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. 

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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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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