TALKING THE TALK
At AJ's 'Creating Sustainable Architecture' conference, David Lloyd Jones of Studio E presented the interesting thesis that an environmental aesthetic needn't look 'earnest'; Ted King of the ODPM gave us a few clues - but not many - about the new Code for Sustainable Building; and Duncan BakerBrown of BBM Sustainable Design presented a refreshingly honest, warts-and-all runthrough of his recycled materials projects. His use of coppiced chestnut in Glulam beams could catch on and, by using fairly untreated lambs' wool as insulation, which 'smells a bit when it gets wet', he said it is 'easier to detect leaks'.
King insisted that the proposed nationally recognised qualifications for surveyors for self-certification schemes is not meant to develop into a new construction profession, but be a modular extension of the architects' professional qualification. Furthermore, the government intends to publish a new Code for Sustainable Homes to increase standards over and above building regulations, developing the EcoHomes standard with 'star ratings' (three stars being the minimum requirement).
Meanwhile, last week the ODPM announced the successful launch of the Bristol Accord. Even though it doesn't have the same ring to it as the Rio Summit or the Kyoto Protocol, a lot of the sustainable community's agenda has been invested in this agreement, which has been negotiated as the last official act of the UK's EU presidency.
The Bristol Accord attempts to quantify the characteristics of sustainable communities, which it has narrowed down to eight key points; they should be:
active, inclusive and safe;
well designed and built; and fair for everyone.
'Fair for everyone' is a wide brief that calls for communities to cater for 'those in other communities, now and in the future'. 'Environmentally sensitive' communities 'actively seek to minimise climate change'; while 'well-designed communities' includes the stipulation that layouts should 'complement the distinctive local character of the community'. It omits 'enjoyable communities', which are, to my mind, places where managerial Eurocrats keep their noses out of ordinary people's lives, or 'real communities', where local people are given the honour of deciding for themselves whether they want to be seen as a 'generic community' anyway.
The accord succeeds in creating further tiers of debate, paperwork, research and sanction. Next November, after more meetings, ministerial commitments and the 'establishment of an expert group', all this will result in the Sustainable Communities Skills Symposium (SCSS), which aims to 'build capacity in the generic skills required for creating sustainable communities'.
Maybe by next November I might understand this double speak sufficiently to be won over. Until then it sounds like simply a chance for another tier of quasi-autonomous civil society advocates to interfere in community development - whether communities like it or not.
Each member state has pledged a magnificent Euro 10,000 (£7,000) to set up the SCSS and the European Investment Bank has a central role in making it work. Lending to projects will be conditional on meeting the new criteria - which, it is hoped, will complement the Code for Sustainable Building. And, like the never-ending sustainability conference circuit, we have come full circle. Nice work if you can get it.