MANY ENVIRONMENTALLY AWARE ARCHITECTS DO NOT WANT TO BE PUT INTO AN ECO CORRAL
British architecture's concern for sustainability has long expanded beyond the obvious to a realisation that green thinking must inform all aspects of building design. The architects and engineer whose work is shown here will exhibit on the UK Architecture stand at MIPIM from 13-16 March, and demonstrate their original approaches to this most important of issues.
It has taken a long time, but sustainability is now at the top of the agenda in the UK, not just among specialists but also with the general public. For architects who have embraced these ideas for years, this is a welcome if belated approach, which is made more essential by the fact that the UK is among the most energy-hungry countries, even when set in the context of afuent Western Europe (see opposite).
For the public, the wake-up call has come in the last few months, through a combination of the Stern Review - which argues that the economic penalties for ignoring climate change are far greater than the costs of acting to ameliorate it - and the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which has made a depressing prediction of future change.
In architecture, any reluctant converts have been forced up to speed by the introduction of Part L of the Building Regulations on energy consumption and the Code for Sustainable Homes.
The RIBA has signed up to the principle of Contraction and Convergence and the Welsh Assembly has committed to making all new buildings zero carbon from 2011. While some may consider these goals to be unachievable, their ambition is commendable.
There are also clients who have real commitment, such as British Land, a developer with a sophisticated sustainability brief that it applies to all projects. Organisations like the Greater London Authority (GLA) are setting requirements for the percentage of renewables to be included on new buildings.
The latest organisation to set up is the Green Building Council, launched officially at the end of February and funded by founder organisations ranging from architects to contractors to developers. Its stated aims are:
dramatically improving the built environment;
developing and enhancing the UK's world-class position in sustainable building design; and transforming the market for 'sustainable' products.
For architects who are aware of the issues of sustainability, these measures are largely welcome, though occasionally irritating.
They set up a level playing field, even if it is not exactly the one that the most aware would have chosen. With the acceptance that sustainability is the goal for all buildings, it is no longer just a matter of addressing obvious issues, such as the amount of insulation and the potential to incorporate photovoltaics.
The UK has a respectable strand of 'environmental architects', whose work has developed a distinctive aesthetic.
Best known, and admirable if not entirely successful, is the BedZED housing development by Bill Dunster (now ZEDfactory).
Shortlisted for the 2003 Stirling Prize, this project showed that many ideas which were previously considered fanciful could actually be built, and would prove attractive to real people who hoped to lead relatively ordinary lives in comfortable houses.
But many environmentally aware architects do not want to be put into an eco corral and, in particular, do not want the requirements of sustainability to dictate their programme and aesthetic approach. Instead, they would like their environmental concerns to form an important, even an essential factor, in a design process which also takes into account many other variables.
The architects who form part of UK Architecture at MIPIM demonstrate the way in which an environmental agenda can inform each and every aspect of architecture. Their work is presented here, not in a holistic sense, but by focusing on some of the small yet essential elements that form part of their overall sustainable architectural intelligence.
The approach to building in the countryside brings special constraints. This is addressed, for instance, by AND Architects in a rural hotel, where it has adopted an approach that is not usually associated with such a location. In contrast, Buckley Gray Yeoman, having developed a modular approach for rural locations, is now discovering which lessons can be applied equally well in the city.
Large buildings provide another challenge. Devereux Architects is looking at the practical applications of a number of green technologies within a major teaching building. Dexter Moren Architects is interested in using passive stack ventilation at a scale where it is often not considered practical. Engineer and UK Architecture sponsor Buro Happold, working with architect Bond Bryan, has gone for the Holy Grail by attempting its first entirely carbon-neutral building.
Just as BedZED went from a potentially unachievable ambition to a benchmark, so projects like the Buro Happold building may well, in the future, seem largely unremarkable. It will be a measure of their designers' achievement if this is the case.
With the drive to sustainability comes an increased realisation of the importance of place and an appropriate response to the specific characteristics of a location. So, it is interesting to see the results when McAdam Architects takes its skills to Moscow, a city with a far more demanding climate than anywhere in the UK.
Hopkins Architects is applying its expertise in sustainable buildings to the USA, where it is creating landmark buildings that also set new environmental standards.
Nor can the challenge be limited to individual buildings.
Sustainable architecture can only be fully achieved within a sustainable environment. For Piercy Conner Architects, this is particularly pertinent, as it is working to develop a new town in India that combines traditional thinking about climate response with a contemporary approach.
These last two projects demonstrate that, while the UK is fortunate to have architects who take an intelligent approach to the green agenda, the UK Architecture practices have much to offer beyond the boundaries of their homeland.