Sustainability Matters.

jun 04, 2013

I have had consultations with a number of people embarking on projects from Protected Structure refurbishment to energy-efficient retrofit and new-builds. Across this variety of project and building types – a recurring theme in all consultations was a desire to understand how to build sustainably and what it really means.

I have issues with the word ‘Sustainability’ and the negative connotations people increasingly tend to associate with it – I prefer to call it, and treat it as, Responsible Architecture.

What Is Responsible Architecture?

Architectural projects should be an integrated fusion of design excellence and sustainability, not just one or the other. Sustainable architecture is about common sense. It isn’t a movement, a reaction, or a philosophy. It is an approach, not a style. It’s simply about doing no harm, making thoughtful choices, and being concerned with the impact of your actions over time. The difference between building sustainably and not depends heavily on build quality. It’s obviously cheaper and easier to build to a poor standard, and so often this is the case.

What Is A Sustainable Building?

The most sustainable building is the building already built. The second most sustainable is the building that makes minimum energy demand, lasts hundreds of years, and because of it’s good design, is adaptable through the ages. Once we appreciate that ALL building has an environmental cost, we can start to consider the impact of our choices, and more importantly, the options to minimise that impact.

'How much energy will it use and where will that energy come from?'

How Do I Build Sustainably?

Current building regulations are rapidly moving towards a near-zero carbon standard, so building to current standards will leave you behind future improvements very quickly. My advice to clients is always to build as sustainably as they can afford – as far in excess of current regulations as possible. Building Regulations are not the standard you should be aspiring to, but rather, the minimum acceptable standard for today.

With any building, new-build or refurb, you should start by considering the following primary concerns: how much energy will it use and where will that energy come from? Energy demand reduction is the key.

'Sustainability should be designed in and not on.'

Fabric First

My mantra for sustainable building is fabric first – that is – build the enclosing envelope of your building to the highest standard you can afford. This includes elements such as foundations, floors, walls, windows and roofs. ONLY THEN should you consider eco-bling such as heat-pumps, solar panels and other bolt-on technologies.

Our primary focus should be not on how to meet energy demand, but how to reduce it.

People tend to view these technologies as the start & end of sustainability, quite understandably, as they are the most visible component. While I applaud the use of renewables to meet energy demand, our primary focus should be not on how to meet demand, but how to reduce it as much as possible. The initial financial outlay may be marginally higher, but you will recoup multiples of this in running costs over the life of the building – what greater incentive do we need?

Planet saved, money saved.