Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

The year of rethinking green design as good design

  • Comment

Year in review 2013: Hattie Hartman, AJ sustainability editor

Retrofit, metrics, building performance, embodied carbon. These unglamorous subjects are the sustainable design currency of the moment, but good green design is so much more: this year’s best green buildings prove that mastery of these issues can also yield beautiful architecture.


Associated Architects’ boathouse for The King’s School, Worcester (AJ 28.03.13) benefits from a rigorous fabric-first approach; no bolt-on renewables here. It has brought life to a previously under-utilised corner of the King’s School’s campus. But nothing that is visible inside or out hints that this is one of the greenest buildings of the year.

In addition, the boathouse design team voluntarily entered the building’s energy data into the CarbonBuzz platform (www.carbonbuzz.org). Consider entering one of your projects in 2014, as a spirit of shared data is the quickest way the profession can learn from each other’s successes and challenges.


Whoever thought that 2013 would see WWF-UK relocate to a new building over an existing car park on the edge of Woking town centre? The WWF-UK headquarters by Hopkins Architects, an exemplar BREEAM Outstanding building (AJ 29.11.13), set a new standard for tracking and reducing embodied carbon. Sturgis Carbon Profiling established an embodied carbon baseline at Stage C and then worked with the entire project team to reduce the embodied carbon of the building by 42 per cent at practical completion.

The AJ’s Bridge the Gap campaign put the spotlight on energy metrics and the need for more post-occupancy monitoring. Concern about the building performance gap reached a tipping point in 2013, stimulated by the release of preliminary data from the Technology Strategy Board’s Building Performance Evaluation case studies. Aukett Fitzroy Robinson’s Marks & Spencer store in Cheshire confounded expectations with outstanding performance in its first year, using almost a third less energy than predicted (AJ 01.11.13).


Views clashed in every jury as to whether design or sustainability should prevail during the judging of the AJ Retrofit Awards, which boasted a particularly strong jury of design and sustainability experts this year. The winning projects were those that successfully synthesised both. Lessons to inform the bread-and-butter work of small practices undertaking residential extensions can be gleaned from the winning projects in the two house categories: Sanya Polescuk Architects’ Belsize Court Garages and BBM Sustainable Design’s 60 Barons Down Road.

Indeed, several publications form good guidance for architects and reference texts to keep near at hand. A team led by Adrian Leaman of the Usable Buildings Trust released a Responsible Retrofit Guidance Wheel, a tool which helps users identify the impacts of different retrofit measures on technology, heritage and energy in a project.

Packed with clear drawings and informative text, Marion Baeli’s excellent Residential Retrofit presents 20 case studies, each bursting with technical information and illustrated with reference thumbnail plans and sections, as well as a detailed wall section. Baeli set out to produce a handbook that she would find useful as a working architect, and has succeeded.

Another good book is Cundall engineer David Clark’s What Colour is your Building? which unravels the energy performance of the commercial office sector in a highly readable style. Clark’s book also includes countless links to downloadable appendices.


In 2013, AJ Footprint launched a new annual conference, and relaunched an AJ tradition - the building revisit, a post-occupancy building study. At The Green Rethink, the inaugural Footprint Live conference, last month the clear message from more than 30 TED Talk-style presentations from Terry Farrell, Ken Yeang, Patrick Bellew and more was that we already have the know-how and technology to deliver high-performing buildings. In addition, Enric Ruiz-Geli of Barcelona practice Cloud 9 struck a chord when he described the recent decision of the mayor of San Antonio, Texas, to reject the nuclear option and green his city using myriad other strategies. As a member of author Jeremy Rifkin’s roundtable (AJ 09.02.12), Ruiz-Geli was asked to compile a list of green architects for the Texas mayor. His global search yielded only 60 practices, a clear sign we have a lot of work to do. Full coverage of the conference can be seen at TheAJ.co.uk/footprintlive.


Finally, our first in-depth AJ Footprint building revisit to Will Alsop’s Peckham Library (6), his millennium Stirling Prize-winning project (AJ 27.09.13), revealed its popularity with local people and the building’s successful adaptation to changing needs.


There will be more building revisits in 2014, along with studies of new buildings that champion good sustainable design, such as O’Donnell + Tuomey’s student centre for the London School of Economics. First glimpses of this BREEAM Outstanding building suggest it is proof that a highly sustainable building can simultaneously enhance the public realm and delight the spirit with uplifting spaces and refined craftsmanship. Watch out for an AJ building study in the new year.

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.

Related Jobs

Discover architecture career opportunities. Search and apply online for your dream job.
Find out more