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Sustainable Housing Design Guide for Scotland

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Fionn Stevenson and Nick Williams, The Stationary Office, Norwich, 2000. £35. ISBN 0 11 4972 796

In a concise and accessible form, this book brings together the main principles underpinning sustainable housing in the context of northern locations, write Brian Edwards . It does so by providing simple rules and checklists, straightforward sketches and costed case studies. Unlike many other design guides, this book is strong on practical applications with many construction details showing the new arrangements necessary to realise sustainable housing design. Building science is not overly conspicuous, but it does quietly inform much of the text and diagrams.

Modestly called a 'design guide', the book is concerned with the whole spectrum of Scottish housing - from new buildings to rehabilitation and maintenance. Covering issues such as energy, resources and health (each given their own chapter) to design and detailing matters, from urban design to 'problem' specifications, this format has the advantage of providing a smooth transition between application and the essential connectivity of actions.

An unusual aspect of the book is the attention paid to personal and community health. Normally 'green' is interpreted in energy terms but here the authors relate energy strategies to their impact upon health, both physical and psychological.

There is much useful advice drawn from the work of the BRE and, for a government publication, there is also surprising openness to the potential problems of electromagnetic fields from substations and overhead lines.

This book is refreshingly integrative in a field normally divided into sectoral interests.

This is most evident in the attention paid to the role of the client in bringing together the interests of the user within a framework which benefits architecture. Life-cycle costing is presented here as a tool which breaks the tyranny of low-cost, lowspecification and high-maintenance - allowing life cycle value to inform the process of housing provision and upgrading. The simple tables and case studies provide an easily-grasped overview of a topic central to the question of lifetime quality. For example, the authors note that 'innovation in housing may be incompatible with design and build as a procurement route'. Discuss.

This book has a large measure of commonsense ideas, applicable throughout the UK, even though it principally addresses Scottish housing themes. One such idea is the need to educate public sector tenants to ensure that their lifestyle is consistent with any green building objectives. The book cites carpeting solid-floored sunspaces and opening windows for cooling (rather than turning down heater controls) as examples of the need to combine building work with information packs. The book usefully highlights the issue of 'maintenance free' replacement components, which are frequently installed by owners, architects and managers on energy grounds. Here the authors suggest that the discipline of a sustainability audit at upgrading stage would avoid misunderstandings.

The book concludes with 12 good practice case studies drawn from across urban Scotland. The authors exploit their experience as architect and planner bringing a technical sharpness not always found in green books. Each case study is subjected to the same template including SAP ratings, U-values, fuel costs and financial costs. It is only through such comparisons that clients and architects can make the best choices from different sustainability pressures.

Disappointingly the book does not have a technical index, nor a concluding chapter, preferring 10 pages of information sources. A book which seeks to be a point of reference should draw together the key elements of the argument as a matter of course.

Brian Edwards is professor of architecture at the University of Huddersfield

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