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Sustainability can't be proved in a few months

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Keith Bothwell's comments on the description of our school at Essex (Letters, aj 18.11.99) are very apposite. The school is described (perhaps lazily) as sustainable because 'that word' was used throughout the competition and design discussion. I concur with his view that the school is best described as 'more sustainable', but would question the implied comment that a new building could be 'sustainable' in 'absolute terms'.

Indeed our challenge was to produce a 'more sustainable' building within standard dfee costings and financial structures. The most notable of the latter is that the ring fencing of capital and maintenance budgeting renders lifecycle costing virtually impossible.

With regard to the request for proof of sustainability, I can offer nothing definitive as the building is only in its first year of life. I can, however, confirm the following: extensive calculations were carried out at the design stage to test daylighting, natural ventilation, energy use, orientation, cost in use, embodied -energy criteria and numerous other sustainability issues - including the use of all materials and indeed a greenfield site. In response to the questions raised by Keith Bothwell, I would note that with the exception of the kitchen and wcs, which have mechanical extract, all spaces are naturally ventilated; the daylight quality is very good but can sensibly be supplemented by artificial light; and that the building is designed for use by the community after hours and throughout the calendar year.

Despite all the above, I would stress that the first and key aim of sustainability must be to produce a building that lifts the spirit; if we have succeeded in that we would be delighted.

Simon Allford, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, London EC1

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