The Architecture of Emergency

How should architecture and urban practice change in the face of a climate and ecological emergency? This summit calls together designers, activists and citizens to collectively consider the path ahead.


07:00pm, Thursday, 19 September 2019


10:00pm, Thursday, 19 September 2019

Barbican Theatre

This is a past event

Around the world campaigners, cities, institutions and governments are declaring a state of emergency in response to accelerating global heating. In this unprecedented moment, an acute question for architects and urban practitioners is cast into relief: how should architecture respond to a time of climate and ecological emergency?

The conventions of much contemporary architecture are fundamentally at odds with planetary limits, reliant upon a paradigm of material extraction and constant emissions. Yet, the government estimates that construction accounts for almost 47% of total UK emissions. Architecture’s potential to lead the fight against global warming is matched only by its failure to do so. This summit calls upon urban practitioners of all backgrounds to come together to urgently discuss radical proposals to reform the construction and design of buildings in the face of climate change.

What shall we build from when it is no longer possible to justify the embodied carbon of a building’s construction by offsetting its impact over decades of use? How can infrastructure and planning strategies drive the transition to a circular economy? What new environmental architecture can express the civic character needed to galvanise the public imagination, popular support and political leadership required to be wholly embraced by society? How can urban practitioners collectively push for higher government standards and regulations? What is the architect's role in reshaping culture in the face of environmental planetary limits?



Maria Smith

Maria is an architect and engineer. She is founder of the transdisciplinary practice Interrobang and a Chief Curator of the 2019 Oslo Architecture Triennale which is exploring the architecture of degrowth in response to runaway climate change.

Danielle Paffard

Danielle is a campaigner with Greenpeace. She was part of the Heathrow 13, a group of anti-aviation activists who were found guilty of aggravated trespass in 2015 after blockading a runway at Heathrow to protest against airport expansion.

Steve Tompkins

Steve is founding director of architecture firm Haworth Tompkins and this year was named the most influential figure in British theatre by Stage magazine. He was instrumental in launching Architects Declare, a coalition of 500 design practices to collectively declare a climate and biodiversity emergency.


Rotor are a design and research co-operative based in Belgium. Alongside curatorial and teaching work, they run a deconstruction agency which aims to enable the reuse of building components.

Adrian Lahoud

Adrian is dean of the school of architecture at the Royal College of Art and curator of the 2019 Sharjah Architecture Triennale which is exploring the rights of future generations — a question with implicitly ecological dimensions. His long-term academic research revolves around the architecture of the global south and climate change.

Extinction Rebellion

Exticition Rebellion are an activist movement who use nonviolent direct action to protest against climate breakdown and ecological collapse. In April this year they organised an unprecedented mass occupation of a number of key sites in London catapulting global heating onto the front page for days leading to a cascade of politicians and organisations declaring a state of emergency.

Michael Ramage

Michael leads the Centre for Natural Material Innovation at Cambridge University. His current research is focused on developing low-energy structural materials and systems in masonry, better housing in the developing world and improved engineered timber and bamboo through natural material innovation.

Guy Shrubsole

Guy works as a campaigner for Friends of the Earth and has written for numerous publications including the Guardian and New Statesman. Who Owns England?: How We Lost Our Green and Pleasant Land, and How to Take It Back is his first book examining the troubling state of private property in the UK.

Monica von Schmalensee 

Monica architect and senior partner at White Arkitekter as well as a strategic advisor for the Swedish government as Deputy National Architect and President at the Council of  Sustainable Cities.

BC Architects and Studies

BC Architects and Studies are a pioneering Brussels-based architectural co-operative exploring renovation and natural building materials. Their parallel research arm investigates social, material and architectural innovation.



Media Partner: Dezeen

Image: Inspired by Superstudio's 1972 depiction of a flooded Florence, Alberta Lauridsen's illustration depicts a catastrophic future for London that some have warned is less than a century away at current rates of climate change.

This event forms part of Architecture on Stage, a series of talks programmed by the Architecture Foundation in partnership with the Barbican Centre.