Architectural Unions

Challenging Unethical Conditions
Worker-led groups campaigning for unionisation and wider industry reforms, linking issues of labour exploitation and entrenched hierarchies within education and practice to climate breakdown


Uncared for, depleted of resources, and part of a system of value production of which they are unlikely to ever enjoy the benefits—many architectural workers are starting to draw parallels between their own exploitation and the damage their industry is wreaking on the planet. Mainstream architectural practice is a servant of capital markets via the financialisation of space for profit. It is built upon and perpetuates the most destructive aspects of the modern project: growth, excess, and endless accumulation. The fact that the industry, and particularly more famous offices in richer countries, makes use of un- and under-paid labour acutely mirrors the ways in which extractive industries such as construction are built upon the exploitation of supposedly “cheap natures”.1See Jason W Moore, Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital (London: Verso, 2015).


Workers in the architectural sector are now starting to take a closer look at the state of their profession in relation to climate breakdown, change working patterns brought on by events such as Covid-19, and challenge the dominant architectural work culture. In the UK, the first union of architectural workers was formed only in 2019, as a section of United Voices of the World (UVW). UVW’s Section of Architectural Workers (UVW-SAW) grew out of a workers’ inquiry into conditions of overwork, bullying, stress, and depression.2Workers’ Inquiry: Architecture <> [accessed 3 February 2023]. Their key demands are around pay, workload, and crucially more democracy in architectural practices, allowing workers to have a say on issues relating to how architectural offices approach climate and social justice. 

“We architectural workers want to address the climate crisis not only through building to better standards and ensuring the legislation is introduced to hold developers to account, but also to address the social aspects such as landlordism, housing as profit and fuel poverty. We want workers who share our ambitions to put pressure on their employers, governments and clients to commit to net-zero carbon build standards and practices now. […] There are routes and technology available to designing buildings that are sustainable, but this is not always the priority of private clients or developers who may only be interested in asset values and rental yields. We as workers in the architectural sector want to make a change from the bottom up to demand an end to fuel poverty through insulated homes and more robust building standards while tackling the social issues behind climate justice. […] Architectural workers could be shaping vibrant and sustainable communities rather than facilitating housing as profit.”3‘UVW Architectural Workers Join Tenant Unions at COP26 Protests’, UVW, 5 November 2021 <> [accessed 3 February 2023].

In the USA, as well as internationally, The Architecture Lobby is focused on building the collective power of architectural workers towards making an impact on the profession at large. Beyond their own experiences of architectural labour, these workers are also linking their conditions, and their demands, to calls for wider systemic changes in architectural practice. The racism its members experience in architectural workplaces, for example, is understood as inseparable from architecture’s complicity in racism. Likewise gender-based discrimination “within and enabled by the discipline”.4‘About’ The Architecture Lobby <> [accessed 3 February 2023]. The Architecture Lobby takes a holistic view in trying to hold the industry to account, linking the working conditions to social justice and climate justice, both broadly and in the specific ways in which they can affect change from within architecture. 

In 2021, the group Future Architects Front started campaigning to highlight the exploitation and marginalisation of architectural workers, via an open letter with 2000 signatures.5Ella Jessel, ‘AJ Investigation: Architectural Assistants Break Silence on Poor Working Practices’, The Architects’ Journal, 24 March 2021 <> [accessed 3 February 2023]. They used tactics of internet culture—confrontational meme tactics advertising poorly paid jobs and unpaid internships. They also held online conversations to debate the role of architectural education as the foundation of a poor work culture and an indoctrination that limits their grasp of architectural production.6Architecture Social, ‘A List of Demands to RIBA from the Future Architects Front’, YouTube, 27 March 2021 <> [accessed 3 February 2023]. A coalition of groups including FAF, UVW-SAW, and the London chapter of The Architecture Lobby were a significant force in the election of an architectural worker, Muyiwa Oki, as RIBA president in 2022. The groups recently issued a second call to action under the banner of The Just Transition Lobby, which more explicitly links the issue of workers’ power to the kinds of political and economic transitions made necessary by climate breakdown.7The Just Transition Lobby, ‘Call to Action! RIBA Council Election 2023’, May 2023 <> [accessed 10 May 2023]

Within these movements there is hope for change—not only in relation to working conditions but by regaining the power to no longer serve a vast machine of value production. By linking their working conditions to the inequality and exploitation that architecture enacts in the world—refusing to stay in their niche—architectural unions demand a halt to the violence that the architectural profession exerts on both, the workers and the planet. 


External links

The New Architecture Movement—called for the unionisation of architects in the 1970s 

The Office for a Non-Precarious Future—the Pavilion of the Czech Republic at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023 that explored issues of architectural worker exploitation, especially through interviews and other direct research