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January 2012, 1379. Volume CCXXXI

Catherine Slessor

In response to the current global crises, the AR launches an ambitious new campaign to rethink architecture. Read this issue here

New year, new resolutions. But the AR has a New Year’s resolution that we trust won’t wear off by the end of January, like a failed detox regime. Sustaining the impetus of last year’s relaunch and expanding the new editorial agenda of critical thinking for critical times, this month the AR launches The Big Rethink: Towards a Complete Architecture. In response to the current global ecological and economic crises, this seems a timely moment to reconsider all aspects of architecture and catalyse new cultural and intellectual approaches to issues of sustainability, urbanism and education.

Over the next 12 months, the AR will publish essays on various topics of critical concern with the aim of stimulating new thinking and combative debate. No other architectural publication is attempting anything similar. To open the pages of our competitors is to get no sense that this is a pivotal moment for architecture and architects.

The AR has a distinguished history of campaigning. Though largely confined to the UK, the Townscape, Outrage and Manplan campaigns of the 1950s and ’60s radically changed how people viewed their surroundings and environment. The challenges of the current era require a more globally focused approach, but this should not lose sight of the fundamental relationship between humankind and nature, a precarious symbiosis that is slowly being degraded and debased by insistent pressures. As another year begins, there is a clear and renewed sense of urgency. At the end of last year, global climate change talks petered out in yet another inclusive procrastination, moving the world that bit closer to the incremental tipping point of climate catastrophe.

Buildings account for nearly half the greenhouse gas emissions so architects, as makers of buildings, have an obvious practical and political role to play in shaping responses to global environmental concerns. At their best, they have the potential to be ‘agents of change’, driving agendas, educating clients, badgering manufacturers and generally doing good. Yet perhaps understandably, given the present economic circumstances coupled with an unsettling marginalisation of status, the instinct of many is to retreat into a narrow professional cocoon.

Paradoxically, emissions quotas, targets and the general mechanics of quantifying performance have served to narrow the frame of reference for sustainability, so that this is now seen as a tiresome box to be ticked, rather than an ecompassing and responsive philosophy that can touch every aspect of human existence. Beyond the design of high-performance building envelopes, architects also shape place and space, connecting with deeper cultural and historic resonances. In these oppressive times, we need to rediscover and renew that essential spirit and the Big Rethink is the first step on that path. On the way, we hope that you will make your voices heard and join what promises to be an enthralling and world-changing conversation.

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