This event took place online on 22 September 2020 in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis. An international audience gathered with a panel with representatives from three different continents to hear a discussion about the connection between housing and environmental justice.
We have decided to publish the recording of the event almost in full. Many who wanted to attend were unable to and it also repays revisiting the rich discussion generated by a diverse panel. We have also included the transcript of the ‘chat’ that took place as this was a very rich exchange of views.
The Conversation was chaired by co-chairs Sandile Mbatha in South Africa, and Kathleen Hetrick in Los Angeles, USA. Each had participated in the previous conversation on cities and health and wished to explore the issues raised further. For Sandile the problems associated with delivering mass housing without adequate regard for wider concerns than basic shelter needed to be explored – is understanding the climate change problems of the global North a key to unlocking better quality environments in the South? Kathleen was broadcasting from a City beset by the impact of fires that were rampant at the time of the conversation. Climate change was very close to home and the opportunity to explore common ground around the topic was given greater urgency by this situation.
Debra Roberts opens the panel presentations with a scientific perspective as a member of the IPCC who set the “still very dangerous” target of 1.5 degrees of global warming. In her view “low carbon housing is and end of the pipeline solution” where we should be looking at things systemically from a broader perspective. Nevertheless she does concede that to reach the required emissions targets all new build homes should be zero carbon by 2020 (and it is unlikely to be achieved as it is already September of that year!). The changes which should also encompass environmental justice and link back to the threatened biosphere need to be rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented need to “turn the global economic development system on its head”.
Elanor Warwick provides a telling analysis of a UK housing system that also need to be ‘turned on its head’ if it is to deliver genuine long-term low carbon housing. She highlights that some commentators reckon that the UK has enough housing for its population – they are just unfairly distributed. Add to that the little-understood concept of total cost to occupy alongside an inability to get to grips with repair and retrofit and the sub-systemic crisis of UK housing seems very deep. In contrast global solutions do seem to be optimistically possible if we start small and build robust, resilient and replicable solutions committed to the needs of the locality. This she compares to the 5-point mantra taken by the developers of vaccines in response COVID-19 at the heart of which is the need for collaboration.
Peter Head left mainstream engineering to deliver low carbon development through a charitable foundation. He also believes in a collaborative systems approach joyfully illustrated by a kerosene to pv lighting project in Bangladesh. Systems involve communities – the basic village building block – energy generation and storage, water provision and disposal and surrounding ecology. In 2030 it is estimated that an additional 2 billion people will need access to affordable homes globally so “big systems” of collaboration will be needed to deliver these. The knowledge base for this global collaborative approach includes the rather intriguing activity of “training a machine” to provide the AI driver behind understanding the human/ecological impacts.
Matthias Schuler provides an engineering response. There is little technology transfer from his work on some of the world’s most advanced low energy buildings that can be applied to low carbon housing in developing countries. Nevertheless the engineer can bring appropriate problem-solving thinking that is also climate responsive to address their needs. He illustrates these through projects his firm has worked on in Syria and Ghana. Sharing knowledge on a wider basis through an Academy is one of the keystones of this work.
Melissa Daniel takes the conversation in a related but different direction. She sees a continuity with the past rather than framing the problem in ‘new thinking’. She provides a historical example from her own city and very personal understanding of the block where she grew up. “We have been there before” is her observation on the ambitious low-carbon refurbishment projects in Washington DC. Learn through historical examination and personal narratives if we are not going to repeat the mistakes of the past. In this regard the contribution of the community elders is a key engagement – a theme that continued to be referenced throughout the subsequent conversation.
The audience discussion picked up on a number of themes: the importance of ecological as well as carbon footprint and how to get the former on the political agenda. The key issue of land-ownership: long term stewardship of land and places as opposed to short-term land speculation. Appropriate high and medium-tech vs “old tech”. The problem of complexity of regulations and supply chain that is inhibiting the self-build philosophy.
Perhaps the greatest quandary for developing nations is to find a balance between the growth of cities, the technical and resource requirements for low carbon housing and the development of skills of local people to participate – maybe with traditional knowledge allied to new technologies. There was even discussion of more built environment professionals becoming politicians!
In conclusion, a very rich and collaborative Conversation where many new relationships were formed, underlining the need for knowledge exchange on a global scale.
With thanks to all who took part, in particular our panel.
From top left to bottom right: Debora Roberts, Peter Head, Matthias Schuler,
Elanor Warwick, Sandile Mbatha (co-chair), Melissa Daniel, Kathleen Hetrick (co-chair).
Sandile Mbatha (co-chair)
Dr Sandile Mbatha is the Senior Manager at Research and Policy Advocacy Department (RAPA) in eThekwini Municipality where he supports evidence-based policy development process through citywide research and strategic planning. He is a former Director and founder of Ulwazi NS Research Consulting, an organisation focused on human-centric solutions to human settlements; informal land markets; urban planning; local economic development; water; food and energy issues in urban and peri-urban contexts. He holds a PhD in Architecture and Town Planning from the University of Stuttgart, with a focus on informal transactions in low income housing in South Africa. He has also participated in various urban development programmes aimed at fostering development partnerships between the municipality and communities, particularly conducting research on urban renewal and driving stakeholder coordination and engagement.
He has vast experience as consultant across various sectors. His key clients included UN Habitat and UK FCO Future Cities Programme as well as the eThekwini Municipality. He is also a 2017/18 fellow for the Academy for African Urban Diversity, a joint project of the African Centre for Migration and Society at the University of Witwatersrand, the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town, and the Department of Socio-Cultural Diversity at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity. He has worked at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, as a lecturer at the School of Built Environment and Development Studies where he taught Advanced Housing Policy and Finance; Advanced Housing Theory and Practice; Human Habitat and Housing Implementation. He continues to serve as external examiner for postgraduate projects for the same school. He has been co-investigator and principal investigator in both nationally and internationally funded research projects.
Kathleen Hetrick (co-chair)
Kathleen is part of Buro Happold’s sustainability and physics team and combines her passion for human-focused sustainable design with a technical background in mechanical engineering. She has experience in a wide range of cutting-edge projects across all scales of work including multiple LEED platinum projects, Living Building Challenge projects, historical adaptive reuse, LEED Neighborhood Developments, and city and campus sustainability plans.
Her most recent project work includes coordinating the Living Building Challenge process for the Santa Monica City Services Building, as well as leading the LEED v4 and WELL v1 certification of one of the largest mixed-use redevelopments in downtown Detroit.
Kathleen recently led the WELL certification process for the Buro Happold Los Angeles Office, following the LEED v4 Gold Certification of the office space through her role as the Buro Happold West Coast Environmental Coordinator.
Her experience with the Living Building Challenge Material Red List requirements has prompted her to spark a firm-wide effort to identify and reduce the most harmful chemicals within the MEP scope of work, and fuels her passion for improving the health aspects of sustainable materials on all of her projects.
She is also the current Co-Facilitator of Buro Happold’s Diversity and Inclusion Forum, spearheading outreach initiatives to encourage local K-12 students to pursue sustainability- focused careers in STEAM through mentoring, design competitions and paid high school internships
Dr. Debra Roberts is head of the Sustainable and Resilient City Initiatives Unit in eThekwini Municipality (Durban, South Africa). She was a lead author of Chapter 8 (Urban Areas) and a contributing author to Chapter 12 (Africa) of Working Group II’s contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). She was elected as Co-Chair of Working Group II for the IPCC’s sixth assessment cycle in 2015. Dr. Roberts is an Honorary Professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in the School of Life Sciences and has been an advisor to the Global Commission on Adaptation, United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) and the United Nations Secretary General’s 2019 Climate Summit. In 2019 she was included in a list of the World’s 100 Most Influential People in Climate Policy.”
Melissa R. Daniel is an architectural designer in Washington D.C., and the creator and host of the Architecture is Political, a podcast where Black and Brown folks have a conversation about architecture. She served as executive co-chair of the 2017 AIA Women’s Leadership Summit, and was a recipient of a 2018 AIA Associates Award.
Dr Elanor Warwick career’s has spanned architecture, urban design, academic and operational research, aiming to shape national policy and embed good practice. She is Head of Strategic Policy and Research for Clarion Housing Group, one of England’s largest Housing Associations. Previously Head of Research at CABE, she managing a diverse research programme across all sectors of the built environment and design process. Her research interests and publications cover estate regeneration, housing quality, new towns, Lifetime Neighbourhoods and measuring intangibles such as design, wellbeing and social value. She is a postgrad supervisor at UCL and Cambridge University, currently teaching housing to planners. Elanor is a member of the Edge, the Academy of Urbanism, a Design Council Built Environment Expert and an Urbanista.
Matthias Schuler is one of the managing directors of TRANSSOLAR Energietechnik in Stuttgart. Born 1958 he is educated as a mechanical engineer at University Stuttgart. In 1992 he founded the company TRANSSOLAR Climate Engineering in Stuttgart. TRANSSOLAR’S focus is on new energy saving and comfort optimizing strategies by an integral approach for buildings and urban design.
Nowadays – with 75 employees in Stuttgart, Munich, Paris and New York – Matthias Schuler works on national and international projects with architects like SANAA, Frank O. Gehry, Steven Holl, Peter Zumthor and Renzo Piano. Since 2001 teaching as a visiting professor at the Graduated School of Design, Harvard University, he was there Professor in Practice on Environmental Technologies 2008 till 2014.
Aside of building projects Matthias Schuler has realized different “cloud” installations applying the knowledge on physics to realize indoor experiencable clouds, like the “Cloudscapes” at the 2010 Venice Biennale, which was realized with a sky ramp in close collaboration with the architect Tetsuo Kondo. In 2016 Transsolar was again invited to join the Biennale in Venice and realized in collaboration with the architect Anja Thierfelder with “Lightscapes” a strong statement for the strength and beauty of local identity.
Peter Head is Chair of the Swansea University SUNRISE advisory board. Peter is a civil and structural engineer who has become a recognised world leader in major bridges (he received an OBE for successfully delivering the Second Severn Crossing as Government Agent), advanced composite technology and now in sustainable development in cities and regions. He has won many awards for his work including the Award of Merit of IABSE, the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Silver Medal and the Prince Philip Award for Polymers in the Service of Mankind.
He joined Arup in 2004 to create and lead their planning and integrated urbanism team which by 2011 had doubled in size. He directed work on the Dongtan Eco City Planning project which was voted by Chinese developers in 2005 as the most influential development project in China.
In July 2008 he was awarded an honorary doctorate in engineering at Bristol University, where he is a visiting Professor in Sustainable Systems Engineering.
In May 2011 he was appointed as a visiting professor in eco-cities at Westminster University. In 2009 he was awarded the Sir Frank Whittle medal of the Royal Academy of Engineering for a lifetime contribution to the well-being of the nation through environmental innovation.
He established the Ecological Sequestration Trust in 2011.
He was cited by Time magazine in 2008 as one of 30 global eco-heroes and has been one of CNN’s Principle Voices.
In 2011 he was awarded the CBE in the New Year’s Honours List for services to Civil Engineering and the Environment.
Awarded the CEMEX global lifetime achievement award in 2016.