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Mainstreaming green design at the AECB

The AECB’s annual conference in Bradford was a font of collaborative knowledge-sharing

I’m just back from the AECB’s annual conference where I spoke on mainstreaming green design. This deep green organisation has been advocating green building since 1989. The speaking invitation provided the pretext I needed to attend the annual event, which this year took place in Bradford. AECB members such as Anne Thorne Architects’ Fran Bradshaw and Mark Elton (ex-ECD now of SustainablebyDesign) are Footprint regulars, but I met several small practices and solo practitioners I hadn’t come across before. Quite a number of the AECB’s 1,400 members are architects, including many solo practitioners.

In an intelligent move led by HPW Architecture’s Gary Wilburn, the AECB  has rebranded itself with a green logo (no more blue) with the apt tagline ‘building knowledge.’ The AECB conference and its online forums curated by Mark Siddall and Nick Grant are the place to go if you need info on detailing airtightness membranes or practical guidance on water savings. The AECB also has a useful Low Energy Buildings Database and a network of over 20 regional groups who meet regularly and organise local green building visits. 

AECB Bradford

BREEAM Outstanding ‘The Green’ student accomodation

Both the AECB and the University of Bradford (which boasts a 35 per cent reduction in carbon emissions since 2005 and three recently completed BREEAM Outstanding buildings - strong on environmental cred but weak on design) have dropped ‘sustainability’ from their branding. I still argue that sustainability needs explicit championing or else it is too easily overlooked or value-engineered out. Inspirational design has never been high on the AECB’s agenda so I used my talk to raise the bar on green design.

An ethos of friendly collaboration and knowledge-sharing permeated the event. I was reminded that the AECB has its own green building certification programme, called CarbonLite,  As of September, CarbonLite  training will be offered at the University of Bath. Water guru Cath Hassell of ECH20 led a seminar with Nicola Thomas of Brighton-based ARCH-angels Architects on the sustainable water strategy for a house in an area of outstanding natural beauty that is seeking planning permission under paragraph 55 of the NPPF. A detailed explanation of the challenges of using recycled water for a natural swimming pool because of the filtering requirements was followed by a lengthy discussion on the pros and cons of reed beds versus conventional septic systems. Apparently the jury is still out on this matter.

Architype's Bushbury Hill School interior

Architype’s Bushbury Hill School interior

The most informative session I attended was a double act by Architype’s Lee Fordham and AECB stalwart Nick Grant, by background a water specialist (and author of the AECB water standards) but more recently a Passivhaus consultant. Cath Hassell referred to Nick as having ‘gone over to the dark side.’ With two recently completed Passivhaus schools in Wolverhampton and another currently on site, Architype has been able to readily implement lessons learned from one project to the next. 

The messages were clear: collaborate and keep it simple. Both Oakmeadow and Bushbury Hill in Wolverhampton had over 120 window actuators each, while the school currently on site has approximately 20, only on clerestory windows. All other operable windows are opened manually. In contrast with Penoyre & Prasad’s Ashmount School at Crouch Hill in London (which I visited last week – feature in the AJ coming soon) which has CO2 sensors in every classroom, the Passivhaus schools have them only in the main hall. By the third school, the team (which includes the same contractor) has also finessed its airtightness detailing. It’s great to see Architype out and about sharing their expertise.

All in all, an informative weekend with a strong collaborative spirit. 

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