Architects Climate Action Network


Let’s Talk about Climate Action with Lauren Shevills and Joe Penn

We are in extraordinary times; a lot of us working remotely and meeting daily to keep in touch, and make sure our business is moving forward. As Anylabtalks we help to stay connected and meet new people talking about the things we are most passionate about. In this episode host Nurgul Yardim Mericliler talks with Lauren Shevills and Joe Penn from the Architects Climate Action Network. Enjoy our talk, stay safe and stay connected!

Lauren Shevills / Coordinator at Architects Climate Action Network, Architect at Mæ

She defines herself as creative individual, dabbling in mediums ranging from design to fabrication and lots of other things in between. She has personal interests for socio-political research and architectural activism which focus on delivering quality architecture for positive social and planetary change.

Joe Penn / Coordinator at Architects Climate Action Network, Architect at Rock Townsend

He studied Political Architecture and Critical Sustainability, previously working in architectural practice in Denmark and the UK. Joe’s passion lies in the creation of social and joyful architecture through a process of collaboration and craft.


Selected Links from the Episode

Show Notes

  • Episode Introduction
  • Extinction Rebellion protest on Waterloo Bridge
  • Starting ACAN
  • Architects Declare
  • How to take part at ACAN
  • How to be an optimistic about future
  • Episode Outro

Episode Transcript

 *This interview was recorded in London on Jan. 27, 2020. Some parts of the conversation have been transcribed and edited and slightly condensed for clarity. With huge thanks to Lauren Shevills and Joe Penn for their interest, efforts, and time. Thanks, as well, to Bobby Jewell for helping set up this discussion.

“It means that if your office hasn’t declared, you can still be a member of ACAN and work, form campaigns, opinions, direct actions, come to the meetings and have a voice basically” – Lauren Shevills, ACAN

Nurgul Yardim Mericliler (Host): Hello and welcome to Anylabtalks. These are extraordinary times. a lot of us working remotely and meeting daily to keep in touch, and make sure our business is moving forward. As Anylabtalks we help to stay connected and meet new people talking about the things we are most passionate about. In this episode my guests are Lauren and Joe from the Architects Climate Action Network. Lauren defines herself as creative individual in between mediums from design to fabrication. Professionally trained in architecture, with personal interests for socio-political research and architectural activism for social change. And, Joe is an architect and studied Political Architecture and Critical Sustainability in Denmark. His passion lies in the creation of social and joyful architecture through a process of collaboration and craft. For now, enjoy our talk, stay safe and stay connected!


Nurgul Yardim Mericliler (Host): Thanks for joining us today. I have a question I generally ask everyone I interview, whoever they are, just wondering about the architectural or design background of their childhood, however they understand that now. How do you remember the houses you grew up & How did your interest in architecture develop if you relate your childhood memories to these days now?

Lauren Shevills (ACAN):I can take this one first. I’ve only grown up in two houses before I moved to university, so I was in a very smooth to up to down semidetached house that had this kind of crazy paving effect on the front of the house and our back garden opened up into the shopping car park, which is where I learned to ride my bike. So, you know, not exactly the most inspirational architectural home. I then quickly realized that I had a fascination with things like Lego, and you know, kind of the games that I would play with all to do with building blocks. And then, I had a strong interest in that artistic subjects at school, so I’m thinking that’s kind of, you know, where I was coming from. My houses weren’t particularly inspiring. The house that I grew up in for most of my life had these really fake, ionic columns on the front door.

Joe Penn (ACAN):So, I guess similar for me in terms of the house that I grew up in. I basically grew up in the one house from when I was about six months. But my parents did a lot of things within the kind of 70s house build that they could manage, kind of go along archways in various forms in house, and it’s kind of changed the colour schemes and this kind of stuff. But it was more about the sort of things we would do on holiday. I think that has a lot of influence. My grandparents have bigger influence that I was doing a lot of different art projects. My grandpa would sketch all the time, so whenever we were on holiday with my grandparents, then I would have notably done a lot of drawing as well. And I think that had a big influence. And then we also would visit a lot of kind of old buildings, castles, the national trust kind of places and also a lot of art galleries. So, lots of things are filtering in from different places.


NYM: I feel that these adventures you have been is full of the realities and discoveries on both architecture and social impact. So, especially today, I think they all lead us to talk about the ACAN. When exactly did “Architects Climate Action Network” start and what motivated you to come together?

JP:Well, it first took place at the Extinction Rebellion protest on Waterloo Bridge, April last year. We were kind of going to these some of the extinction, rebellion, protest, and that was getting us really a kind of awareness. This, we’re being socially sustainably conscious for a while. That was really the point when we were aware of the extremity of the situation, and I think that Extinction Rebellion was doing a really great job of bringing it into the public awareness, but for us, there was just something really lacking within the architectural profession. We know so many architects that care about the climate and how they are building that project, but it’s not necessarily an option when you are working within the current framework of architectural practice in the UK especially.

LS:I think XR has just done, I’m really fantastic job of putting the climate emergency back on the agenda and in the mainstream media as well. People who might not have been talking about the climate emergency are really discussing it now. When we were stood on the Waterloo Bridge occupation, we were just looking at the backdrop of the city, and I think all three of us had a real penny drop moment of, you know. We started looking and realizing how much embodied carbon was around us. Our industries are incredibly fossil fuel intensive, and if you just look at the backdrop of the skyscrapers, you begin to realize just how much energy went into space. And actually there, we felt there was a gap within architecture and architectural activism. We have such a political and social subject and you know; we are so engaged with policy making and social sciences and anthropology, cultural points of reference as well. I think from that moment onwards, ACAN basically born.

JP:Yeah. I think that’s a really good point. I think that there are other groups or organizations within the field that are really good at disseminating knowledge on the built materials or experiments in new materials. But, actually to have this opportunity to maybe do direct action or really be individual voices was something that we felt really importantly. It can be very difficult to really say what you feel particularly. We both just started our career as architects. I mean, graduated from the master’s in Copenhagen, and when you first join an office, it can be difficult to have any say on the way that a project goes. And that is something that we wanted to try to change.

LS:I think also as well this happened in April and for a long time, we were a very small group of about 10 who were trying to form what ACAN could be. And then Architects Declarelaunched their declaration of the emergency in May or June. And we realized that actually that was great. And getting the profession behind practices and behind these really big names within the architectural community. And for us that was great because we realized also that we were different in a way to them. Because we’re based on individual membership and not practice membership. It means that if your office hasn’t declared, you can still be a member of ACAN and work, form campaigns, opinions, direct actions, come to the meetings and have a voice. Basically, what we’re kind of hoping that ACAN achieve the filling that gap and providing a voice to people who may be feel a bit less underrepresented.


NYM: I think the individual part is very important when I’m looking at your website, because like, although not only architects and the building environment sector individuals also can join.

LS:We really must stress that even though architects is in the title, it’s not just for architects, it’s, you know, it’s about built environment professionals and we’re so lucky that we have such a diverse range of people in the group. We have photographers, we have graphic designers, we have communication people, we have people in PR. They don’t necessarily work within architecture on their day to day jobs either. So, I don’t know how we’ve got so lucky with the broad scope of people.


NYM: There’s a shift happening in the industry as well. So, architect’s role in the society is changing. Like we are always talking about the social change. For example, I interviewed with Chris Hildrey; he is doing a Proxy Address for the homeless people. Like we have always making these things happen as our backgrounds allow us. What will be the role of architecture in contemporary society?

JP:It’s a very difficult question. I think it’s something that’s being discussed all the time at the minute particularly. And I think there are a couple of different camps in some senses. People are thinking that the traditional role of the architect is, is being lost perhaps to some degree which I would hate to tell about. I don’t agree with it, but I think we’ve seen over the last five to 10 years, the huge diversification of architects and the kind of work that they do. I think there’s some really interesting practices like Forensic Architecture, for example, who are using the tools of an architect but for completely different work to kind of challenge legal arguments. It’s just difficult to say any one direction. I think it’s more that we’re just finding roles.


NYM: Any plans for the future?

LS:There are big plans; both with regards to education and outreach. So, at the moment we’re London based group. But there is such a strong appetite for regional ACANs. So that’s one very exciting step. And actually, if people are listening and they’d like to set up a regional ACAN, this is something that we’re going to be doing very soon. We’ve already had a huge moment of trust from Bristow, Sheffield. We’re kind of running before we can walk. We always doing things so quickly, so we’re just having to catch up with the demand for these.  I think if I may just say we have these high level aims of ACAN. The number one decarbonize now, number two we want ecological regeneration and number three cultural transformation. And I think the cultural transformation is really important.


NYM: How individuals within architecture and related built environment professions will take action in ACAN?

 JP:We have regular meeting every couple of weeks. So, we would just say come along to one of those, but also just get in touch if people have any kind of ideas for projects or they want to start another ACAN somewhere else. It’s just important that we all talk about it as much as possible, I think, and it doesn’t matter how small a part we all play, it’s just about having numbers for a lot of it. If we are to be able to convince the government change a piece of legislation or clients, developers to shift the way that they build projects. We need as many people as possible to sign up and say, say, this is just really sheer numbers that have changed things, sharing things on Twitter, or just talking to your own office about it. All of that works for the same, so that’s really important.

LS:I would encourage people to visit our website which is https://www.architectscan.organd you can sign up to our mailing list and follow us on Twitter and Instagram and all of that.


NYM: Finally, I would like to hear from both of you; regarding the future, what are you optimistic about?  

LS:I think that is a cultural shift. I think people are much, much more aware of the damage that we’re doing to the planet. And we have very close relationship with Architects Declare and the fact that, you know very well-respected professionals are taking this so seriously. I feel like that this is a reason to be optimistic. And you know, the facts that green initiatives and green products are getting such a good. I haven’t such good outreach as well. You know, it’s, it’s amazing, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. I mean, you know, now we’ve woken up, so it’s, it’s also terrifying, but I mean, yeah, kind of optimistic.

JP:I think, it’s come from a number of things. Something I was listening to another podcast today, and it was talking about a recent legal challenge that happened in Holland and how a group of climate lawyers have challenged the Dutch government in the courts and are holding them accountable for climate emissions in terms of that kind of work, like humanitarian crisis kind of. That’s how they approached the court challenge. But I think there have been a few instances now of the legal system where it’s really coming into play, that actually, if you have a really clear case in terms of the human rights and also of that kind of commitment in that certain governments are making. There were also other cases in the UK. There were things that me, I managed to be pushed through the court and I think the best people who are willing to take on these really big challenges at whole big corporations or even governments to account is. It’s potentially really exciting. We need this kind of shift of scale who is an accountable for everything that something’s been posted by.

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