Taking care: The power of inclusive and sustainable architecture

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Publication Date
15/02/2024
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Taking care: The power of inclusive and sustainable architecture
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Beyond policy, Jude Barber advocates for an intersectional feminist approach when it comes to designing and building healthy, sustainable communities.

Fellow: Barber
Jude Barber, Architect-Director, Collective Architecture

Good design of buildings and places can bring immense joy and happiness to our everyday lives. Importantly, providing quality doesn’t have to be costly or only for the wealthy. Something as simple as a well-positioned window, capturing natural light and views towards (even just) one tree has been proven to positively impact our health and wellbeing. Equally, the design of coherent public spaces and safe pedestrian routes between neighbourhoods can link us in ways that will naturally build healthy, sustainable communities over time.

“The pandemic shone a bright light on the stark differences between those with access to quality space within their homes, gardens and neighbourhoods and those without.”

Faced with an ever-increasing climate crisis, the positive impact that quality design and architecture can have on our lives and our planet has never been more critical. A key factor in this is looking after what we already have. Not just in the way we might build and refurbish the physical fabric of our towns and cities, but also how we value and take care of our shared heritage and evolving cultural identity. Plus, we must be mindful of how we produce spaces together as communities, to consider where materials and supplies come from and how these might be repurposed and reimagined in future.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, our collective understanding of the value of good design, access to quality greenspace and flexible living environments has been brought into sharp focus. The pandemic shone a bright light on the stark differences between those with access to quality space within their homes, gardens and neighbourhoods and those without. In many cases, an individual or family’s spatial circumstances could literally be the difference between life and death.

The impact that place has on our health, wellbeing and life expectancy has been well documented in research and evidence from the Glasgow Centre for Population Health and others. Their research has shown that proximity to vacant or derelict land is a significant marker of increased mortality and can have a negative impact on mental health. Almost a third of the Scottish population lives within 500 metres of a derelict site and in communities suffering from deprivation that figure increases to 55%.

“As a practising architect and urbanist, I can see its impact on development behaviour and potential outcomes already.”

In response to these startling circumstances, many of us working in the creative industries are taking urgent, and, at times, radical measures to refocus and apply our knowledge, skills and expertise in response to rising health and wealth inequalities and the planetary crisis. The cost of producing good design is small compared to the positive value it can bring to our lives. A lack of investment in design can lead to poor outcomes generating rising costs in healthcare, loneliness, anti-social behaviour and infrastructure.

We are fortunate in Scotland that the fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4) was adopted earlier this year. This ambitious and clear document sets out key spatial principles to support our journey to net zero, meeting the UN Sustainable Goals and how we might improve our lives through sustainable, liveable and productive places. At the heart of NPF4 is the need to reinforce living collaboratively and coherently in our villages, towns and cities while also taking care of our natural environment, ecology and habitats. As a practising architect and urbanist, I can see its impact on development behaviour and potential outcomes already.

However, there is so much more to be done beyond policy. If we are to truly address the challenges and opportunities of our time, we must go further towards empowering all members of society to engage in design and shape our environment. To do this, we must develop an intersectional feminist approach through collaborative and inclusive systems and processes. So that looking after what we have, and how we collectively do it, becomes central to our thinking and our behaviour. For the benefit of all, for our collective future and for our planet.


Jude Barber FRSE, Architect-Director, Collective Architecture. Collective Architecture is a 100% employee-owned studio that has created key residential, cultural strategic projects around the UK.

This article originally appeared in ReSourcE winter 2023.

The RSE’s blog series offers personal views on a variety of issues. These views are not those of the RSE and are intended to offer different perspectives on a range of current issues.