26 October 2020
By Marietta Gontikaki

Reflect, reshape, (be) radical

Overwhelmed with the shock of the past months, more so with what lies ahead, I want to share some thoughts that stemmed from this period. They are not unique, rather a blend of more personal views shaped together and inspired by the many other voices calling for change.


I will narrow the discussion to the building industry. Albeit in my mind, the change we choose to strive for as professionals is not detached nor separate from, the personal and social struggles. As we live through unprecedented, multiple and simultaneous crises, I have come to realise that everything is connected. We cannot – should not – attempt to address the climate crisis, biodiversity breakdown, global pandemics or social injustices, racism, sexism, and extreme inequalities in isolation. We are up against one crisis (not many) and it is of an existential nature.


The times demand of us to reflect on the inherited traditions and practices of the industry. Are we still doing things ‘the way they have always been done’? I believe we are set in fixed mindsets, operating in silos, lacking diversity and equal opportunity. We serve business models that are profit-driven within short cycles, serve the interests of a few stakeholders of the real estate market rather than communities, perpetuate and exacerbate inequalities.


But the world is changing, and there is hope in embracing our responsibility, in realising our collective power to shape the next day.


In the process of imagining the change we want to see, I feel we need to revisit and reshape some of the core elements that drive our ways of being in the world. Within the context of today: what is valuable and ethical, where do we assign meaning, what do we care about and relate to, what is our purpose, what are the divisions -if any – between us and nature? What does it mean to be human?


The future is now, as the world of tomorrow is being shaped every moment. Such is the intensity, speed and scale of the transformations needed that the only way to get there is by being radical.


Together, wouldn’t it be great to:

  • - place our responsibility to the climate emergency at the heart of everything we do
  • - allow the time and resources for a truly inclusive design process, co-making places together with the community from the very start
  • - acknowledge and respond to the true boundaries of impact of the project (local, national, global)
  • - let go of our egos and approach projects as a perpetual learning experience, team work as a playground of sharing
  • - bring the political, the emotional, the spiritual to our designs, working places and relationships
  • - join forces to disrupt the existing business-as-usual, find and fight for the alternatives that will generate true social value in the long term.


There are so many things to be said, think about, act upon. Momentum is definitely gathering within the industry around the need for transformation. Ambitious initiatives and campaigns (Construction Declares, RIBA’s 2030 Climate Challenge, AIA’s Blueprint for Better), pioneering working groups (LETI), a breadth of webinars and online sessions (I particularly enjoyed the ‘Radical Rethink’ sessions by the Developer), the work of key bodies (Construction Leadership Council, Institute of Structural Engineers) are testament to that. As we come together from all over the world to discuss, debate and plan action, one gets the feeling that the industry is in the process of becoming a community united around a common purpose, a better future.


Let’s be pragmatic, but not cynical. Hopeful but not naïve. Join in, play your part. Call us if you fancy a chat.


Image reference: wording from 'AIA's Blueprint for Better campaign'

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