Editor's Note, 12/3/20: This story has been expanded.
Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) has joined Foster + Partners in abandoning the Architects Declare movement—a group dedicated to fighting the climate crisis among designers and clients. Both London-based firms were among the 17 founding signatories of the coalition, which was launched in May 2019. Today, Architects Declare has more than 1,000 UK-based architects and designers on its roster and has expanded internationally to 26 countries.
On December 2, Foster + Partners released a statement from its founder, Pritzker Prize–winner Norman Foster, citing the need to design more sustainable airports as the main cause to break from the group. “Since our founding in 1967, we have pioneered a green agenda and believe that aviation, like any other sector, needs the most sustainable infrastructure to fulfill its purpose,” said Foster. “Unlike Architects Declare we are committed to address that need.”
Then, on December 3, ZHA also backed out of the agreement. “As a founding signatory, we agreed to continue and accelerate our work towards progressive change in our built environment,” the firm said in a statement. “For us, how change is delivered requires discussion, cooperation and collaboration, and this must be debated without condemnation. Architects Declare’s steering group has unilaterally decided on its own precise and absolute interpretation of the coalition’s commitments. By doing so, we believe they are setting the profession up for failure. Redefining these commitments without engagement undermines the coalition and trust… We need to be progressive, but we see no advantage in positioning the profession to fail.”
The news of both firms’ departures follows months of tension within the Architects Declare coalition. Though the original 11 tenets of the declaration do not specifically mention aviation or mass transportation, the issue of whether or not signatories would take on new projects of this nature apparently has been a point of contention for some—including ZHA and Foster + Partners.
In July 2020, another UK-based climate advocacy group, Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN), chastised Foster + Partners for designing a new private airport in Saudi Arabia even though the firm was a member of Architects Declare. And last month, ZHA principal Patrik Schumacher faced backlash after speaking remotely to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat conference, where he criticized those arguing for “radical changes” in response to the climate crisis, adding that “we can never compromise on growth and prosperity.” Architects Declare pushed back last week, urging ZHA to commit to the organization’s principles or withdraw, calling Schumacher’s stance “scientifically flawed.”
This week, Foster personally issued a statement about his position on the relevance of transportation projects to the cause of fighting the climate crisis. “We believe that the hallmark of our age, and the future of our globally connected world, is mobility,” he said. “Mobility of people, goods and information across boundaries. Only by internationally coordinated action can we confront the issues of global warming and, indeed, future pandemics. Aviation has a vital role to play in this process and will continue to do so. You cannot wind the clock backwards.”
The UK Architects Declare steering group quickly issued a response to Foster: “We recognize that addressing the climate and biodiversity emergencies challenges current practice and business models for us all, not least around the expansion of aviation. We believe that what is needed is system change and that can only come about through collective action. Architects Declare is not a ‘protest’ movement but a collaborative support network to innovate positive transformation.”
Foster + Partners has completed airports from the UK to the UAE, and across Asia. In the works are aviation projects in Panama City, Marseille, France, and the new 1.5 million square foot Kuwait International Airport, slated for completion in 2023. At the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, Foster (with Jonathan Ledgard, director of the Afrotech initiative at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne), unveiled a prototype for a “droneport” that would deliver medical supplies and other essential cargo to developing countries. Meanwhile, ZHA, which designed the recently opened Beijing Daxing International Airport along with ADP Ingénierie and BAID, announced a new commission in late October for the $5.3 billion Western Sydney International airport, which is meant to break ground in 2022.