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.
Having signed up to the Architects Declare climate manifesto earlier this year, being mindful of our carbon footprint we decided against taking flights for our 2019 study trip and headed for some creative inspiration closer to home. Our much anticipated annual study trip is our time to team build, add to our professional development and inform our architectural design thinking.
Invited to visit the renovation of the historic Flaxmill Maltings in Shrewsbury, we made this the starting point for a packed programme of art, history and architecture, from medieval Shrewsbury to Birmingham, “the Workshop of the World”
So we all piled into the minibus, and set off on a promisingly sunny afternoon up the M5 to Worcester and our first stop The Hive, designed by our neighbours at 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.
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.
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.
The bright lights of Birmingham beckoned but we felt we couldn’t pass Walsall without dropping in on the New Art Gallery, designed by 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”.
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.
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, although unsure 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.
The new Birmingham Conservatoire by FCB Studios (2018 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.
Looping back to the city centre and the iconic Rotunda, the Selfridges Slug (sorry Jan Kaplicky and Amanda Levete), New Street Station (AZPML) divided opinion.
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 included the street art, bar/barber’s and the wonderful Digbrew Company Beer and Taproom – with thanks to Lauren for the discovery.
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 and the stunning Coventry Cathedral, Alex and Matt’s favourite.
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. We were clearly colour coordinated for our visit!
Wending our way back to Bath, weary but buzzing with inspiration and creativity, it seemed that the all-round winning building from our low carbon 2019 Study Trip was the New Art Gallery, Walsall, and the most popular favourite experience, the Digbrew Company Beer and Taphouse. Roll on next year!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, Seco Tools AB
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
· 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.