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German architect Anna Heringer at the UIA World Congress of Architects 2023

Obel Award-winner Anna Heringer apologises to Global South on behalf of architects

German architect and Obel Award-winner Anna Heringer has said she is "deeply sorry" for the legacy of architecture from wealthy countries in a talk at the UIA World Congress of Architects in Copenhagen.

During a session at the four-day conference on Tuesday afternoon, Heringer issued an apology to people in the Global South for the worldwide impact of work done by architects from the developed world.

"Architecture [was] supposed to bring us a safe life, comfortable life, a healthy, easy, happy life, when in fact we contributed to social injustice by serving mostly the rich and by contributing largely to climate change," she said.

"I ask for your forgiveness"

"It did not make us happy, nor healthy, neither mentally nor physically," she continued.

"It brought us fame, money, carbon emitting conferences with nice dinners where we felt all-so important. But it didn't make us happy – it even took a large part of the joy of our profession away because we created a framework of rules and regulations that just makes it really difficult to follow your intuition to be really creative or to allow a participatory process."

To spontaneous applause from the audience, she added: "And I'm deeply sorry that we even colonised the dreams of how a good home is supposed to look like, and that we make you and anyone else in this world believe that imported and industrialised materials are superior to the local, indigenous ones."

Heringer is known for projects that prioritise empowering and improving the lives of communities using local materials and labour.

In 2020, she won the Obel Award for a rammed-earth community centre in Bangladesh. Launched in 2019, the annual Obel Award recognises architecture that contributes to sustainable human development.

"I ask for your forgiveness, and I know there's still a lot of work to do towards equality and towards peace," Heringer said at the congress.

"At this moment of human history, and also architectural history, we clearly need alternatives towards a really social and ecological and sustainable future, and we can find the solutions only together with all the different perspectives on all the wisdoms of all the diverse cultures."

Heringer was appearing on a panel with American architect Jeanne Gang, DnA_Design and Architecture founder Tiantian Xu and OMA partner Reinier de Graaf.

"Ban the term" sustainability

De Graaf also received applause when he appeared to question the sustainability credentials of Foster + Partners' Stirling Prize-winning Bloomberg HQ in London.

Showing an image of the building on the screen, he suggested sustainability-related accolades are going to projects that use "as much carbon as any other building that doesn't get a sustainability award".

"And for me I think we should ban the term [sustainability] because while when the term was invented it served a good cause, it is meanwhile so corrupted that is an alibi for the same practices to continue," De Graaf added.

The UIA World Congress of Architects 2023 takes place from 2 to 6 July 2023 at the Bella Center, Center Boulevard 5, 2300 Copenhagen, Denmark. See Dezeen Events Guide for information, plus a list of other architecture and design events taking place around the world.

The photography is courtesy of the UIA World Congress of Architects.