Architects have less ability to reduce carbon dioxide emissions than they imagine. Not all buildings are architect-designed and the low level of building renewal means that new construction accounts for a small percentage of the total stock.
Work to existing buildings has now been included in the revision to Building Regulations Approved Document Part L Conservation of Fuel and Power. The requirement to upgrade existing property when undertaking refurbishment or alterations is aimed at closing the range of operating inefficiencies between the mass of old and the trickle of new development. Taxation on fuel will perhaps encourage a resurgence of refurbishment or renewal, bringing property owners into the requirements of Part L. How far taxation on periodic fuel bills will have to be increased before expenditure on construction is a preferable option is an imponderable. If taxation on fuel increases too steeply it will hit the new building occupier despite the marginally better energy efficiency of their property.
Tenure further complicates the analysis because landlords will tend not to modernise properties until tenants go to newer accommodation with lower bills, if they can find them.
Another desperate idea considered by the former Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions was to involve development finance in the energy conservation and carbon emissions reduction project.
Doing your bit Yet none of these initiatives is seriously intended to tackle the intractable problem of the ageing built environment being replaced too slowly, which is where architects would really find a role in carbon emissions reduction. The revised Part L regulation deals with housing and non-domestic building separately, and provides three methods of demonstrating that 'reasonable provision has been made for the conservation of fuel and power.
These different methods offer increasing design flexibility in return for greater demands in terms of the extent of calculation required. However, the overall aim is to achieve the same standard in terms of carbon emissions.' The methods are of increasing mathematical complexity and, if architects want to remain innovative, they must quickly master the sort of calculations that building services engineers are best placed to understand at the moment. For nondomestic buildings:
lthe elemental method simply considers the performance of each type of construction in the building separately, but severely limits the scope for increasing areas of construction with higher heat losses, such as glazing;
lthe whole building method allows the architect to use any combinations of construction, provided the overall energy consumption of heating, ventilation, air conditioning and lighting does not exceed a benchmarked level of carbon dioxide emission per m 2 across the floor area of the building; and lthe carbon emissions calculation method permits any design provided it can be shown that the total annual energy consumption converted into carbon dioxide emissions will be no greater than that for an equivalent reference building type assuming prevailing weather conditions and normal operation.
The art of architecture seems to have been subsumed into a convoluted exercise in energy conservation abstracted from building physics, with no clear way of linking any of this number-crunching to the realworld processes of global warming - which themselves are over-exaggerated or beyond the control of architects to alter. The new Part L is the equivalent of putting bottles in bottle banks, except of course that Part L is a mandatory requirement.
At best, going through the routine may seem tangibly worthwhile, but there is no way of assessing the contribution to the environment.
Art or science?
Rather than encouraging design flexibility, the revised Part L imposes needless constraints on the architectural imagination. There is no clear link between the science of climate change and tinkering with the abstracted building regulations.
Architects presumably did not choose their career because they wanted to perform mathematical acrobatics to demonstrate a concern for global warming. This is design tokenism of the worst kind. Architects need scientific advice on likely climate change to be able to meet their clients' needs with some sense of proportion when thinking globally.
Architects should concentrate on raising the frequency at which the built environment is replaced and take advantage of the cleaner technologies that are increasingly available in building services. For architects to push the design of a pitifully small amount of new development to extremes of efficiency, while obsessing about the conservation of the mass of inefficient buildings, makes no sense. To believe that reducing demand for energy can improve the weather is a shared selfdelusion that architects should be wary of adopting as a measure of professionalism.
Edited transcripts of 'Design Tokenism and Global Warming', by Helene Guldberg and Peter Sammonds, from Sustaining Architecture in the AntiMachine Age, Ian Abley and James Heartfield, Wiley-Academy. 2001, reproduced with permission.