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Chris Stewart

Collective Architecture's Chris Stewart discusses his overlapping roles as architect and member of the Scottish Ecological Design Association in promoting green design to a wider audience.

COP26 Day Five

November 6th, 2021

Following in the footsteps of Greta Thunberg, I made my way to COP 26. Sounds impressive, but in reality I was just late for the march, and they had all gone. Seriously gone, the only signs that 20,000 Friday Futures activists had travelled through the area where some returning children with placards, and a lot of bikes chained up on the Kelvingrove fences. Sad that yet again I had missed the action I trudged down to COP26.

Cheered up by the camaraderie and enthusiasm of my fellow RIAS delegates, we sat down to a Nordic Pavilion discussion about the dual crisis of biodiversity and energy. It was fascinating to see how just 30 mins of discussion opened the opportunity to map the best locations to generate wind power both on the land and the sea could be integrated with a complimentary mapping of biodiversity. The dual urgent need to massively increase renewable energy can therefore be carried out with minimal disruption to our eco systems. Mapping and multi-disciplinary working are familiar to architects, and the immediate metaphors to our own workplace was striking. We chatted like mad through our masks as we wandered around the maze of stalls, why is everything we do so linear and confrontational.

Today we delved deeper into the COP underbelly and sat through some of the formal process, difficult to follow and highly procedural we persevered, if not just to understand how a meeting of 200 countries function, and how difficult it could be to come to an agreement. This contrasted with how a small panel of four could brainstorm an idea only to face a torturous route to reality. Are politicians the log jam, with this thought in our heads it was interesting to listen into a discussion organised by ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability), a circular economy debate between like-minded cities and how grassroot initiatives should be at the fore front of mainstream development. Heartening to see Glasgow lead this initiative, and I for one will do all I can to both help our dear green place and hold them / us to our commitments.

Time had come for my RIAS pals to catch their trains back to their cities, one last detour  to take in The Sustainable Glasgow Landing. Always a hive of activity with vertical gardens, a Beyond Zero Home and today a series of Brazilian films highlighting their threatened culture and environment. We made the train and I waved of my friends, to what is likely to be my last day at the official COP, we hand over the batten to a fresh crew next week.

It has been a fascinating week although I somehow have felt more detached within the COP26 circus tent, than outside. It has been a joy to meet up with my RIAS comrades on a daily basis and discuss what we can do. The issues are vast however we can all make a difference; our job will be to continue in a field which is far from without significance. Next step for me, today I am off to join the COP26 Coalition March from Kelvingrove Park, take a turn at the GIA COP26 Shop, then catch up on what I have missed.

 

The Sustainable Glasgow Landing https://www.thesustainableglasgowlanding.com/events

IGS Vertical Farm  https://www.intelligentgrowthsolutions.com/cop26

Beyond Zero Homes  www.beyondzerohomes.co.uk 

RIAS Inspiring Futures https://riasinspiringfutures.com

COP26 Day Four

November 4th, 2021

Finding it hard to face being locked in a windowless COP campus for a third day in a row, I thought I would venture out into the Fringes. The weather is fine and there is so much happening, a glance at the climate fringe calendar tells me there is something for everyone. I decided to head for East Glasgow and the Many Studios, the GIA Cop Shop and ACAN’s exhibition at the New Glasgow Society Gallery.

First stop the Many Studios, an independent organisation who run a creative hub and workplace at Ross Street in the Glasgow Barras and home to several ACAN COP26 events. Yesterday saw ‘Replicating Retrofit’, a locally driven retrofit movement; this evening we have ‘Cop or Flop’ a cabaret style evening of stand up comedy, roasting the state of the built environment. This afternoon however I sat down to a joint ACAN / SEDA event ‘Zero Carbon Homes: How can they be healthy too’. A fascinating debate around air quality and its impact on architecture.

Nearby on the High Street in an ecological shop front face off, the Glasgow Institute of Architects (GIA) COP shop and the New Glasgow Society Gallery stare across at each other. The GlA 'pop up' COP Shop at 274 High Street will be open for a fortnight to raise awareness about the impact that climate change will have on Glasgow, why we must all work together to combat it, and the role architecture plays in our environment. Across the road, the New Glasgow Society play host to the Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN) exhibition, Architecture of Crisis: Hopes and Visions in two parts. The first part will run from the 27thOctober to the 13th November and explain the work of ACAN. While from the 14th November until the 21st November, once cop has run its course, the exhibition will demonstrate a vision for a post COP26 world.

Back to formal COP26 duties tomorrow but I would recommend to everyone, please get involved, all the great events and exhibitions are not just fascinating, they could make all the difference.

 

COP26 Climate Fringe Events Calendar -  https://climatefringe.org/events-calendar-all/

ACAN COP25 events -  https://www.architectscan.org/cop26

Glasgow Institute of Architects - https://gia.org.uk

SEDA events - https://www.seda.uk.net/events

New Glasgow Society - https://www.newglasgowsociety.org

COP26 Day Three

November 4th, 2021

Groundhog Day, ten to the right, ten to the left, wait a bit, negative. Covid test, passport, and delegate letter in hand, I was berated by the stewards for bringing to much proof of existence, my UN blue lanyard was all that is required to enter sustainable heaven. Through the pearly gates I floated around the blue zone dragged down by the guilt of privilege.

A day of mixed emotions panned out ahead, unsure about what the ‘high heid yins’ were agreeing, I clocked in with my RIAS pals. Finance was the theme of the day; however, Peatlands was a hot topic of debate. Avoiding the nature tent, which was mobbed by homo sapiens desperate to pay homage to Mr Attenborough, I made for what has become my favourite watering hole, the Cryosphere Pavilion. A spot brimming with science, and I wallowed in a talk from the Peatlands and Land Quality Unit, to discover our Scottish Bog and Peatlands rival the Amazon Rainforest as a carbon sink and there is much we can protect, restore, and increase.

The next hour I spent dipping in and out of pavilions and talks ranging from African finance to Dutch rising sea wall technology, which having moved on from the thumb in the dike, to world leading engineering cannot cope with a rise greater than one meter (a real possibility) and are planning a move to Germany. Thinking about calling it a day I stumbled across some architecture at the Nordic Pavilion. A young Danish architect, an old Danish architect, a young observer and the elderly president of the U.I.A. we’re having a chat which summed up my day. On one half of the platform the two younger panellists shone with forward thinking ideas centred around collaboration, reuse of structure and net gain architecture while the other side dwelled on, can architects save the world, will we miss iconic buildings, are we supermen or even god. To be fair I think there was an element of provocation and the president of the U.I.A. made some very good points, however I left with the feeling that the era of the starchitect was still alive and kicking, or at least through their Ann Rand designer lens.

My day flitted from darkness to light and back again however I chose to leave with the brighter, youthful thoughts of a net gain architecture, in my head.  There is though still time for the darkness to return, I know not what happened in the ‘high heid yin’ tent apart from Biden has gone home and everything seems to have been agreed up front. I might just leave the telly switched off.

 

COP26 Day Two

November 3rd, 2021

Early rise to stick a swab up my nose, ten to the right, ten to the left, wait a bit, negative. Covid Test, passport, and delegate letter in hand, I walked the high road to COP (low road blocked by Polis), joined the queue and voila, I was now a formal RIAS COP26 Observer, pretentious moi.

Chest puffed out, my plastic ID dangled from my UN blue lanyard and I strutted around totally lost. I managed to figure out where I stood when I saw the Rolling Stones ten years ago and indeed where I got my vaccinations 10 weeks ago but ended up walking around the big world hanging from the ceiling, photo bombing interviews. I had better call my RIAS pal Mhairi, who being a seasoned campaigner (was here on Day One) could take me under her wing.

Mhairi saved me from the exhaustion of circumnavigating the globe once too often and we glided off to the Blue Zone. Hundreds of stands, exhibitions and talks filled our senses and we flapped around picking up snippets about biodiversity, water management and the flow country. Finally, we perched ourselves in the Nordic Stand to feast on a most excellent discussion between Scotland, Norway and Denmark about their different approaches to 20-minute neighbourhoods and the Place Standard through a climate lens. Suitably stuffed it was time to leave.

The sun was setting as we rotated our way through the gates while a vast array of activists filled the squinty bridge held back by the high vis polis. A chopper hovered above, and we somehow felt on the wrong side of the wire. We consoled each other with determined discussion about what we would do to help our own architectural bubble. Mhairi headed off to the opening of ACAN’s ‘Architecture of Crisis: Hopes + Vision’ exhibition at the New Glasgow Society Gallery in High Street. While I settled down to catch the tail end of Chris Leslie’s wonderful film ‘Disappearing Glasgow’ and his discussion with our own Jude Barber at the ‘The Sustainable Glasgow Landing’ by New Practice.

Loads happening, find out about them all at  https://climatefringe.org/events-calendar-all/  More information about the events and activities described above please see below:

Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) Inspiring Futures website including COP26 activities   https://riasinspiringfutures.com

Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN) COP26 events https://www.architectscan.org/events

The Sustainable Glasgow Landing   https://www.thesustainableglasgowlanding.com

 

 

COP26 Day One

November 1st, 2021

Feeling a bit embarrassed by my efforts on Day Zero, I decided to redouble them for Day One. Rising early, I discovered that the Red Rebel Brigade were catching a train from Bristol to Glasgow Central this very afternoon. If they can manage that, I think I can manage the four stops from Partick. They did not disappoint, in a bizarre ritual they paraded around the railway station dressed in red satin depicting the lifeblood that connects all species and makes us one. Forgiveness, compassion and understanding they bear witness to the climate and ecological emergency. My growing thirst needed quenched, and I set of for more.

There was certainly plenty to be had, French and Tamil groups gathered in South Glasgow; the Rainbow Warrior sailed up the Clyde carrying young activists from Mexico, Uganda, Bangladesh and Namibia; while Greta and the ‘Fridays for Futures’ gathered next to the Cop campus. I missed all of these. But sensing some action I followed a crowd into Kelvingrove Park as the sun set and the helicopters hovered above. Dark it was and everyone seemed to have a torch except me, determined I clambered on. After a few wrong turns I managed to catch the last speaker ‘take care everyone, and do not travel back on your own through the park’.

Tomorrow is another day, I thought as I ran at great speed towards the park gates.  As promised to the Red Rebel Brigade, I ask will you stand with us and please contact Alok Sharma, COP26 President, to tell him why we need urgent and drastic change. Tweet @AlokSharma_RDG or email alok.sharma.mp@parliment.uk