Concrete / steel / timber? embodied carbon intelligence…

A guide for clients Embodied Carbon Developing a Client Brief by the UK Green Building Council sets out how to write an effective brief for embodied carbon measurement. Having accurate assessments helps to inform early design decisions when embodied carbon can be reduced the most.

Also the UKGBC’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings – A Framework Definition (2019) is the common reference for the RIBA’s 2030 Climate Challenge setting out how net zero carbon buildings are defined.

In this together – mapping pathways to zero carbon

The design community are working together in lockdown to advocate for a faster response to the climate and biodiversity emergency –  creating and sharing knowledge and know how.

Leti’s pathway to zero carbon in 100% of all new buildings by 2030 *nearly zero (NZ)

The design community are responding to the climate emergency, working collaboratively and openly sharing their approaches and responses. Architects Declare launched on the 30th May inviting practices to work together to advocate for faster change, share knowledge and collaborate with other professionals. Following on from their commission into ethics and sustainable development the RIBA published a 2030 Climate Challenge setting out targets for operational energy use, embodied carbon and water use reduction. 

The London Energy Transformation Initiative (LETI) has created a network of 1000 built environment professionals to put London on the path to zero carbon. The voluntary group is multidisciplinary, their Climate Emergency Design Guide and Embodied Carbon Primer explain how buildings can meet UK climate change targets in operational energy and embodied carbon. They identify key performance indicators, explain the role of clients/developer in decision making – and the role of policy makers and designers in strategy and implementation. They identify actions by RIBA Stages and offer useful case studies throughout. 

They note that for new buildings to operate at net zero carbon by 2030 all new buildings will need to be designed to this standard by 2025. This is why practices like Fielden Clegg Bradley Studios have mapped out their route to Net Zero Carbon starting with all the projects at stage 0-2 currently in their studios – leaving time to monitor completed projects in the lead into 2030. 

RIBA Somerset Passivhaus in Practice

With climate emergency on many local councils’ agendas, now more than ever is the time for architects to grapple with low to zero energy building. Join RIBA Somerset members Michael Williams from MJW Architects and Wiebke Rietz from Alchemellia Architects as they talk about how they are embedding Passivhaus techniques in their practice. Anne-Marie Fallon from Architype will also discuss how Architype have scaled up Passivhaus to use the exacting low energy design standard in schools and housing. Thomas Gaertner from SE3 Design will talk about health and Passivhaus. #architecture #climate #passivehaus

Canalside Conferences (Jn24, M5) 4.45pm to 7.30 on the 30th April. A few tickets remaining £22 to non-members, £10 members.

Play and amenity space for apartment’s – the role of design guides

In the National Design Guide published in early October 2019 references to play run through the document. It describes the role of ‘informal doorstop play’ (p.26) the need for a hierarchy of public spaces including ‘small local spaces’ (p,30) and the need for ‘direct access to well overlooked communal space’ (p. 39) – all of these highlight the need to provide play or multi functional amenity spaces accessible from apartment buildings. Local guidance can take this intention further giving parameters or rules for how much play and how this should be provided and maintained.

Over a decade the London Mayor’s Housing Design Guide (2010) and Housing SPG (2016) have had a clear impact on the design of housing by setting out forty-one clear quality expectations. These cover the placemaking role of sites, the provision of communal and play space and issues to do with building design such as; space standards, aspect and sunlight, ceiling heights, noise and privacy, resource use and durability. These spatial quality standards have had an impact on the quality of private amenity in new development. For example, the requirement for a minimum of 5m2 of private outdoor space for each dwelling has led to generous balconies becoming the norm and to GF apartments often having carefully considered garden interfaces.

The Bristol Urban Living SPD, making successful places at higher densities adopted in November 2018 follows on from this with general guidance about design at city, neighbourhood, block and building scale – with quality guidance is presented as 14 questions or tests.  Does the scheme provide sufficient outdoor space?Introduces the same standards for private outdoor space also allowing that space can be provided in private communal gardens. Does the scheme creatively integrate children’s play? Noting that in recent years the number of children living in the city centre had more than doubled the guidance requires the integration of informal doorstop play for the under 5s of setting a standard of 10m2 per child for developments with an occupancy of 10 children or more. 

Swindon’s Residential Design Guide SPD, 2016 requires a communal space equivalent to the footprint of the apartment building or 10m2 per apartment is also suggested. It also highlights the need for clearly identified entrances from the street, dual aspect orientation and private amenity space. Teignbridge District Council’s Draft Design Guide gives more detailed guidance about a similar range of issues with much emphasis on providing a ‘reference point for character and identity of settlements within the district’. When describing expectations for apartment buildings it also advises – street entrances, defensible space to ground floor habitable rooms, parking to rear but makes no specific requirement regarding amenity.

Sometimes developers will say that RSL’s wish to avoid the maintenance cost of private amenity provision but as a benchmark Peabody’s Design Guide says each dwelling should have access to private external amenity space to provide access and views of green spaces to residents. It also advises that design teams should include landscape architects a recommendation often made to clients in design review.

Image: Extract from Bristol’s Urban Living SPD

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Communal Living, delivering housing diversity

A study trip to Amsterdam by the MArch and MAAD Communal Living studio at Cardiff University was the starting point for research into how housing typologies can support communal living in the widest sense. The studio visited the morphologically ambitious Wozoco and Silodam by MRDVR. On the way to Borneo Sporenburg we discovered Funenpark a collection of apartment villas in a shared park landscape and to the west the similarly arranged GWR Terrein. The studio also looked at work communities NDSM and Ru Pare. Recent models were compared to 20th century examples like the Duiker Open Air School built at the centre of a housing courtyard and Bijlmermeer the 60’s slab blocks now being reconnected with the ground. Honing in on recent co housing the studio studied apartments built in a serviced plots at Amstelloft and the exemplary Vrijburcht where 52 dwellings have been built by a co-housing group to also provide; childcare, a sailing school, café restaurant and shared gardens. Back in Cardiff we looked at published case studies such as Big Yard in Berlin with its two terraces across a linear shared garden and the New Ground Co Housing by and for senior residents and Collective Old Oak for young professionals in London.

The studio studied the land use arrangement and morphology of each type. These tissue studies are 4Ha or 200x200m, many of the buildings would suit a 0.5 Ha site. The recent NPPF called for Local Authorities to allocate 20% of land in smaller plots of 0.5 Ha – large sites are also beginning to propose 5% for self-build. The studies show how the different models of delivering housing that share land resources can lead to more diverse architecture and homes that have access to valuable amenities and enjoyable public spaces.

The social and civic life of high streets

In order to adapt High Streets, we need to rediscover their role at heart of communities as social spaces. Seven years on from her review of high streets Mary Portas says high street retail will survive the growth in online shopping if it makes its business social and focuses on people’s experience. The public realm is an important interface in this transition. Well managed and organised public realm can improve people’s experience by making routes into and through Town Centres legible, easy and enjoyable to use. A review of public space can also identify historically important spaces that have been subdued over time and new axes of movement based on leisure, service and civic activities. By taming the vehicle dominance of key spaces new opportunities can be created.

Our proposal for Brentwood Town Centre with Cottrell and Vermeulen Architects developed the client’s themes of; identity and character, resilience and sustainability and access and flow. We established how a civic axis might become the organising route for a series of public rooms or renewed public spaces. We also proposed evaluating movement related to town centre schools – to consider how to support healthy patterns of travel.

Incredible Edible Todmorden have developed a successful visitor experience based on a route around a network of community growing projects so that visitors can interact with the contemporary social ecology of the town. Stamford and Keswick both revived their market function with elegant and robust public realm improvements that set off the activity of the market and historic buildings.

Understanding how the history of a place can be an important foundation for public realm improvement. Landscape Projects Bath Pattern Book (2012) is based on careful archive research of the city’s history and careful observation of its character in use by Gehl Architects. The pattern book identifies different historic street typologies in section, describing their role in relation to building frontages, their differing scale from street to mews, their surface materials and edges, their below ground and surface service function and identifying room for adaptation – e.g. where tree planting could be introduced. The study also reviews where the city’s rich history can be evidenced and better interpreted, it also reviews the space for performance, the quality of existing lighting and public art legacy. The pattern book contains concept designs for seven streets and spaces. These show how; a common palette of materials would be applied to suit the specifics of each site, how businesses could occupy areas of street and where public art could be integrated and how street furniture, landscape and lighting would be located. The guide presents the designs as plans, three dimensional overviews and in day and night time illustrations. Precedents are also used to describe the design teams’ intentions.

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housing exemplar / fresh talent brought to affordable, sustainable and adaptable homes


We were client advisers to the design competition for a housing exemplar for Whitehill Borden Eco Town. We supported two different project managers to develop the design brief and promote a design competition, providing continuity to pursuit of the project aims. As well as achieving high standards of energy efficiency the aim was to create a replicable, carbon neutral, terraced housing typology that could contribute to the character of the new Eco Town in the South Downs. The client was dissuaded from holding a single stage open competition as this calls on too many practices to invest free time that is of little benefit to the client. Because early stage design development can’t be tested in dialogue with the client. Instead a two stage selection process called for expressions of interest and shortlisted five teams to develop sketch designs in conversation with the client team. We designed a competition brand and the brief was carefully set out to signal the creative aspirations for the project. Adverts were placed in key design journals and fifty-four submissions were received.

We devised selection criteria that would prioritise the client’s wish to identify an imaginative team who would be able to extend the design brief whilst working with budget constraints.  In the judging of the competition; creativity, the ability to develop environmentally responsive design, technical capability and communications skills were given 70% of the score, track record and range of appropriate expertise were given 30%. Financial and insurance requirements were set to pass or fail but with a threshold that would not exclude SMEs. A category into which most young and often fleet footed practices fall. The competition was won by Ash Sakula Architects because their approach was considered by the jury to be most liveable. In their design every day needs for storage and domestic activities are carefully considered. The cubic form of the house is extended into the front garden with and un-insulated entrance porches and store and space for laundry is made on the upper level. The construction is timber framed and timber shingles are used to clad the rear elevation.

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elegant houses in simple terraces make characterful use of Stroud site


Building on the successes of Hab’s Swindon Project; The Triangle, Applewood uses elegant house types in simple terraces with parking located in front of buildings. Despite the small scale of the site it has a diverse and generous green infrastructure. The process of creating the development has been carefully choreographed and is seen by HabOakus as community building. For example an early opportunity to bring associated redundant allotments back to life has meant that existing and new residents had a meaningful shared space early on.

The developer has put emphasis on spatial quality of the interiors providing residents with light and space, something we all recognize when we see or feel it. The new buildings are super insulated and triple glazed and each has a gas boiler and Mechanical Ventilation and Heat Recovery Systems. There has been attention to detail in the design of key elements such as the front door and in the careful location of service outlets to the back of the houses. Mike Robert’s from HabOakus says well functioning communities enable people to live longer in their own homes and this has been shown to be the case for cohousing. Where small groups of homes are built as communities first and foremost. Research in Denmark and the United States has shown that the people who live in cohousing live independently in their communities for longer.*

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high quality design is crucial say’s the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission


Has there has been a shift in thinking about infrastructure planning and provision in the UK – one that recognises that ‘ad hoc’ approaches allows regions and communities to get left behind? The Government states it is committed to the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) launched this spring and has published a charter (12.10.16). the NIC’s role is to advise government to support growth, improve competitiveness and improve people’s quality of life. The Commission will carry out a National Infrastructure Assessment once every parliament, commission studies on pressing challenges and monitor progress. It’s encouraging to see that earlier in September Commissioner Sadie Morgan (co- founding director of dRMM Architects) visited design studio Publica to identify four principles for integrating infrastructure planning with high quality design. They identified that good design is essential and cities can use infrastructure effectively to become ‘more liveable, sustainable, productive and resilient places’ by;

  • Increasing capacity for future generations
  • Creating liveable neighbourhoods (and cities)
  • Supporting and promoting density and diversity
  • Animating the ground plane and creating a sense of civic identity

At the event professor Sadie Morgan said: “As the National Infrastructure Commission seeks to transform the way we plan and deliver major infrastructure projects in this country, harnessing high quality design will be absolutely crucial.” It could be that the choice of Commissioners that includes expertise in; culture, transport, design, technology, regeneration and economics also sets the scene for infrastructure to be considered more holistically in future.

Image: Stadsbalkon, Cylcle Park and Station Forecourt, Groningen – KCAP, NL

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ten days in Las Vegas

A research project that led to new ways of thinking about design.


Nolli’s Map of Rome – Learning from Las Vegas 1972.

Learning from Las Vegas (Venturi, R., Scott Brown, D., Izenour, S. 1972) is an example of a research project that led to new ways of thinking about design. In 1968 the researchers and a group of students spent ten days in Las Vegas with free board and lodging at the Stardust Hotel. Having spent three weeks in the library they carried out observational research recording the characteristics of the town. The surveys were designed to explore the relationship between; movement, iconography and public space in the car orientated landscape of the Las Vegas strip. Each element was recorded as layer of a map recording the disposition of: undeveloped land, asphalt, autos, buildings, ceremonial space and finally ‘Nolli’s Las Vegas’ which brought the layers ‘asphalt’ and ‘ceremonial spaces’ together to show how the commercial strip was structured as a series of public places.

Since then designers routinely use layers to observe and analyse the key features of a site, adapting and extending this set of layers to describe a design proposal. Some layers record a general background understanding of the site but some like the layers in Learning from Las Vegas are much more specific  about the particular drive of the project or the specific character of a place.

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