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Architects to lead energy campaign

Energy efficiency was catapulted to the forefront of architecture and construction policy this week following the publication of the government's new Energy White Paper.

The 142-page document, Our energy future - creating a low carbon economy, sets out the Department of Trade and Industry's determination to make every new home completely free from carbon dioxide emissions by 2020.

And it calls on architects to be at the forefront of this campaign, demanding that they consider energy efficiency at all steps of the design process and advise clients on all sustainable options.

The White Paper sets out a framework for the achievement of these cultural changes, including a radical overhaul of the Building Regulations in 2005, particularly the energy efficiency section, Part L. The government also sets out plans for a DTI working group including construction associations, representatives from architecture and ministers to look into new initiatives and policies to improve efficiency.

By 2020, the DTI also hopes to have improved the efficiency of Britain's entire existing housing stock, an ambition, the white paper says, for which architects are essential.

'Most buildings have the capacity to at least reduce their demand on the electricity grid, ' it says. 'For example using solar heating to heat their water'. The White Paper also outlines plans to subsidise other sustainable energy sources such as geothermal heating.

The RIBA's vice-president for sustainable futures Bill Gether welcomed the report, saying the profession should be delighted. 'The government should be applauded for setting such tough targets, ' he said. 'It seems they have identified the issues candidly.

'There will be a concerted push on encouraging architects to become more sustainable. As responsible intelligent citizens they should look at the White Paper and be pleased with the challenges it has set them, ' he added.

And Bill Dunster, architect of the trail-blazing BedZed initiative (pictured), said the government's aims are 'completely achievable'. 'I see no reason why this is unfeasible, ' he told the AJ. 'There is a major problem in this country with sustainable construction and this should go some way to solving it.'

However, other observers have warned the White Paper is fairly light on details. 'I would say it is largely aspirational, ' the RIBA's head of government relations Jonathan Labrey said.

'The DTI has not come up with anything that it can legislate on'.

And the Housebuilders' Federation's head of public affairs Pierre Williams agreed that the paper is insubstantial.

'Strict existing building regulations mean that new homes are on average four times more efficient than their Victorian counterparts and new homes are getting close to being as efficient as they can be, ' he said. 'So it is this type of housing where improvements need to be made and money needs to be spent.'

WHITE PAPER POLICIES LIKELY TO IMPACT ON ARCHITECTURE AND CONSTRUCTION

A major revision of Building Regulations, including Part L, to come into effect in 2005.

The improvement of energy efficiency in the design, construction and procurement of public sector buildings, which will serve as exemplars.

The development of a series of new grant schemes for energy efficiency and sustainable energy sources in the built environment.

The establishment of a DTI working group to consider innovations in construction and architecture, including prefabrication and low-carbon technology.

A Better Buildings Summit, jointly convened by the ODPM, DTI and DEFRA, with the attendance of representatives from all key organisations and sectors.

Setting higher efficiency standards in the manufacture of construction products.

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