Art, Architecture and Design Education Declares: Response statement 2022

Building on over two years of progress against the Architecture Education Declares manifesto, we are widening our scope to include Art and Design, as well as Architecture, in our response to the climate and ecological emergency. We have relaunched our Art, Architecture and Design Education Declares (AADED) working group to include staff and students from across these subjects who are passionate about driving environmental change through our teaching and research programmes.

Our efforts are shaped by an industry-wide call to action among practitioners. In Art, and as a whole School of Art, Architecture and Design, we endorse the Culture Declares movement, which recognises the cultural sector as instrumental in creating a regenerative future. In Architecture, we support Architects Declare and Architects Climate Action Network, while in Design, we support both Fashion Declares and Interior Design Declares. We actively engage with this wider debate by collaborating, through teaching, research and events, with local makers and practitioners whose work embodies sustainability principles.

This practice-led momentum is necessarily influencing design education and young people are rightly demanding that it is reflected in their learning. In our Architecture courses, we are early adopters of new guidelines for sustainable-design teaching set by the Royal Institute of British Architects and Architects’ Registration Board. Such guidance at last formalises the prescient call to action of First Things First, which has set out ethical principles to be integrated in multidisciplinary design education since the 1960s. In other subjects, which lack external criteria, we are pioneering a similar best-practice approach.

As a School we have already introduced an annual tree-planting event, enabled by grants from the Woodland Trust, where all staff and students can plant a sapling to enhance biodiversity and air quality, and offset carbon emissions at Mudchute City Farm. In parallel, we encourage our students to calculate their own carbon footprint. Thus, as designers they take responsibility for their own ecological footprint before helping wider society to reduce its footprint through their practice. Our cross-school dissertation studios offer diverse environmental themes. These are echoed by postgraduate and staff research, nested in our Centre for Urban and Built Ecologies and Centre for Creative Arts, Cultures and Engagement, with projects exploring home-grown timber, urban nature and building sustainable communities highlighted in our Ecological Dialogues talks series.

In Art, we want our students to harness the unique power of the arts to highlight and provoke public debate around environmental issues. Our Fine Art students learn to make site-specific work that engages with local public spaces through an aesthetic, social and environmental lens. In Performance we advocate environmental consciousness, in terms of both the topics explored through theory and practice, and the modes in which productions are realised. Further, we encourage eco-criticism, eco-philosophy and nature writing through our Creative Writing courses.

In Architecture, we are conscious of the profound impact of climate change on how we design and shape our cities. We therefore ask our design studios to highlight environmental themes, from re-use to alternative living models to urban greening. We encourage critical approaches to sustainability through theoretical and professional studies; and equip students with technical knowledge in topics such as low-energy design, circular materials and biodiversity.

In Design, we are keen to address the issues of fast fashion, over-consumption of products and the environmental impact of textile manufacturing – and to advocate the potential of visual communication to convey vital environmental messages. Our Interior Design students focus on re-using existing buildings and explore innovative sustainable materials through their ‘science club’; our Textiles students complete an environmental impact assessment of their thesis project; and in Furniture and Product Design we champion the use of reclaimed, local and sustainable materials.

At University level, AADED’s work is supported by the Education for Sustainable Development initiative to embed environmental justice in the curriculum; the London Met Lab: Environment challenge to enable London’s environmental regeneration through collaboration with local partners; our ambitious Carbon and Environment Management Plan to achieve net zero carbon emissions across our estate by 2030; and our membership of the UK Universities Climate Network.

We will only add to these initiatives, as we believe that the solutions to the climate and ecological crisis are rooted in good application of the arts, and that climate-literate graduates are essential to realise them. We are confident that our high calibre of staff, students and visiting tutors from practice will continue to rise to this challenge.

This statement will be launched at Ecological Dialogues: Perspectives on Art, Architecture and Design Education Declares event

Find out more

To find out more about Art, Architecture and Design Education Declares, please get in touch with Siân Moxon.