The international educational sector meets at the “UNCERTAINTY 2019″ conference to take on climate change from an architectural perspective

"Tulane School of Architecture; student working on a project"

Tulane School of Architecture; student working on a project

The Tulane School of Architecture (New Orleans, EEUU) will be the epicenter of one of the most important debates of this year: How should architecture and architectural education respond to the issues presented by climate change?

The conference is organized by ACSA (Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture) and brings together international leaders in the education sector to discuss the role of schools and their social responsibility. 

Guest speakers include: architect Iñaki Alday (Dean of Tulane School of Architecture); urbanist Karen Seto (Professor at Yale University); and architect Richard Sommer (Professor at University of Toronto).

If there is one certainty that we can universally count on, it is the increasing UNCERTAINTY brought about by climate change. The field of Architecture has been responding to the alarm bells by folding new content into education, pushing for standards in the profession and introducing new sustainability initiatives; however neither the profession, nor academia have yet addressed their role effectively.

How will architecture deal with critical threats to human inhabitation? What responsibility does academia have to the greater public? The Tulane School of Architecture will host the 2019 ACSA Administrators Conference, themed “UNCERTAINTY” on November 7-9, giving voice to this important debate. The programme includes walking tours of various New Orleans neighbourhoods, to contextualize the complex social and ecological challenges the city faces.

The event will bring together key personalities from the international education, social and architecture sectors, including architect Iñaki Alday (Dean of Tulane School of Architecture), urbanist Karen Seto (Professor at Yale University), architect Richard Sommer, (Professor at University of Toronto), architect Pankaj Vir Gupta (Professor at University of Virginia) and politician Mitch Landrieu (former Mayor, City of New Orleans), amongst others.

The Tulane School of Architecture, which has long been a centre for the study of sustainable architectural development, recently launched new Research Studios to focus on architecture’s capacity to address problems such as natural disasters, sustainable urban development and equitable access to housing.

Critical threats to human inhabitation that architecture must face

Climate change brings a series of dangers that we must confront as a species, absence and excess of water being amongst the most challenging: we will suffer water’s excess in the form of floods and rising sea levels; but we will also suffer its absence through drought.  The dual threats posed by water will act as the backdrop to this conference.

"New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina"

View of flooded New Orleans, Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Source: NOAA Aircraft Operations Center.

The way we build and inhabit the planet must change to adapt to these imminent changes. Architecture, more than ever, must be placed at the service of citizens to face this new crisis. Innovation and technology will play a key role in the way architecture can integrate the design of buildings into their aquatic surroundings. From floating projects to rainwater recovery urban systems, all will be part of a new era for architecture.

Education embracing social responsibility and research mission

The conference will discuss the role of architecture schools in creating real social change, addressing questions related to its pedagogy, its research mission and its social and political impact. We need to prepare future architects for critically confronting the challenges faced by society today. In this sense, schools and universities need to explore the relationship between knowledge and power, moving beyond the teacher-student model and being involved in the creation of long-term solutions.

Promoting interdisciplinary research in universities is necessary and urgent to help uncover new ways of dealing with problems, such as lack or excess water and natural disasters caused by climate change. However, as universities increasingly reach across disciplines to address “grand challenges” and cluster together proposals to seek substantial funding, they have still not played as substantial a role as their expertise should bring to bear. How can academia position its work vis-à-vis larger agendas to make knowledge production relevant?

Another grand challenge of the architecture schools is to take a leadership role in changing the direction of the world. The socio-political impact of architectural production is rarely planned nor systematically assessed. The consequences of this disengagement range from the lack of progress in stemming some of the most critical issues facing our society, to our outright contribution to creating these crises. The next generation of architects will have to rethink the discipline and the products used for building. Schools, as educators of future professionals, need to push for new standards and new initiatives.

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