architecture development equality

The San Marino Declaration for sustainable architecture

This week one of the more obscure UN bodies has been meeting in San Marino, the mini-republic located entirely within Italy. I speak of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s Committee on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management. I can’t claim to know anything much about this particular committee, even though this is their 83rd session. But I mention them today because they are launching something called the San Marino Declaration.

This is a set of principles for sustainable and inclusive architecture and urban planning, and people are invited to commit to them. Cities and mayors could adopt them, and so can architects, surveyors and planners. Norman Foster, who launched the principles this week, compared them to the Hippocratic Oath – the ethical pledge taken by ancient Greek physicians.

So what are these principles? The draft document offers a list, and I think it’s a very good summary for designing buildings and infrastructure that is both inclusive and sustainable. Paraphrased out of UN-speak, here they are:

  • People-centred, socially responsible and inclusive: planners and architects need to consider the needs of people across race, age, gender, culture, ability and income.
  • Cultural identity, values and heritage: planning and architecture should respect identity, heritage, cultural values and traditions.
  • Resource efficiency and circularity: design buildings and cities with energy, water and resource efficiency in mind, prioritising sustainable energy and reducing waste. Design for reuse and recycling. Make room for urban agriculture and fruit trees.  
  • Safety and health: use internationally recognised quality and safety standards. Design safe and healthy homes, transport systems and green spaces.
  • Respect for nature: Design in a way that limits impact on ecosystems. Conduct environmental impact assessments, allow spaces for biodiversity and use natural materials.
  • Climate neutrality: minimize climate footprint by reducing pollution and energy use. Phase out unsustainable transport and use modern, energy-efficient, climate-neutral systems. Integrate green energy generation into buildings and cities.
  • People-centred technology: Use smart technology to improve the lives of the most socially disadvantaged, foster transparency and curb corruption.
  • Resilience and durability: make homes, buildings and urban spaces resilient to natural disasters, especially those caused by climate change, including hurricanes, droughts and wildfires, flooding and high winds.
  • Affordability and accessibility: Cities and homes need to be affordable and accessible to all citizens. Design high-quality environments for everyone.
  • Cooperation and networking: Encourage cohabitation, community engagement, solidarity and social cohesion.
  • Engagement: Consultation with and participation of the local communities is essential for any urban project. Continuous engagement fosters trust, responds to the needs of all citizens, and consolidates shared ownership of the city’s future.

There are a lot of things in that list that I’ve written about before, from re-cyclable buildings to generous architecture to participative planning. It’s quite impressive to see them all in one list, and I hope that the declaration gets some traction.

1 comment

  1. I don’t know that much about sustainable architecture, but an architect friend that does indicates that Norman Foster might be the last person/firm that you’d want to launch these given their record….

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