Architect, Activist & Author

Nick Newman

Climate activist and Director of award-winning architecture practice Studio Bark tells us why his new book on architecture and the climate emergency is not just for architects.

Future Nature — Nick Newman

Photo credit: Jorn Tomter / @jorntomter / @ilovechatsworthroad 

Design Studio Vol. 1: Everything Needs to Change: Architecture and the Climate Emergency: 2021 is published by RIBA books, released April 2021.

Co-authors Nick Newman and Sofie Pelsmakers are channelling the message of Greta Thunberg to inspire, enthuse and inform the next generation of architects.

What inspired the book and the collaboration with Sofie?

Sofie was my tutor at University of East London. She’s been a mentor to me and some of the others at Studio Bark, really a key figure in us all coming together. I also did some research for Sofie’s book The Environmental Pocket Guide (the green version of the little blue book all architects carry around). She’s written several things as an academic, while we were busy with practical architectural projects and I got involved with activism through Extinction Rebellion (XR). When the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) were looking to do something on architecture and the climate emergency, our combined experience was the right fit for the project.

What’s relevant about the timing of the release?

When we started doing this book it was early 2020 and Greta Thunberg, XR, David Attenborough (and others!) were pushing the climate agenda; there was a real buzz around it. Then the RIBA declared a climate emergency, and there was desire to create more content and understanding about the role of architecture in all this. That led to the creation of the Design Studio series which pulled all the current industry thinking together.

Then the pandemic hit, compounding everything, and we had the opportunity to hold off the book’s release until this Spring 2021 which couldn’t have been a better time in the context of ‘build back better’.

What is this book doing differently?

It urges readers to radically rethink what it means to be an architect in an era of climate crisis, and what the role of the architect is or can be. Books on sustainability have been around for years, but no one’s probed the next conversations head on, like what about civilisation collapse and how does that relate to architecture?

Future Nature — Nick Newman

Are there any design projects or leading voices that really stand out?

There are so many good people involved. Groups like Al Borde and raumlabor really inspired me; they’re doing lots of interesting participation architecture, getting involved at grass roots level to make change in the community. Then there’s the unfathomable scale of Kongjian Yu in China who works on a huge regional scale enriching the biodiversity of an entire city area through solving systemic problems like drainage and waste. 

I also got the opportunity to speak to leading architects like Dorte Mandrup and Mikhail Riches about some of their views. The latter have said they are no longer going to work on projects that are ‘bad’ or that don’t meet their standards. For me that’s a real tipping point, when the professionals turn around and say no, we’re not doing it.

Is the book just for architects? Who needs to read this?

Architects and architect aficionados will be picking it up in the RIBA bookshop but I hope that it travels through the design community to reach others unaware of what’s happening in architecture right now. I’d really like to be able to build cross-platform and cross-discipline conversations through the book, connecting it as one strand of the bigger picture to climate solutions and the circular economy.

What do you hope the legacy of this book will be? 

On a professional level, I hope it starts to add to a growing body of work. For it to show architecture can become more than a discipline, and help set the tone for the next decade and what we need to do.  I hope people will start referring to this and start updating their old sustainability books or writing new ones. 

On a personal level it will continue to give me a reason to chat to other interesting people in connected fields. Sometimes people don’t talk to you until you’ve written something! 

Find out more and buy a copy of the book here.

Future Nature — Nick Newman