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Three trends point the way for architects to design greener buildings

Many architects bemoan BREEAM’s tickbox culture, yet at King’s Cross it has provided a framework for delivering greener buildings, says Hattie Hartman

The string of BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ offices recently delivered by Argent at King’s Cross should not pass unnoticed, particularly David Chipperfield Architects’ One Pancras Square (AJ 16.05.14). The architect has responded to the narrow site stipulated by the masterplan with an elegant, eight-storey speculative office. Unusual for this building type, the scheme utilises hybrid ventilation which can be adjusted seasonally by individual tenants. During temperate seasons, tenanted areas can opt for a natural ventilation mode by opening panels on either side of each column in the facade, allowing fresh air to flow in via perforated screens.

I’ve heard an unusual amount of BREEAM-bashing lately, with many architects bemoaning its tickbox culture. Yet in the case of King’s Cross, where both good transport links and a centralised combined heating and power plant underpin the development (and mark up easy credits), BREEAM’s holistic approach has provided a framework for delivering greener buildings.

In the housing arena, the recent report cataloguing the construction problems at Oxley Woods (AJ 16.05.14), Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners’ award-winning MMC scheme completed in 2007, might appear as a blow to sustainable design. But even a cursory look at how the demand for MMC has evolved in the decade since Oxley Woods was designed suggests otherwise. In its early days, MMC was hailed as a sustainable way forward for housebuilding because timber or steel panels have less embodied carbon than onsite masonry alternatives, and because of the resource efficiency and waste reduction enabled by offsite prefabrication. In 2007, WRAP estimated waste reduction from MMC to easily surpass 20 per cent, occasionally attaining upwards of 60 per cent.

In the past decade, cross-laminated timber (CLT) has penetrated the UK market to an extent unimaginable when Oxley Woods was in the pipeline. For example, this week I visited Waugh Thistleton’s delightful canalside live/work building in Whitmore Road, London. Six 10-storey CLT are currently on site across the country, and a CLT factory is planned in Scotland. In the same period, ModCell, the manufacturer of White Design’s modular straw-bale panel system, has completed over two dozen projects.

Last week, Penoyre & Prasad walked away with the AJ100 Sustainable Practice of the Year award for 2014. It was encouraging to learn that Penoyre & Prasad, as well as previous AJ100 sustainable practice winners AHMM and Hawkins\Brown, are all proactively engaged in varying degrees of building-performance monitoring. Along with Foster + Partners at Langley Academy, (AJ 28.02.14), these practices have concluded that the lessons learned from monitoring, both to inform future work and to maintain satisfied clients, warrant the investment, even if this means funding the work internally. Several practices have recently hired dedicated sustainability staff - PhD students or recent graduates - to both spearhead this work and teach project architects basic thermal modelling which can be used at concept stage. Bringing this expertise in-house reduces the need for external consultants.

All of these approaches - pushing the boundaries on speculative office design, MMC in the form of CLT and post-occupancy monitoring - are easily replicable by any practice keen to engage with and promote green design.

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