World Architecture Day 2016: 'Design a Better World'

3 October 2016

From Antonio Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, to the rickety shed you helped your older sibling build when you were a kid, buildings  have a meaningful impact on our lives, and they come in all shapes, sizes and conditions. Whether grandiose or crumbling, ornate or humble, brick or glass: architecture is everywhere, and it guides our paths, captures our emotions , and shapes our general ‘being in the world’. Every single day.

Designing and planning  the use of space within a changing world, for individuals with all kinds of needs, is a challenging job, and one that is saluted annually on World Architecture Day. Inaugurated in 1985 by the International Union of Architects (UIA), which represents the world’s 1.3 million architects, the celebration is held on the first Monday of October, in alignment with the UN’s World Habitat Day.

This year, following the theme of ‘Design a Better World’, members and partners of the UIA have mobilised 3rd October 2016 to highlight the role that architects, and those in related professions, play in ensuring a better future for all people. In light of a growing range of global challenges faced, we asked some of our speakers to offer advice for how the industry should develop.

An architect's role is to choreograph space

“Architecture is the way we choreograph space so that we may dwell within our environment”, comments sustainability innovator and  keynote speaker  Rachel Armstrong“It’s the basis of how we relate to nature - and each other. The way that we think and work through architectural projects makes a big impact on the quality of our lives and the liveability of our habitats - architecture is at the heart of every society.”

Rachel, who was building tiny worlds in jam jars since the age of 5, originally studied medicine, and began to take an active interest in architecture as a way of “completing the Darwinian equation” for living. By this, she means a living interaction between the body and its environment: “I was curious to know how the two design and engineering disciplines [architecture and medicine] could work together to create new outcomes for a practice that one might better term ‘worlding’ - being in the world. Architecture and the processes of living is like having my own grown-up jam jar.”

Rachel Armstrong is a sustainability innovator

In further acknowledgement to the contribution of architecture to society, Roma Agrawal, a structural engineer who spent six years working on the Shard, states: “Engineering and architecture are vital parts of the UK economy and will shape the way we live now and in the future."

Based in London, Roma’s job is to make sure the city's inhabitants have places to live, work and get around.

"I love designing structures in London, there are such varying shapes on its skyline. It’s an exciting and challenging place to build in because there are train stations, tunnels, pipes, sewers, or historical structures say from the Roman times we must interface with. In my role as a structural engineer, I spent six years working on the Shard, designing the foundations and making the distinctive top. It’s a very rewarding experience to have contributed to London’s iconic skyline."

London - a captivating skyline of varying shapes

Architecture is a creative, well-paying and rewarding field, but one that has areas to build on. Since only 21% of architects in the UK are women, the profession is  limited in diversity , and one in five women worldwide say they would not encourage a woman to become one, according to the 2016 Women in Architecture Survey. We asked Roma, who supports the promotion of STEM subjects to under-represented groups, how this skills gap, and its associated attitudes, can be overcome going forward.

"Like my own field of structural engineering, the profession of architecture is heavily male-dominated but, given the same opportunities and support as men from an early age, women are just as likely to choose and flourish in this career. We need to break stereotypes for young women, showing them what these professions are really like, and the multiple career paths they can open, including designing the buildings that shape our world every day in powerful ways. We need to get it out there – talk to students, parents, teachers and corporations. This is vital for supporting young women, and the UK’s economy in general."

Structural engineer Roma Agrawal is proud of the Shard's spire

In a push to develop sustainable design solutions for an increasingly inhabited world, this year’s World Architecture Day emphasises that we need to thinking about climate change, fostering communities that are safe, equitable and productive, and generally looking for innovative ways to enhance the quality of life.

According to Roma: "In London, one of the big things we need to solve is the housing situation. One way to do this is to build more well-designed medium and high-rise buildings, and another is to develop ‘brown field’ or disused sites, near railways for example. It might be a cultural shift for us to embrace these ideas but we need to evolve and try new things to provide more housing. Everyone’s got their own views on how to develop the city but, at the end of the day, London is a vibrant city where people want to live and work. We need to provide solutions where we aren’t commuting for hours to get into work."

Rachel Armstrong, who speaks about fusing science, technology and the environment to challenge the principles of business worldwide, also promotes a drive for innovative designs in response to the issues faced.

“Sustainability means a lot of different things  to a lot of different people. For me, it’s about how we can turn around our modes of living and being so that we stand a chance for an ongoing presence and participation in the world as a species, and working alongside nature that enables that to happen."

Clever design solutions: how can we design a better world?

She continues: "I am interested in promoting the liveliness of the world in the way we think, design, engineer and value the places we inhabit. If combined, these ways of working and thinking enable us to prosper and live a good life together, then this is something that has a change of perpetuity."

Does that mean architects should be striving to build a utopia?

"Not exactly, I don’t think we will ever factor out difficulties of this world, but we need effective and humane ways of responding to our ongoing challenges, rather than hoping or pretending they’re not happening. How we actively live the world’s imperfections together and still find enchantment and flourishing within this story - that’s a sustainable way of living."

With its very real, practical implications for how we live, the fundamental role of architecture for developing and sustaining a good quality of life in the future is landmarked by World Architecture Day 2016. So next time you spot a grand structure in a park, walk up the steps to the front door of your home, or stroll into your office building, take a few seconds to absorb the moment. The structure before you was carefully designed by one or more architects, and its presence is shaping your world, even when you don't realise it.

Looking to book  Roma Agrawal ,  Rachel Armstrong , or other speakers in the fields of  design ,  sustainability , or  engineering ?

We represent a total of over 6000 speakers, with 1000 listed on our website. For more info., call us on +44 (0) 20 7607 7070 or email us at .

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