Study Trip

Designscape Study Trip October 2019

Having signed up to the ‘Architects’ Declare’ climate manifesto this year, and mindful of our carbon footprint, we decided against taking flights for our architectural study trip this year and to instead visit some important buildings closer to home to inspire and inform our design thinking. We had been invited to visit the renovation of the historic Flaxmill Maltings in Shrewsbury and this was our starting point for a packed programme of art, history and architecture, from medieval Shrewsbury to “the Workshop of the World”, Birmingham.

So we all piled into the minibus, our mode of transport for the weekend, and set off on a promisingly sunny afternoon up the M5 to Worcester and our first stop The Hive (FCB Studios). Unusually this building combines both University and Public Library. Sunlight glinted on the seven unique cone forms comprising the roof (inspired by the kilns of the historic Royal Worcester works and the undulating ridge of the Malvern Hills) and was reflected by the golden scales of the cladding. We were impressed by the fantastic sustainability credentials and the beautifully calm interior of concrete and ash.

presentation
By the time we arrived in Shrewsbury it was getting dark and just in time for the most atmospheric night walk from the Castle at the top of the town down to the river through the narrow medieval alleys, and streets lined with lovely Georgian townhouses. Our guide was Alistair Godfrey, who would be taking us around the Flaxmill Maltings the next day, and his knowledge of Shrewsbury and its quirkier side was fascinating.
presentation
The next morning we met Alistair at the Flax Mills. Alistair is project director for English Heritage and he told us all about the renovation before we donned hard hats to explore the separate buildings that make up the site.
presentation
It was a real treat to see how the world’s very first metal framed building was being brought back to life and to learn about the history of the mills through the industrial revolution from Flax mill to Maltings from such a knowledgeable source. So a huge thank you to Alistair and we look forward to a return visit on completion.
presentation

The bright lights of Birmingham beckoned but we felt we couldn’t pass Walsall without dropping in on the New Art Gallery (Caruso St John). Even though it is now almost 20 years old it remains an exciting contemporary structure. Spencer was impressed, “I really liked the Walsall art gallery, it was wearing really well, the patina of use seemed to be improving it – some really intriguing spaces within what looks like a simple cube of a building”.

presentation

Next door, Sergison Bates Architects’ Public House, conceived in collaboration with Caruso St John and awarded the best new build pub award by CAMRA in 1999, had not fared so well over time.

One more stop off before Birmingham, in wet and windy West Bromwich, and a building some described as the low point of the trip, Will Alsop’s The Public, former Arts Centre now a Sixth Form College. Matched only by the neighbouring Sprinkles Gelato shop front, we mused.

presentation
Once we had negotiated the traffic diversions in the ‘motor city’ of the Midlands, the hotel was a welcome rest, and Livia’s favourite building..
presentation

..(not sure whether that was the architecture or the breakfast), before immersing ourselves in brummie culinary culture in the Balti Triangle. Lauren’s favourite moment.

The next day after a hearty, aforementioned, breakfast, we abandoned Chris to the rugby world cup and set off through the Mailbox to the canal basins (via Make’s The Cube) where we piled onto a narrowboat to cruise just a small part of the huge network of waterways in and around the city to get a sense of Birmingham’s industrial heritage and to see how Birmingham is responding to the challenges of industrial decline with emerging new developments. Chris had caught up with us by then, very happy with “England boshing Australia” in the quarter final.

presentation
Amongst the stand out buildings of our walking tour were the Victorian Gothic Revival forms of the Grade I Law Courts and the wonderful, derelict Grade II* Methodist Central Hall (Matt and Hilary failing to find a legal way in to explore the interior). The red bricks and terracotta mouldings looked as good as new even if the roofs had trees growing out of them. The over the top complexity and sumptuous detailing of these buildings demonstrated the pride and craft of the Victorians that built them. It is difficult to see how well the shiny new Birmingham buildings will fare in comparison.
presentation
The new Birmingham Conservatoire by FCB Studios (2019 RIBA National Award) was also notable. The private and intense world of rehearsal had been brought together with the public world of performance in a welcoming and accessible space. A peek into the beautifully detailed Bradshaw Concert Hall was well worth it.
presentation
The Library by Mecanoo also had its moments. Clearly a lot of money had been spent on the exterior, a filigree façade of interlocking metallic circles, ensuring it stood out from its neighbours, the brutalist Birmingham Rep on one side and the rather austere Civic Centre on the other. We thought the roof top gardens were beautifully planted and designed, although the main ground floor space was a bit disappointingly finished. The building gave the impression of a mini city within, tying in with the architect’s vision of a ‘People’s Palace’. Overall a thumbs up and an opportunity for a bit of sketching.
presentation
Looping back to the city centre and the iconic Rotunda, the Selfridges Slug (sorry Jan Kaplicky and Amanda Levete) and New Street (Grand Central) Station (AZPML) divided opinion.
presentation

After negotiating the new Bullring Shopping Centre on a Saturday afternoon (consumerism on a massive scale) …

… we found ourselves in dire need of refreshment so we quickly diverted to once gritty, now bohemian Digbeth and the creative Custard Factory environs. Highlights: street art,

presentation

bar/barber’s and the wonderful Digbrew Company Beer and Taproom (thanks Lauren for the discovery) – beer and freshly baked pizza well worth seeking out.

Highlights of our last day were the discovery of Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands’ Birmingham University Sports Centre, another RIBA National Award winner and Lauren’s favourite building,

Previous
Next
and the stunning Coventry Cathedral, Alex and Matt’s favourite.
presentation
Lastly, we took the opportunity to visit one of Designscape’s own buildings near Coventry, a production facility and HQ built recently for Exactaform Cutting Tools, a company specialising in diamond tipped precision cutting tools. Only those who had been managing the project had visited before so it was great to see the bricks and mortar first hand instead of the CAD.
Presentation

Clearly colour-coordinated specially for our visit.

Wending our way back to Bath, weary but buzzing with inspiration and creativity, it seemed that the all-round winning building was the New Art Gallery, Walsall, and the most popular favourite experience, the Digbrew Company Beer and Taphouse.

Big Shed

Big Sheds

How to make a Big Shed more commercially viable for your business

The term Big Sheds is a coverall for large commercial buildings that have a number of  uses: a manufacturing facility,  storage & distribution centre, climate-controlled data centre, retail space sports building or community space. Generally made from a universal set of parts – a steel portal frame wrapped in profiled metal cladding – there are new possibilities emerging in the digital design and manufacture of buildings. This has caused Designscape to re-evaluate the standard approach and challenge the industry standard approach to Big Shed design.

There are a number of key drivers behind these shifts:

Changes in technology

Changes in digital design technology (parametric modelling) and digital manufacturing are key drivers in finding a more cost and time efficient solution to Big Shed design. Parametric modelling and digital manufacturing techniques allow complex bespoke, optimised forms to be designed and made at no additional cost premium.

Commercial site availability

As suitable sites become increasingly difficult to find and the planning process becomes ever more demanding, so the concerns of sustainability, job creation and visual impact can be considered for a more positive planning outcome when proposing a Big Shed on a difficult site. A more bespoke and agile design solution can make an otherwise unviable site much more attractive. 

Cities and transport

Our cities are about to see some profound changes with the impending arrival of driverless vehicles, the requirement for clean air zones and automation of goods delivery services. As a consequence, Big Sheds are a feasible architectural solution to meet the growing needs out of town storage and freight consolidation  facilities to support growing last mile delivery networks.

Corporate identity and employee wellbeing

With building assets recognised as an important part of a company’s business strategy in an increasingly competitive global market, commissioning a Big Shed might be a practical consideration in projecting the right corporate image. Along with the increasing need to provide the ideal working conditions to both attract and retain employees, an elegant building design solution can help an organisation to help promote its CSR story.

Architecture and sustainability

A Big Shed can help address many of the issues surrounding the growing sustainability agenda – from design and materials to energy use and location.  As part of our pledge to  #Architects Declare our studio actively engages in sustainable architectural practices.

Humans

With employers mindful of the need to attract the best people, grow an internal culture that promotes productivity and create a working environment that reduces absenteeism and improves staff retention, designing a Big Shed to meet these requirements will have a positive economic impact for a business looking for a new premises.

Commercial building designed for employee wellbeing

Rethinking the big shed

If considering a new premises for your commercial business, we invite you to download a copy of our recent publication Rethinking the Big Shed which considers the key drivers to Big Shed design in more detail and explores some of our recent work in this area.

The future of big sheds

With some lateral thinking, innovation in Big Shed design can help business clients gain a competitive advantage in the commercial market place. Scarce and unusual sites can be made more viable. There are any number of commercial and economic benefits to commissioning a more agile building design to help businesses meet their longer term business objectives.

 Designscape are an integral part of and foundation of our commercial projects as we look to modernise out global facilities. They understand our people and support development of the environments we need now and into the future.

 Paul Hipkins, Global Project Manager, SecTools AB

Architects Declare

Architects Declare

Putting our pledge into practice

Since signing up to the Architects Declare climate manifesto in June Designscape have been investigating ways in which we can to develop our practices and procedures to meet the challenging ambitions of the commitment we have made.

What is Architects Declare?

Architects Declare, is an open pledge by the practices that have signed up, to join together in recognising the twin crises of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss. It is also a recognition of the paradigm shift required in the wider construction industry to tackle these imminent threats and how we, as architects, can help advocate positive change.

Architects and the Climate Emergency

According to UK Green Building Council the built environment contributes around 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint. Almost half of this is from energy used within buildings (heating & electricity consumption). While Designscape have always been mindful to incorporate energy efficiencies into building designs, the focus is on tackling the other major challenge of embodied carbon.

Building Design & Carbon Footprint

Embodied carbon is a neat way of describing the carbon emitted during the manufacture, transport and construction of building materials, along with the end of life emissions of a building including decommissioning and disposal of materials to landfill.

Also termed Whole Life Carbon, in 2016, emissions alone within the build environment were higher than the Green Construction Board’s target for built environment emissions by 2050.

Just Twelve Years

According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we have 12 years in which to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels or face droughts, floods, extreme weather events and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

As the 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg told global leaders at Davos in January: ‘Our house is on fire’.

Meaningful Action

So rather than just paying lip service, Designscape understands that signing up to the Architects Declare pledge does require meaningful action. It requires us to evaluate all new projects against the aspiration to contribute positively to mitigating climate breakdown and we will be actively encouraging our clients to join us in adopting this approach.

Many of the systems and design standards we have relied upon need to be challenged. We have a lot to learn and not everything we need to know is as yet freely available. We need to share our knowledge and collaborate to find persuasive facts and arguments to fuel this process to a sustainable future. As a starting point, Designscape have implemented a programme of round table to discuss how we can begin to fulfil our commitment.

Building Materials & Climate Change

At our first, we started to review our typical approach to building and asked ourselves a number of poignant questions: ‘how confident are we in our knowledge of the efficacy of the materials we use?’; ‘what is the real carbon footprint of commonly used building materials?’; and ‘how can we obtain reliable knowledge about embodied carbon?’ We resolved to focus on our Top 10 materials.

Buildings and Longevity

We agreed that buildings cannot just meet carbon performance metrics and be sustainable. They need to work for their users and give delight or they will not be long lasting. The life time value of a building is important, as the shorter the lifespan of a building, the bigger its impact it has in respect of embodied carbon.

Building Design and Performance

We also discussed how the design of a building may need to change if a certain aesthetic significantly compromises performance. The use of glass has long been a challenge in this respect. Not only is it at least 10 times less well performing than a typical insulated wall, glass can also create unacceptable overheating through solar gain and requires a huge amount of energy to produce. Double, or triple-glazed, units have a relatively short life expectancy (typically 20 years), however, glass allows natural light into our interior spaces and the connectedness with the outside improves our sense of wellbeing and happiness. The best answers are rarely simple.

Designing for Climate Change

At our most recent session we were delighted to welcome Professor and author Bill Gething – long-standing friend of the studio, highly respected sustainability expert and architectural consultant. Bill’s presentation highlighted a number of climate change facts and detailed some alarming predictions based on our existing carbon trajectory, leaving us with the thought that our need to reduce carbon emissions is just the tip of the iceberg!

designscape-architects-somerset-house-extension-alteration-transformation-bath-stone-ashlar-glazing-lead-Innox Lodge-photo-completed-4-197

Listed Buildings

A guide to successful alteration

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 re-organisation of the communal living spaces.

Listed Buildings Alteration

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 re-purpose what would have been servants quarters into a home office or guest room to suite modern family living.

Listed Building Consent

​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.

Historic England

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 summarise what is Listed 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 land-law sense (i.e. would be conveyed with the property on sale unless expressly excluded), it would be protected by the listing. This would 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 that took place in the C20th will be protected, but 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 generally much easier to justify a distinctly modern extension than seemingly minor internal alterations.

Historic Building Conservation

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.

Work with a Qualified Architect

The responsible approach 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 justify Listed building planning approval for them.

Historic Homes transformed for Modern Living

But any such ‘tension’ can often culminate in better outcomes and has in the past led to some notable award winning projects.

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.

If you have an historic building which you would like to improve, re-purpose or alter please get in touch.

bat surveys and homebuilding

Planning Consent & Bat Surveys

Bats and building projects

The presence of bats can, and regularly does, hold up the planning process of a homebuilding project. Notorious for adding months of delay to a planning application, scheduling in time for a bat survey and subsequent rehoming of bats to achieve planning consent, will help minimise disruption and keep your building project on track. 

Bats are protected by law

There are 17 species of bats that breed in the UK and all are protected under European law. With bats in decline over recent years, mainly due to loss of habitat, this is particularly poignant in the South West, where the presence of bats is commonplace. The ancient woodlands and sweeping valleys around Bath provide the perfect environment for bats to thrive.  Great news for bats, less so for prospective home builders and developers in the Somerset, Wiltshire & Gloucestershire area.

Conservation of biodiversity

Local authorities are obliged to conserve the biodiversity of habitats as part of their local planning policy and every planning application will be assessed against the European Habitats Directive, before a planning decision can be made. Click here for BANES Bat Survey guidance.

Proposals to demolish empty buildings, convert attic spaces, even re-roof or build new can all have an impact on an existing bat habitat, so it is important to allow time and money up front to avoid any surprises.  Even if you are simply planning alterations to an existing building, it is important to follow the correct process to remain ‘within the law’.

When might a bat survey be required?

As a general rule, when planning building or alteration work, if any of the following circumstances apply, then anticipate the requirement of a bat survey from your local authority:

  • Converting empty buildings, especially agricultural buildings
  • Historic buildings with gable-ends or slate roofs, regardless of location
  • Dwellings and sites near woodland or rivers
  • Country locations away from street lighting
  • Conversion or renovation of empty roof spaces
  • Dry and undisturbed void areas below and around existing buildings
  • Buildings with small openings in walls and roof soffits

Evidence of bats

An explorative survey, carried out by a specialist bat ecologist, will confirm whether there is evidence of bats or the potential for bats to roost at your particular site. Should it be considered a ‘reasonable likelihood’ that bats are present or likely to be present, the local authority will require further validation as part of any planning application.

The bat survey window

There is a window of opportunity for follow up bat surveys. These need to take place between April & September, when bats are out of hibernation and active. Several visits by a bat specialist may be required and if you miss the bat season, planning permission could be delayed for 6 months or more.

Bat roosts

While many bats, such as the Greater Horseshoe bat, roost upside down in large open roof voids, many are crevice dwelling species. Pipistrelles and Serotines live in wall cavities, the gaps between roof tiles and in dark basement areas. Different bat species can have quite different roosting preferences and some are less resilient to change than others. While bats are believed to have existed for 50 million years or so, they are vulnerable to change and sensitive to the activities of humans. For this reason, their habits have been studied extensively resulting in UK and EU legislation to protect them.

Bat activity and building development

  • Bats live on insects which they catch in flight. They tend to follow rivers, hedgerows, interconnected areas of woodland where flying insects are abundant.

    · During the summer months when they are active – April to September they can lead semi nomadic lives moving between roosts covering a wide area over several days and sometimes weeks, sometimes stopping in a single location for just one night.

    · They are sensitive to light. Light spill from artificial lighting – street lights or through windows can affect their habits. Changes to existing patterns can effect established migration and feeding routes.

    · Domestic pets, particularly cats will kill bats. New homes in areas with a large existing bat population are likely to have a negative impact upon numbers.

    · whilst some people might be somewhat disturbed by the idea of having bats in their homes, many will unwittingly be already sharing living accommodation with them. If they are already in occupation, changes to the status quo need to be mitigated.

    · Bats hibernate during the winter months and as a result surveys for bats can only take place during April to September.

    · Destruction of an existing bat roost is a criminal offence and can carry a prison sentence. If one is discovered during building work, it would be necessary to stop immediately, whatever the consequences and obtain a license for further works.

     

Bats and planning consent

But do not think that if you have bats, they will put pay to your plans. In nearly every instance there will be an appropriate and acceptable mitigation measure that can be employed to protect the bats and allow you to build. Working a solution into your planning application will likely result in planning consent. You may need to install a bat box or create an alternative roost site and will require a special Bat Licence approved by Natural England. (Natural England bat licence information).

One of our best examples is at Withycombe, just south of Bath. The house had stood empty for 10 years, when purchased by our clients. Our proposal was for a radical transformation, making the most of those features worth keeping while changing and extending the house to make the most of the fantastic location. Crevice dwelling Serotine bats were found roosting between the slate in the roof space, which was to be removed altogether. Lesser Horseshoe bats were found in a void below the external terrace. Working closely with bat ecologists, new roosts were incorporated into the design and a mitigation strategy and licence granted for the work to take place. The project is nearly complete, with both bats and owners in residence.

serotine bats and horseshoe bats in Bath

Budgeting for bats

· For an explorative survey, allow around £1000

· For a follow up bat survey, budget around £2000

· For a bat licence allow £500 – £800

And please note, a bat survey is only valid for 12 months, so working your schedule around the bat season is important if you want to avoid delays in building work.

Designscape have a breadth of experience in designing homes for humans and bats! Again, timing is everything. Works affecting the roost will be linked to the bats seasonal activity, usually being undertaken during hibernation and Bat Licences can take several months for approval. It can useful to schedule this into the project plan. We work with some great ecologists and bat specialists and can help you navigate the process for a successful outcome.

Project Information.

Notorious for adding months of delay to a planning application, mitigating the presence of bats can help keep your building project on track.