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Building sustainability is a balancing act. To ensure the projects we are involved with meet their full potential, we encourage our clients to consider a complete definition of sustainability. We have a different way of looking at this, and have developed our own integrated approach.
We call it ‘The Eight Pillars’.
Each pillar focuses on facets of sustainable best practice from a different perspective. This process is aspirational but genuinely helps create a better environment for all.
The Eight Pillars approach delivers a truly sustainable building and ensures that we successfully help our clients realise their vision.
In Britain it is forecast that the population will almost double within the next 75 years. To provide space for this dramatic increase of people it is vital, wherever possible, to locate buildings on previously occupied land - also known as ‘brownfield sites’. By doing so, green spaces can be preserved for both wildlife and people.
The site surroundings must also be considered; if there are amenities nearby - shops, schools, outdoor space and so on - then there should be less need for people to travel long distances, reducing their environmental impact. When travelling further afield there needs to be a frequent and reliable public transport service in vicinity, thereby reducing reliance on cars and minimising congestion, costly energy use and harmful pollutants. Building occupants can also be encouraged to walk and cycle through the provision of clearly signposted, safe cycle-lanes and pathways, as well as secure areas to store bicycles.
Through careful planning of location, cohesive mixed communities can be developed, enhancing social capital, economic vitality and environmental protection.
Interpretations of performance vary according to the perspective and values of different stakeholders. The language used can vary depending on whether the reasoning is based on monetary, environmental or societal factors, or a combination of these. Is this building cost-effective? What is the environmental return on investment for this technology? Does this community have a sense of place?
Underlying these questions is the knowledge used to construct sustainable buildings. This knowledge emerges from experience: through interacting, such as by brain-storming in design team workshops; by doing, through designing, constructing and testing a particular technique; and using, by say trying a sustainable technology within the home.
The understanding that this experience provides is cumulative such that on subsequent building projects this knowledge can be re-used, allowing for improved future performances. Learning and understanding through experience serve as the foundational knowledge for improved future performances.
Buildings represent a huge investment, not only of time and money but also of the world’s resources.
Buildings consume vast quantities of materials and non-renewable resources like fossil fuels. The Worldwatch Institute estimate that 50% of global energy use goes into the operation of buildings. Our construction waste materials take up 40% of landfill.
We can learn from exploring the life and impacts of our materials. The term cradle to cradle describes a way of looking at resources following the principles of natural systems - ecologically intelligent design.
Green building is a way of looking at buildings that allows people to be more responsible
with energy and natural resources. We can learn to build and operate buildings in a sustainable manner.
Changes in the global climate system are having major impacts in the UK. As the environment is undergoing shifts, an increase in the climate’s volatility is causing more frequent and extreme weather occurrences and increased flooding.
The UK is also experiencing changes within its demographics, with an increase in population. This increase is due to natural increase (when birth rates exceed death rates) as well as net migration. In 2005, net migration was 235,000, which contributed 65% of the UK’s annual population increase.
Both population growth and changes in climate patterns will lead to an increase in pressure on the water supplies, energy resources, land and the built environment.
There is also the additional factor of geographical distribution, as the UK’s population is unevenly distributed. 80% of people live in urban areas, despite these making up only 9% of the total land area. With urban areas traditionally being located near water supplies, this increases future flood risk and resource allocation issues further for these populated built-up areas.
We need to do two things for the future:
- Tackle the cause
- Adapt for the changes
Integrating adaptability into the built environment is the key for the future - accepting changes in our climate and developing practices to work with, rather than against them.
Buildings must not only work with and be gentle to nature, but also create a connection between their intended occupants and the natural world.
Integrating natural features such sedum roofs, reed beds, water features or climbing plants can provide so much more than simple ecological benefit. Just as they have complex multi-layered roles within their natural habitats, they can also help improve the built environment in many ways by reducing air pollution, controlling the amount of light or heat entering a building, or reducing the rate of floodwater run-off.
Consideration of biomimicry within the design process allows us to learn from and assimilate nature’s fundamental design successes, for example by integrating and orientating solar cells to act as the leaves of a plant through collection of solar energy, or by designing building form, orientation and mass to mimic the natural cooling found within a termite mound. The social importance of ecology takes on particular importance in urban locations, where people’s link with nature can easily be lost, and where even the inclusion of a single tree can be of great benefit.
On a macro-scale, just as the biodiversity of the natural world protects it from change and dramatic events, so too must the evolution of sustainable design use diverse approaches in tune with local climate, culture and traditions to perform effectively.
From the architects that design them, to the contractors that build them and the occupants that use them, people are an essential ingredient to sustainable buildings.
At the earliest conceptual stages, a range of stakeholders must be considered, such as the existing local community, the future building users and local and national government. During construction the contractors must educate their workforce on considerate practices, ensuring that building work is undertaken with due respect to neighbouring properties and the local environment. On completion, information must be provided
for the occupants to optimise operation of the building; many excellent technologies may be rendered useless if improperly used.
Through careful consultation, communication and education, communities can be developed that understand the importance of sustainability and are motivated to promote it.
A sustainable building must be designed with people in mind.
Sustainable design requires a holistic approach, linking a wide variety of issues in a comprehensive manner, where dialogue from the earliest stages of the development process becomes crucially important. Improved communication between members of the project team allows better dialogue between the building and its site and between its form and function, resulting in the potential for a truly sustainable building.
In particular, to reduce a building’s carbon footprint, the fabric must work in dialogue with mechanical and electrical services. The building envelope’s role must no longer be solely to protect its occupants from the elements. It must become an active filter, allowing controllable levels of light and energy into and out of the building, while also contributing to the building’s own energy requirements. This can have fundamental design and masterplanning implications in terms of orientation, space planning and facade design. The traditional relationship between Services Engineer and Architect must therefore evolve. The Client must also be clear about the sustainability targets for a scheme from the outset to ensure they are delivered as cost-effectively as possible, while the importance of a Project Manager with proper awareness of sustainability should not be underestimated.
Without properly considered early dialogue between team members, sustainability can shift from being a fundamental approach to an expensive bolt-on with little benefit.
Almost all sites have an implicit quality - a wholeness that is hard to measure or even to describe accurately. Building sustainability is also about being in touch with this quality and enhancing it. A successful development is more than a building or group of buildings; it becomes a place that inspires us by its life or potential for life.
There is a form of beauty that is beyond taste, style and visual appearances. As far as possible, the design team needs to ensure that the new development reflects, respects and honours what is already there. Then, a careful process of envisioning should inform and unfold the design process. Listening to the needs of the users and developing a shared understanding will often bring about solutions that make all the difference. Does the project have integrity? Is it vibrant? If the project manages to really improve the sense of place, it will most likely last and be improved on.
Put simply, every place has a soul, and we all have a responsibility to nurture it.