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On AHMM school: term 'sustainable' is relative

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I am surprised by your claim that ahmm's new Essex school (aj 4.11.99) is sustainable.

The term 'sustainable' is now used with such casualness that its meaning must be called into question. Designing for greater sustainability is an inexact science and research is still in its infancy. Terms such as 'more sustainable', which indicate a step on the road in the right direction, are surely preferable to the absolute term 'sustainable', which implies that we have already arrived. In this particular building, what calculations were actually carried out to prove the claim?

For example, for how much of the school day is artificial lighting required? The photographs indicate that artificial lighting is required in the gym and the internal corridor. (Unfortunately, the simplified-for-publication sections are impossible to decipher and communicate nothing about the amount of rooflighting). Is a building which needs artificial lighting turned on during the day really sustainable?

It has been built on a greenfield site - is that sustainable?

Is cedar cladding (usually treated with preservatives, im-ported from virgin forests in Canada, and sourced from trees hundreds of years old) really sustainable?

Is the construction of a new building which is only used for 39 weeks of the year, five days a week and six hours a day (ie for only 13 per cent of the time) really sustainable?

I wholeheartedly welcome this building's progress towards greater sustainability for school buildings, but please be a little bit more rigorous when making claims for what it has actually achieved.

Keith Bothwell, Canterbury, Kent

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