In his review of Jubilee Wharf, Bill Dunster's mixed-use sustainable development in Penryn, Cornwall, Peter Buchanan argues that 'appraisal of this sort of building should wait until it has settled into the life of the town and the performance of its environmental systems has been monitored' (see pages 25-37). As if to prove this, its completion coincides with criticism of its predecessor, BedZED, centring on the fact that its wood chip-powered plant has broken down.
Yet the problem underlines the extent to which BedZED was ahead of its time. Specified 10 years ago in the project's initial design, the plant was both unsophisticated and highmaintenance. Attempts to procure a replacement were scuppered by the supplier having gone out of business - an occupational hazard in a new and uncertain market. (An improved product is now available and Dunster reports BedZED will be running as a zero-carbon apartment block in four months' time ( ajplus 12.12.06). ) Projects up and down the country stand to gain from BedZED's process of trial and error.
BioRegional Development, the company which initiated BedZED, went on to form a joint venture with the developer Quintain, with a pledge to build 'One Planet Living' communities across the UK. One of its current ventures is to team up with Kevin McCloud in his bid to build (and film) an environmentally friendly suburb, hence bringing the business of designing sustainable communities to prime-time TV. It is hard to imagine a more dramatic transition from messianic to mainstream.
Perhaps the most ringing endorsement of BedZED's success is the admission by Pooran Desai, BioRegional Quintain's sustainability director, that 'we have learned as much about how not to do things as how to do them'. It may be a terrible cliché, but in an increasingly risk-averse culture, it is important to remember that we learn from our mistakes.