Despite the challenging economic climate, 2019 was a positive year for Designscape both in realising some exciting new building projects in the Bath area and working with some exciting new clients in both regeneration & sustainability.
As flag bearers for the #Architects Declare campaign (the industry ‘call to arms’ for the climate emergency & biodiversity crisis) not only did we attend some interesting talks but have also introduced our own CPD programme to address the issue of designing and building sustainably.
Sensitive alteration & extension of a Listed Victorian home harnessing natural daylight into an otherwise dark interior improving inhabitants’ wellbeing and reducing energy bills. More images of The Schoolhouse can be seen here.
An innovative cantilevered house with green roof embedding the building into the landscape. Read more here.
An alteration & extension complete with green roof and bat boxes to support biodiversity. More project details can be found here.
Including a Zollinger Roof (believed to be the first in the country) resulting in 40% less timber in the construction resulting in improved sustainability. Take a closer look at this project here.
A resource recovery plant whose design presenting a positive step in significant reduction in landfill and increase in recyclables, simultaneously producing waste energy that will feed back into the National Grid. Click here to read more.
Planning Consent (following Design Review Panel) for a new build home situated in the Green Belt between Bath & Bristol. More details can be found here.
Planning Consent for Crowe Lane, a sustainable new build on the edge of Bath which will be constructed of local materials and machined timber.
A contemporary new build on a wooded site over looking Bath, designed to make the most of the site with minimum impact.
The tail end of 2019 also saw us invited to pitch for a master planning project in the ‘Education’ sector following sight of our designs for improved outdoor space & energy efficiency at Freshford School . We were appointed to 2 new local authority frameworks, SWPA & WPA. And most notably we have recently submitted and landmark proposal for a client that, if approved, will see construction of a prototype commercial building that will bring enormous benefits to the local community through both its design & purpose.
Our continued commitment to encouraging young architects into the industry, by supporting their professional development saw us welcome 3 new architectural assistants to the practice in 2019 along with a marketing & business development lead.
Investing in new technology in order to improve the service we offer to our clients both in terms of visualising their project ahead of build & in designing buildings that use materials responsibly & economically has elevated our service in 2019.
We have also redesigned our website during 2019 in order that we can better tell our story while showcasing our body of work and are committed to bringing new content to our clients and collaborators to continue our journey of designing sustainable buildings that are a joy for users to inhabit.
In collaboration with Bath based engineering practice, Format Engineers, we have developed our own ‘Big Sheds’ initiative & produced a manifesto to help commercial clients design more efficiently and sustainably as we move into a new era. We hope that this stimulates a wider conversation around commercial buildings, especially as see an increase in storage and distribution requirements as online shopping habits continue to rise. Exactaform in Coventry below, is one such Big Shed that we designed in response to our client’s brief for a work environment that helps improve employee wellbeing.
Over the past 12 months we collaborated with Bath & NES Independent Group in the run up to the local elections, specifically around transport in Bath. We shared insights on our Free Buses in Bath campaign, first aired as part of the Imagine Bath competition. This is an initiative we spearheaded with RIBA SW in 2015, off the back of a hunch that many of those inhabiting Bath have a little dream of how they would like to improve it.
Keen to see Bath better serve its inhabitants, we were also participants at the inaugural ‘Therapeutic City’ Festival in August, an initiative we are keen to support and have more involvement with in 2020.
Off the back of our commitment to #Architects Declare, and conscious of reducing our practice’s carbon footprint, we arranged a ‘low impact’ annual study trip this year, heading north to enjoy the architectural delights the Midlands to inspire and focus our design thinking.
All round, a positive year for Designscape Architects and we look forward to embracing what 2020 brings in building design.
Instigated by 17 Stirling Prize winning practices in May 2019, the Architects Declare Conference 2019 is in response to the, dare we call it, ‘movement’ that has grown to include over 800 UK architects practices and spawned international affiliated groups in another 14 countries and similar organisations in allied professions. Director Spencer Back comments from the inaugral #Architects Declare Conference.
The 10 principles to which signatories agree to commit are direct responses to the current climate emergency and all challenge the existing system of commissioning, designing, building and occupying buildings. All are vital to shift the way in which the design and build sector operates if we are to have a chance of achieving the objective of modern society surviving beyond 2050 – yes really!
Designscape signed up to Architects Declare in June and on 27th November we attended the inaugral Architects Declare Conference, held at Haworth Tomkins’ recently restored Battersea Arts Centre. Organised by a steering committee including Julia Barfield, Peter Clegg and Steve Tompkins, it was attended by many of architecture’s leading figures with representatives from Grimshaw, Foster and Partners, Hopkins, Thistleton Waugh, Mikhail Riches and Cullinan Studio amongst others. If anyone was expecting something of a ‘How to solve the climate emergency with a new sustainability tool kit’ event, they might have been a bit surprised. This was anything other than some kind of earnest, specialist knowledge exchange – although that might come later. Neither was it all doom and gloom, in fact far from it.
Whilst the challenges are enormous and as one delegate put it ‘feel like standing in a swollen river trying to make it flow the other way’, there was an enormous element of positivity as to how this might be done. As another said, ‘It’s a big problem, but that’s what we architects do – solve problems!’. Not that it is a problem for architects alone to solve – many of the attendees came from other allied disciplines such as civil, structural and mechanical engineering and there was a consistent theme that this can only be done by collaboration and cooperation.
First, before the ‘How are we going to solve it?’ discussions, there was some scene setting and inspiration from the guest speakers. First up Jeremy Lent, author of ‘The Patterning Instinct’ which considers how culture shapes values, values shape history and the patterns of thought that have led civilization to its current sustainability crisis. This is Big Picture stuff.
How have we ended up in the situation where man, or more specifically western civilisation, has in the last 500 years consumed wildly more than its fair share of resources and put us on a crash course for mass extinction? Ugly facts include half of marine life lost in the last 40 years and a 60% reduction in animal life since 1970! You can read more about Lent’s insight into how the West’s attitude has given rise to the current climate crisis here.
The next speaker, economist Kate Raworth, offered another viewpoint on how western values are causing us to live beyond our ecological means. Raworth’s book ‘Doughnut Economics’ challenges the conventional model which places Supply and Demand at the centre of our values. What about everything else – quality of life, relationships, freedom, health? She sought to present a more holistic value model represented by concentric rings – the doughnut. The outer ring is defined by the sustainable limits of the planet (our Ecological Ceiling), the inner, the human rights and qualities to which all aspire (Social Foundation). In essence, the trick is to fill the middle ring, without expanding beyond the outer. For the West to make this happen, we need move towards a regenerative cycle which regards everything as a potential resource.
While we are all becoming more familiar with the ideas of sustainability, the challenge here is to go one step further – a regenerative system in which the design and construction industry improves on buildings that do NO HARM to buildings that make a POSITIVE CONTRIBUTION. Raworth points towards the concept of biomimicry where coral and trees sequester carbon and the idea that CO2 is not intrinsically bad, it is simply a resource in the wrong place. There are businesses that have made the transition from degenerative to regenerative – it is possible.
These insights strike at the very heart of what we do as architects; who we work for, by what methods and to what ends. Fundamentally, how do we responsibly manage sustainable growth and is it even possible?
From this high level primer, the Architects Declare Conference moved onto considering what delegates and signatories wanted from the Architects Declare platform and how we might meet the challenging commitments of the declaration. Joining a discussion considering how to share knowledge and research on an open source basis we shared our experiences and what individual architects practices are doing to get to grips with the issue.
It is clear that to have any hope of reducing the global impact of construction, we need to be equipped with reliable information to inform design and specification decisions. At present, existing design tools and regulations have been focussed on predicting the cost, carbon or energy in use in buildings and in some cases measuring it post occupation. What is more difficult is calculating embodied carbon. Figures exist for the manufacture of most common products. We know that concrete is particularly bad and the relative CO2 emissions for steel and aluminium, but this is not the whole picture. Some particularly bad materials may in fact only represent a relatively small part of a component or construction, factors such as transport, longevity, re-use and recyclability also need to be considered. The need for bench marking projects and setting targets for future buildings in terms of life-time CO2, including embodied carbon, needs to take place. From a client perspective the relative economics will undoubtedly figure – choices and possible compromises will need to be informed by knowledge. The need for an authoritative open platform is clear, suggestions included expanding carbon libraries for BIM entities and hosting information via the designingbuildings wiki site.
A potential point of friction was in the discussion around the sharing of intellectual property amongst architects. Somewhat surprised that this was so close to the surface
‘If I have found a clever way to achieve a low carbon building, do I want to share it with potential competitors?’
and at odds with the collaborative aspirations of the Architects Declare manifesto, surely as creative architects we will demonstrate our talents by integrating this shared knowledge in advancing architecture for the good of all. ‘Standing on the shoulders of giants’ makes for progress and it would be extremely disappointing if petty professional rivalries obstructed this key objective.
There was a general agreement amongst the architects at the conference that there will be a need for top down legislation for lifetime carbon limits. But what level of target would be appropriate? How might this be achieved? How might we view offsetting?
There are clear question for signatories working in the aviation sector. More work is required as well as the commitment for government to implement such legislation and with this, the need for a change in taxation which discourages re-fit in favour of new build. Building Regulations Part L is currently in consultation, there is an opportunity to push for some of these changes now.
Another theme was the need for better education for students and architects in this area to expand the knowledge base within the profession and practices, better that this expertise is in-house rather than solely the realm of external consultants.
The organisers sought to ‘map’ opinions at the conference directly with delegates. In response to a series of yes/no questions we located ourselves from left to right across the hall to reflect the spectrum of opinion. People were then encouraged to express why they stood where they did. Questions included:
Yes of course!
Ranging from ‘Absolutely no way’ to ‘If we don’t, someone else will’
Certainly a sense to better try and convince a reluctant client from the inside, even if you later decide that your objectives are not sufficiently aligned!
While there was accord on many of the questions, as one might expect, at times there was a spread from hard lined to more nuanced views. However, at least there was one general concensus one one point:
‘We cannot continue with ‘Business as Usual’
We are challenged to define what as architectural practices, we plan to do to meet our declaration commitments.
In drawing the conference to a conclusion, the organisers, sought a mandate for what Architects Declare should do next. The motion to continue its campaign by lobbying government and other bodies received a clear yes. Delegates were encouraged to collaborate with their own initiatives through the steering committee and also hold their own responsiblity. From the floor and coming out of group discussions, there was a clear desire for Architects Declare to be the organisation around which some of the practicalities of achieving a regenerative future should coalesce. In addition to lobbying, can Arcitects Declare become a central resource for practical advice and the sharing of information? I think this is what many delegates are hoping for.
The issue of Climate Change can at times feel overwhelming and insurmountable. The conference really did challenge this fatalistic position, leaving delegates with a positive sense of how world views can change, how organisations are already making a difference and the power that collective and collaborative action can make for a radical change.
In a short space of time, the efforts of Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg have affected the expectations and behaviours of both individuals and organisations. We were reminded that
Architects, both as professionals and human beings, have a greater agency for change than we might imagine and opportunity as well as responsibility to utilise our creative skills to become part of the solution – not the problem.
With a wealth of experience designing residential homes and commercial housing schemes, Designscape are experts in buildings designed for living. From interesting new builds to schemes that bring new life and identity to historic and listed buildings our goal is always to acheive an elegant solution for our client. View online or download a collection of our principal residential products.
Based in the World Heritage City of Bath, we regularly get enquiries from clients wishing to make alterations to a Listed building in order to make them meet the requirements of modern family living. From internal structural changes such as removing walls to open up the living space or converting the vaults to create additional living space to adding a large extension to allow reorganisation of the communal living spaces.
The way in which people occupy their homes today varies quite considerably from Georgian times. Most wish to live in a warm, dry house without damp, the past subdivision of a house into separate kitchen, dining and living room spaces is quite different to the open plan living we crave today and many wish to repurpose what would have been servants quarters into a home office or guest room to suite modern family living.
Each of these seemingly simple building alterations require Listed Building Consent in order to transform a listed building into a modern family home and in some situations approval by the Local Authority Conservation team is resisted. Heritage England, the public body that helps people care for, enjoy and celebrate our beloved historic environment, has a useful guide to listed building consent here.
It is a common misunderstanding that only the features included in the Listing Notice or the primary elevation are Listed. This is not the case. Be aware that it is a criminal offence to undertake works without the proper approval. Designscape have the in house expertise to help with this. Associate Alex Sykes can be found on the Riba’s list of Conservation Architects here.
Historic England give guidance on listed elements of a building as follows:
If an object is fixed to the principal building in such a way that it would be considered a fixture in the usual sense (it would be included in the sale details of a property unless expressly excluded), it would be protected by the listing.
This might even include that once fashionable avocado bathroom suite!
The good news is that once you make a Listed Building application, it is unlikely that work which took place in the C20th will be protected. However you must obtain approval to remove it. Work that affects the character of a Listed building will always require approval and will generally be resisted by the conservation team unless justified by diligent research and investigation. Interestingly, it is often much easier to justify a distinctly modern extension than obtain consent for a seemingly minor internal alteration to a Listed Building.
Many conservation officers have little truck with arguments such as: ‘But this is the kind of space required for modern family living!’ and are likely to respond with variations of: ‘This historic building has functioned as a house for 200 years, if you don’t like it move.’ This stance can seem pretty unreasonable, when you have spent a vast amount of money on your Listed property and want to deal with the water pouring through the basement vault, or want to knock two small rooms into one. There is no simple answer. Every day there are instances of unapproved work taking place within Listed Buildings in Bath, which can result in prosecution.
The responsible approach to transforming a Listed Building into a modern family home, is to seek expert advice to guide you through the process of obtaining Listed building consent. But do bear in mind that you may need to modify your ambitions. As architects, we are creative problem solvers. We create beautiful spaces and buildings of quality and longevity. As professionals we are required to act with integrity and within the confines of statutory regulation and the law. Sometimes we need to give our clients advice that they do not want in order to protect them from their aspirations, but in all cases we are looking for solutions and ways in which we can obtain Listed Building planning consent for them.
While the alteration of a Listed building or historic homes rarely comes without its challenges by working with a skilled architect, you can successfully transform your properties into a modern, comfortable family home best suited to contemporary living.
CALL TO ACTION
Do get in touch for an informal chat or book a free consultation here. We look forward to talking to you.