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AJ100 Analysis: Sustainability

Sustainability as a concept seems to have crept up on many practices only relatively recently, so it is reassuring to discover that some, at least, have been thinking about it for some time

Having a director of sustainability may be commonplace these days (91 per cent of AJ100 practices have one), but the role’s origins go back a long way. Architectural practices 3DReid and Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios (FCBS) said they didn’t have a director of sustainability in their early days as such - it was more that the person who later took on that formal position had had an interest in the subject, and the role then built itself around them.

‘It started off with vague interests and that interest has evolved,’ explains Stuart Barlow, director of sustainability at 3DReid, who joined in 1980. ‘My view was in terms of understanding buildings - that they needed to be more energy efficient.’Barlow’s education took place before some of today’s architects were born but, perhaps surprisingly, he thinks it was more appropriate than much that went after it. He studied at Leicester Polytechnic (now part of De Montfort University) where students ‘were taught to work out U-values’. He returned nine years ago to take a part-time MSc in climate change and sustainable development.

‘More than 60 per cent of our energy use is outside office hours. It brought home to us the perils of flying’

One might not immediately tag 3DReid as a leader in sustainability, but one would be much more likely to alight on FCBS, author of some of the most environmentally pioneering buildings of the last decade. The practice dates its appointment of a sustainability director to 1981, when Bill Gething joined. He later carried out numerous roles, including the RIBA’s adviser on sustainability, leaving FCBS in April last year to set up an independent architecture and sustainability consultancy.

One gets the impression that, while Barlow has helped to bring sustainable thinking into 3DReid, Gething’s development took place within an entirely fertile environment. Peter Clegg, one of the founders of the practice, says: ‘I spent a couple of years in the United States from 1974 doing an environmental design degree with people who were interested in solar energy.’ This was the decade when people were first scared by high oil prices. In his book ‘The State of British Architecture’ (Architectural Press, 1980), Sutherland Lyall wrote: ‘By 1976 central government had begun to be interested in the possibilities of alternative energy sources.’ But he went on: ‘Little may be expected in the future in the way of public money. Preliminary results of research have been unspectacular.’

Since then, says Clegg, ‘People have caught us up, which is good.’ He adds: ‘We are still interested in all areas of sustainability,’ from individual buildings to masterplanning. The practice’s first brush with sourcing sustainable materials was when it designed headquarters for Greenpeace in 1990.

Now, it is working on a large scale in Cyprus and Libya. And yes, it does measure the CO2 generated by the flights to those places and calculates that it is far exceeded by the savings on the projects. FCBS was, in fact, the first AJ100 practice to measure its carbon footprint. This was a revelation. ‘It taught us about our computer loads and network loads,’ Clegg says. ‘It turns out it is very difficult to do anything about it. More than 60 per cent of our energy use in Bath is outside office hours.’ And, he says, ‘It brought home to us the perils of flying.’ An office visit to Basle in 2002 generated about half the practice’s CO2 emissions. Trips since then have been by train.

‘If you don’t set things up properly at the start of a project, vital BREEAM points can be lost’

One area where FCBS does not lead is in having BREEAM assessors. Clegg feels that assessments should be done independently from the practices that design buildings. Barlow does not agree. He is a BREEAM assessor and has even, by a separate appointment, assessed 3DReid’s projects. The advantage, he says, is that it gives you knowledge and insight that you can feed into the practice’s projects at an early stage. ‘If you don’t set things up properly at the start of a project, vital points can be lost,’ he says.

With regard to sustainability, says Barlow, ‘We have tried to do things in a commercial market, but it has been more difficult to get those opportunities.’ He thinks the tipping point for developers was the introduction of the Merton Rule, which requires 10 per cent of energy to come from renewable sources. Although widely criticised, it ‘brought things home to clients.’ After several decades, commercial developers are finally catching up with the pioneers of sustainability.

Sustainability organisations to which AJ100 practices are affiliated:

  • 10:10 carbon reduction campaign
  • Action Energy consultancy
  • Association for Environment Conscious
  • Building (AECB)
  • British Council for Offices
  • Environmental Sustainability Group
  • BITC Climate Change Business
  • Champions Group
  • BREEAM Ecohomes
  • Business Council for Sustainable
  • Development
  • CarbonBuzz
  • Carbon Innovation
  • Carbon Trust
  • Construction Industry Environmental
  • Forum (CIEF)
  • Design For Homes Environmental
  • Assessment for Universities and
  • Colleges (EAUC)
  • Envirolink Northwest
  • First Mile recycling services
  • GreenPro building products
  • Green Register sustainable
  • construction training
  • Green Today directory
  • Hampshire and Isle of Wight Sustainable
  • Business Partnership
  • The Housing Forum
  • Islington Climate Change Partnership
  • The Mayor of London’s Green
  • Procurement Code
  • National House Energy Rating
  • One Planet Products
  • The Prince’s Mayday Network
  • Royal Institute of British Architects
  • (RIBA) Sustainable Futures Group
  • Ska Rating
  • Sponge sustainable development
  • network
  • Stroma consultancy
  • Sustainability Now
  • Sustainability at Work
  • SUSCON (Sustainable Construction
  • North Kent)
  • Timber Research and Development
  • Association (Trada)
  • UK Green Building Council (UKGBC)
  • Urban Land Institute (ULI)
  • US Green Building Council (USGBC)
  • Zero Carbon Hub
  • Winchester Action on Climate Change
  • (WinACC)
  • WRAP resource efficiency

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