Dr Hossein Rezai, Serina Hijjas, Lee Chin Wei
FuturArc Editor-in-Chief Nirmal Kishnani spoke with three distinguished practitioners on the significance and potential impact of the movement in Asia.
Dr Hossein Rezai is the global design director of Ramboll, and the founding director of Web Structures and Web Earth. The latter is one of the cofounding signatories of the Singapore chapter, which was launched in early 2020.
Lee Chin Wei is a partner at Bioarchitecture Formosana (BaF), a firm based in Taipei. BaF is one of the founding signatories of the Taiwanese Architects Declare, which was launched a few months after Singapore’s.
Serina Hijjas is the director of Hijjas Kasturi Associates in Malaysia. She is one of the leading Green advocates in the country. Malaysia does not have a chapter for now, but is considering signing up.
CONSTRUCTION DECLARES is a global petition that seeks to unite professionals in construction and the built sector. It is both a public declaration of our planet’s environmental crises and a commitment to take positive actions in response to climate breakdown and biodiversity collapse. Originating in the United Kingdom in 2019, the movement now has two Asian countries that have signed up to the 11-point declaration, with some tweaks to the original clauses. A third signatory may come on board soon.
NK: Malaysia is not a signatory? Why?
SH: The question for us is that given there are so many other initiatives in this space, what will this Declaration achieve? What will it change? What impact has it had on Singapore, for instance?
HR: This started as a space where architects got together and declared aspirations. It describes the ambitions of a profession, through which they engage clients and fellow consultants. It is now adopted by engineers, and other consultants in the UK where it started. When you add up the numbers globally, we are talking about a million or so individuals who work in the companies that have made the declaration.
In Singapore, we have four professions and 54 signatories. This is a platform for engagement with the agenda of environment. That is how I define it for myself. It is highly democratic. Anyone can make his/her own declaration, based on your aspiration for your profession and country. It can be done at any level for which there is appetite, competence and urgency. It is highly flexible, which, I think, is the beauty of it.
In the past year, I have been lobbying a lot of people to sign on. Some say that it is too ambitious: “No point in making such a declaration if we do not have hard and fast rules to adhere to.” Others feel this is too little: “There are defined and quantifiable targets in other initiatives. Why should we join this and not the others?”
LCW: As signatories, we acknowledge the impact that architecture has on the planet, and we agree that, as a profession, we are part of the problem. This movement starts a conversation and creates awareness amongst like-minded people. It is not binding in that signatories are required to commit to 100 per cent of all clauses.
We start by looking at the level of effort each architect can make during design. Have they taken into consideration the carbon footprint? What about energy efficiency? This is more like a protocol, through which we create a mindset and understand our impact. This brings together Taiwanese architects. We talk to the Board of Architects in Taiwan and the Green Building Association in the hope of collaboration.
SH: This wider conversation is already taking place in the industry. I heard from a construction company on the stock exchange that they have to meet their ESG (Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance) index. This company is considering planting 1 million trees. I heard that another has developed an in-house carbon calculator. And so I like the idea, but it is not clear if every time we cut down a tree, if that will be deemed a problem. We do construction and it will have impact. Anything bigger than a house is going to have a big impact. How much do we commit? When is it too little? That is where I am coming from.
Commitments and signatories of the Singapore chapter can be viewed at several sites:
Singapore Architects Declare: sg.architectsdeclare.com
Singapore Environmental Consultants Declare: sg.environmentalconsultantsdeclare.com
Singapore Landscape Architects Declare: sg.landscapearchitectsdeclare.com
Singapore Structural Engineers Declare: sg.structuralengineersdeclare.com
Commitments and signatories of the Taiwan chapter can be viewed at tw.architectsdeclare.com.