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The Green Rethink: debating a more sustainable future

Last week’s Green Rethink brought together some of the foremost architects engaged with green building to share their thoughts on energy and the environment. Laura Mark selects the highlights of the event

The AJ invited 33 speakers to address the 156 delegates to the inaugural Footprint Live conference: The Green Rethink, in association with Lafarge Tarmac. Videos from the gathering at the Royal College of Physicians will be viewable soon at

Rab Bennetts of Bennett Associates on the focus of sustainable design

Rab Bennetts

‘If we focus on low-carbon design it acts as a proxy for all else. And if we can link sustainability and wellbeing, we hit the jackpot. We also need to be doing more to measure buildings. It is really surprising how buildings perform in use.’

SustainableBYdesign’s Lynne Sullivan on government targets

Lynne Sullivan

‘This government has not retracted its climate change reduction targets. By 2019 all buildings including existing should be near to zero-energy. This means that they should need barely any energy in their operation. They have to be pretty much passive. The UK objective is for a 50 per cent carbon reduction below 1990 levels by 2020. The Liberal Democrats’ pledge to retrofit all homes to Enerphit standard and make all new homes Passivhaus will take a massive cultural shift.’

Sabine Leribaux of Architects Associés on Passivhaus

Sabine Leribaux

‘Architectural quality is about what a building has to offer and what it has to share. The approach should not be limited to a dash of dazzling photovoltaics or to a sprinkling of a few eco-oriented materials. Passivhaus remains a wonderful tool, but is no more no less than that. It serves a bigger picture called energy efficiency, which is itself a principle anchored in fundamental human rights. Why is it that because we live in our comfortable western world we have a right to a mammoth environmental footprint?’

Ken Yeang on building green and tall

Ken Yeang

The challenge is to design skyscrapers as vertical urban design

‘Green architecture shouldn’t look like any other building we have been doing for the past 30 years. They should look green and hairy. At the moment architects are designing tall buildings like engineers. This is what gives tall buildings a bad name. The challenge is to design skyscrapers as vertical urban design. They should be designed like urban spaces in the sky, not just have the same floorplates stacked on top of each other.’

Gerald Macreanor of Maccreanor Lavington on tall buildings

Gerald Macreanor

‘The debate about whether tall buildings are sustainable is primarily about density. Low-density cities have very high energy use. For low-energy cities we have no choice but to build taller. There’s a cultural resistance in the UK to tall buildings, resulting from social problems with past high-rises. But many of these problems can now be designed out through encouraging social interaction.’

Simon Sturgis of Sturgis Carbon Profiling on embodied carbon

Simon Sturgis

‘What happens at the end of a material’s life is the most important factor. A material or a building cannot be sustainable unless this is taken into account.’

Anna Keay of the Landmark Trust on the refurbishment of heritage buildings

Anna Keay

‘Refurbishing is about not dissipating the embodied energy contained within the building. It is about restoring projects of historical significance.’

Simon Thurley of English Heritage on cultural sustainability

Simon Thurley

‘Heritage is an irreplaceable resource just like the rainforests. It needs to be taken into account. If development does not sustain heritage then it is not inherently sustainable.’

Enric Ruiz-Geli of Cloud 9 on knowledge sharing

Enric Ruiz-Geli

‘We need to change our attitude to sharing. As a practice we are sharing patenting. This is open innovation. Architectural offices don’t seem to be ready for this.’

Alison Brooks of Alison Brooks Architects on a sustainable suburbia

Alison Brooks

‘The suburb is unfashionable. But, given that 70 per cent of people in cities live in suburban densities one of our biggest problems is how we make them more sustainable.’

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