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Waste-to-energy processing plants

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The profession must take this chance to redefine industrial architecture, says Hattie Hartman

Not since Victorian times has the rethinking of energy and waste infrastructure provided architects with such extensive design opportunities. More than 20 such projects have already been reviewed by CABE’s design review panel, which has another 10 in the pipeline. Many practices are engaged on schemes under strict confidentiality agreements. EU CO2 emissions and landfill reduction targets are driving change, but the quality of buildings to date has been mixed. Increasingly, quality design is seen by clients as an asset in gaining planning permission for these generally massive buildings, and a few exemplar schemes are underway.

The Olympic Delivery Authority has set a high standard with the two energy buildings on the Olympic site. NORD’s electricity substation combines careful massing with elegant brick detailing and thoughtful material selection to produce a building with considerable presence. John McAslan’s Energy Building, with its 45m screened flue, promises to do the same when it completes later this year. Likewise, Design for London (DfL) is to be commended for commissioning Rubbish In - Resources Out, a recent strategic report by Dow Jones Architects (DJA) on the planning of waste-to-energy facilities.

DJA raises the question of just how big these building should be and the size of area they should serve. More local means more community-based and smaller scale, which is easier to integrate into the urban fabric.

New buildings are also being planned in the East London Green Enterprise District, which stretches along the north bank of the Thames from the River Lea to Rainham Marshes. DJA has studied four scenarios for the handling of industrial, commercial and municipal waste in this proposed low-carbon district, and DfL’s report will be published shortly.

CABE design review advisor Thomas Bender notes the pressing need to tackle the design of these facilities at a wider scale, dealing with planning authorities, developer and investors to influence the procurement process and raise awareness about quality design. ‘Clients need to be ready to go for good design, and architects need to respond with a new design language,’ he says. ‘There is an unease in the profession about how to deal with these huge schemes. Too often designers resort to uninspired buildings with an apologetic scheme to mitigate their size instead of realising their potential to make a positive contribution to a community.’

A contemporary industrial architecture is required; more than a shed, but not over-designed. On the following three pages, the AJ presents a variety of schemes that attempt to do just that. Schemes fall into one of three categories: elegant box, integrated land form, or celebratory icon, sometimes complete with visitor experience.

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