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The AJ's new Max Fordham sustainability matrices

Sustainability is more valuable than ever and the tools for green practice are now available, says Hattie Hartman

With the artistic lens of the profession focused on Venice this week, what’s on show at the Arsenale and the Giardini serves as a barometer of where the profession is at. At Stuttgart-based Transsolar and Tetsuo Kondo’s Cloudscapes, visitors wander through a mist meant to provoke reflection about the state of the planet.

Across the water from San Marco at the Fondazione Cini, the Architectural Association has joined forces with Imperial College, Cardiff University, CERN and others to host Beyond Entropy: When Energy Becomes Form, an exhibition that is part of a year-long research project. Concerns once viewed as anathema or as merely ‘technical’ are creeping into the limelight in Venice.

Closer to home and on a more pragmatic note, Max Fordham Consulting Engineers and the AJ bring you, in this issue and the following four issues, a tool to help you integrate sustainable thinking into the DNA of your own projects. This tool is to be used not only in-house or with a project design team, but also with clients. Together with cost information, Max Fordham’s matrices (find the first, on the subject of green new-build offices, here) provide a road map through the thorny area of sustainable design, helping you to establish priorities and weigh trade-offs.

This is not just another matrix; it’s a way of visualising a project’s sustainability metrics on one page. Energy loads, U-values and airtightness are presented across a range of parameters ranging from ‘minimum standard’ to ‘pioneering’. Clients can assess their level of aspiration and decide what’s appropriate for a given project and its budget.

Originally developed five years ago with Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios for the National Trust’s Heelis building in Swindon, the matrices have now been refined. Max Fordham has adapted them to different building types and updated them to reflect Part L 2010. Practices including Bennetts Associates and van Heyningen and Haward have adapted versions of the matrices for their own use. They are particularly useful because they look beyond design targets and consider occupancy patterns. These are critical to a building’s overall energy use, even though they are beyond the control of the design team. As such, they are presented in a separate horizontal band in each matrix.

The second matrix, on wider sustainability parameters, will be published next week. It deals with issues ranging from embodied carbon to water, construction waste and transport. This matrix applies to all projects and should be used alongside those that address individual building types.

Max Fordham is to be applauded for putting these tools in the public domain. I urge you to tear them out of the AJ, stick them up them next to your desk and make them your own. Perhaps before too long, the Venice glitterati will also be sustainability literati.

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