With the UAE hosting the Climate Change ‘Conference of the Parties’ (COP28) in Abu Dhabi in November 2023 we, as architects, are reminded of the impact our trade has on the environment.  The rapid development and population growth of the region has put enormous pressure on the prevalent linear economic model of take, make, use, waste, leading many countries to place sustainability at the heart of their strategic business objectives.

Taking steps to protect the environment is a responsibility that belongs to us all and encouraging young people of all ages to develop the knowledge and skills as ambassadors and custodians of our planet is, therefore, vital.

I was recently invited to a workshop organised by Class Of Your Own (COYO) at Fairgreen International School along with Heriot Watt where the students were tasked with designing a building that would meet a need in their community; anything from a library to a wellness centre and labour housing.  One of the key concerns they needed to address was to, not only create a building in accordance with its design but also comply with environmental requirements in a respectful way.

What we build, how we build, and, more importantly, why we build, are key questions we need to keep asking ourselves as designers.  Questions such as ‘will it serve a purpose in the community, what will its impact be on the environment, and what is the footprint that we leave on the climate?’ are key constructs we need to explore with our designs.

Reviewing the students’ work at the end of the workshop to provide feedback on their projects and listen to their responses was both fascinating and illuminating and gave a refreshing insight into how they tackled this exercise.

These were not architectural students, yet their understanding of some of the basics regarding sun paths, the different ways their building operates, and the requirements of that building was refreshingly insightful. So too was their comprehension of the importance of natural light and greenery as evidenced in their designs. Many said they believed their design served a need in the community and they wanted to explore how they could design a building that would meet this need and how it could be done as sustainably as possible.

Initiatives like this are a great way to educate the younger generation on the importance of the impact of their actions on the environment through understanding basic building materials and sustainable practices during the design and construction of a building.