
Poppy Becke, The Bartlett School of Architecture: As previously mentioned, The Bartlett has now declared a climate and ecological emergency and will need to live up to its reputation of being a radical school by taking meaningful action to fulfil on the declaration. It is also important to acknowledge that climate change is not going away anytime soon – there will be nothing fleeting about the need to act – we are embarking on a set of challenges that will only become more demanding with time, and if we are to make any headway now, it will be either with the support of our universities or without them, as either way, we will act.

The universities have a choice – take action in line with our climate aims and retain their students, or they risk becoming irrelevant and empty; as Fridays For Future has shown, young people everywhere are calling for change. We will not stand by while the life of the patient – our planet and our being – is threatened; we will act, and we will refuse to act with those who do not have the patient’s best interests at heart.

The Architecture Education Declares manifesto being delivered

Why do you think the petition spread so quickly? And do you think the petition will bring about changes equally quickly, or are you preparing for this to be more of a slow burn?
Poppy Becke, The Bartlett School of Architecture: Many of our schools have already taken action; we are organising a Citizens’ Assembly at the Bartlett. Many tutors have addressed the climate emergency in their unit briefs this academic year and there are equivalent processes and actions in place at other schools. It has encouraged peers who are already engaged in climate issues to come forward and share their progress; this is ongoing.

Jeanne Clerc, Architectural Association: Even though it did spread quickly in the UK, we need to keep in mind that there is still a huge amount of work to do. The AED is made up of so many different profiles, all of which are a wealth which we should exploit much more, as the issues we are tackling are obviously global and go beyond the idea of national boundaries.

Are there any countries or prominent figures in the field to whom you look for inspiration when plotting a greener future for architecture?

Poppy Becke, The Bartlett School of Architecture: In the UK: Public Practice (“placing experienced built environment practitioners within forward thinking public authorities to help shape places for the public good”), ACAN (Architects Climate Action Network), CAT (Centre for Alternative Technology), Black Females in Architecture (a network elevating the visibility of black females in architecture).

There are also many young and active practitioners who are engaged with architectural and systemic climate issues, such as the team behind the creation and curation of the recent Oslo Triennale on Degrowth, who are each doing amazing work in their own right, across fields of architecture, design and writing.


Jeanne Clerc, Architectural Association: Projects that challenge the relationship between humans and nature are very inspiring; the Burial Belt by Other Architects in Sydney, for instance. Because of the shortage in available graves and the rise in land value, the project proposes a new way of dealing with death in an emotional and practical sense – the process of burial takes on a more natural and cyclical form: earth to earth.

By removing ourselves from nature, we have forgotten many of the natural cycles we are part of. Projects in Brazil by Lina Bo Bardi deal with the idea of adaptive reuse in a very inspiring way as well.

If you were to summarise the key aims of the manifesto, what would they be, and how will they be achieved?

Jeanne Clerc, Architectural Association: The aim of writing a manifesto under the name of AED as a collection of concerned architecture students, operating independently from their respective universities, was to make our voice heard on a larger scale. To implement change in architectural education, and therefore in architecture in general, we need to create alliances, which is what AED aims to do.

The manifesto aims to raise awareness in the academic world of architecture students to the broadness of the issues the built environment is facing.

But we also want to challenge architecture professionals, who are currently building our legacy, on an international level. AED enables us to organise projects as a collective, such as the October 4th Summit, which took place at the Architectural Association, but, thanks to the AED, reached a much larger and more diverse audience. AED is made up of a wide range of nationalities, of individuals with different interests and paths, with tools we are using to make our message heard wherever we go.

AED Climate Summit Intersectionality discussion

A desire for greener architectural practices isn’t new. What makes this proposal different from what’s come before?
Barney Iley, The Bartlett School of Architecture: It may not be different from what’s come before. So what? What came before was probably equally valid, they just didn’t win. It’s important to understand that the struggle for climate justice is not taking place in an empty field. We – and I mean we as in “most people” – have very, very proactive and energetic opponents.

We have to recognise that there are economic and political interests at work in the continuous suppression of all emancipatory movements, including this one. Sometimes that opposition is crystal clear – a fossil fuel company lobbying a government, for example – but often it’s a more subtle, ideological opposition. The logic of the infinite market that has got us in this mess is buried 200 years deep in our culture, so it’s no surprise that efforts to disrupt it routinely fail.

As a young creative, what design ideas (or practices) do you have to revolutionise the architectural process?
Barney Iley, The Bartlett School of Architecture: The first and hardest task is to reimagine what an architect is, rather than what architecture might be. I have to take a module at university where I learn about branding and sponsorship and getting corporate clients.

With absolutely zero self-reflection or critical insight, we are being systematically indoctrinated with an interpretation of our role that instantly makes us part of the problem – we become finance-driven, growth-driven, competitive agents before we’re even out of the gate. Architects don’t have to be that, and if they weren’t, the architecture would be better too.

Jeanne Clerc, Architectural Association: I think the biggest task we will have as architects of the future is whether we should or shouldn’t build. So much stone has already been mined, and the same can be said for all the other materials used in the built environment.

The fact that buildings are essentially trashed to make space for new buildings, that will use new materials (using fossil fuels in the process) and contribute to the already socially unjust world we live in needs to change. This goes much further than the idea of reusing or recycling materials.

We cannot build if it contributes to the destruction of both ecosystems and natural wealth in the process of strengthening already exhausted, unfair politico-economic systems. There needs to be a shift in the mentality of the architect, of why it is we do build. We need to look beyond our egos, at much broader, ecocentric timescales, rather than anthropocentric timescales (building as a way to influence our present).

By Charlie Navin-Holder

For AED’s full manifesto, visit their website