Cool Cheap Green

Duncan Baker-Brown – BBM Sustainable Design

This is my first blog and an opportunity to set out my stall as far as where my current thoughts are around all things green within the world of architecture and design.

During the last decade or so there has quite rightly been a huge focus on how we can reduce the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases associated with the construction and inhabitation of our build environment. During this time Building Regulations and other governing codes and advisory institutions have worked extremely hard publishing design guidelines that have enabled the construction industry make some sense of the countless definitions of what it is to develop in a sustainable, low carbon manner.

However, is there not a possible problem with being so carbon-centric with our analysis? By focussing on creating new buildings (and now the retrofitting of existing ones) that are extremely well sealed and insulated so that they perform amazingly efficiently in-use, perhaps we are setting ourselves up for a bit of a fall?

Firstly these buildings cost an awful lot to construct and they also rely heavily upon very high standards of construction to perform properly. To be clear I’m talking about buildings that meet PassivHaus standards and/or Code for Sustainable Homes Levels 5 and 6. Therefore there is a worst-case scenario I can imagine where we get a decade or so ahead of us of poorly built under-achieving buildings that have cost us a lot of money.

So I suggest that while we continue our research as above we also consider genuinely holistic and creative alternative ideas that consider the whole Ecological Footprint of a development, not just the CO2 element of it. We need bright ideas that are cost-effective and therefore inclusive as well, otherwise low impact design will be like organic food an alternative to consider only in prosperous times. Remember (how could we forget!) we live in a time of cut backs and austerity.

I read a book earlier this year ‘Urban Green’ by Manhattan-based Architect Neil B. Chambers. To quote from it Neil states: “If you have a project and your team tells you that doing a green building is going to be more complicated or cost more money, fire your team. Green building should never be more expensive.”

I completely agree with Neil’s position here. It has been my experience that green buildings can be cost-effective to build. However when it is an afterthought or when one is asked to ‘green up’ an existing design, i.e. add a green layer to an outmoded gas guzzler, of course the result costs more.

What we really need is more and better ideas, so that we don’t put all our eggs in the PassivHaus low Carbon-focussed basket. We also need to adapt our existing cities/ places/ homes/ offices whatever to achieve this, and we need to do it without demolishing them and throwing them away. Retrofitting our cities so that they work in harmonious way with the natural environment will takes lots more than the installation of solar panels and solid wall insulation… But that is a start.

My next blog will consider ways we can achieve COOL CHEAP GREEN places. However in the meantime you will have to satisfy yourselves with this lovely image of the Graduation Pavilion built by students from the University of Brighton School of Architecture and Design. The pavilion was built using only waste material from a nearby building site.

Graduation Pavilion, University of Brighton School of Architecture and Design

Duncan Baker-Brown is co-director of one of the UK’s leading award winning green architectural practices: BBM Sustainable Design. He is also an academic and campaigner focusing on issues of sustainable development, holding the position of Senior Lecturer at the School of Architecture and Design at the University of Brighton. Duncan has spent a long time designing buildings that utilise locally sourced, ‘replenishable’ material such hemp, straw, timber, grass etc. His practice designed the first public building using straw bales (Romney Warren Visitors Centre), as well as the first prefabricated house made entirely of these materials; The House That Kevin Built in 2008.

A sustainable future: the role of the architect and designer in delivering low carbon buildings

Sofie Pelsmakers

In my final guest blog, I wanted to explore the role of the designer and architect in delivering a sustainable built environment. In the past, architects would manage the design and construction of buildings from start to finish, handling all the costing, material selection, on-site construction, project management, furniture design and finishes. However, as construction processes become ever-more complex, it is increasingly common for such roles to be delegated to other professionals, particularly in larger scale projects. And while architects, their buildings and clients undoubtedly benefit from a wider team and a multi-disciplinary approach, architects have become further removed from the actual construction itself, which is problematic. Regularly, architects do not get to see the building they designed until it is constructed and ‘finished’, particularly with the increase in ‘design and build contracts’. Additionally, it is rare for architects to receive constructive feedback about their buildings, such as any problems encountered during construction, or how the building is perceived, used and experienced by its occupants. Throughout Europe, regulations are shifting towards the delivery of buildings that are – once built – truly low carbon, yet the profession seems to be lagging behind as to how such buildings will actually be achieved.

With an increased focus on environmental design, many designers are overwhelmed by continuously changing regulations and the complexity of environmental systems, leading to a reliance on other building industry professionals to deliver specialist advice. However, as clients tend to delay consulting with specialists until after the design is finalised or has achieved planning permission, the role of the specialist is often constrained, to the detriment of the client brief and building. Rather than the full integration of sustainability solutions within the architectural language of a building, this can result in the ‘bolting-on’ of environmental services onto an otherwise ordinary building. Sometimes this can even occur when an environmental engineer is involved at feasibility stages, which I have witnessed on occasions when an architect has been ill-equipped, or unquestioning of the engineer’s proposed solutions or location of services.

If designers are to play a crucial role in the delivery of low carbon buildings, then we cannot afford to remain construction inexperienced and environmentally illiterate. Thankfully, some designers are leading the way and tackling this new professional challenge head on by using their environmental literacy as a strength to deliver inspiring buildings, which perform for their users and the environment alike.

Heating Infrastructure Project, Liverpool, Levitt Bernstein ©Eddie Jacobs

This brings me to Vitruvius’ three principles of architecture: durability, utility and beauty. In French and Dutch ‘durabilite’ and ‘duurzaamheid’ are synonymous with the term ‘sustainability’, and I argue that utility and beauty are prerequisites of durability, or sustainability in architecture:

• ‘Utility’ means that the building works, in that it functions well for what and whom it was intended (i.e. the user/occupants). This can only be achieved by the designer/architect being actively involved during the construction process of the buildings (s)he designed, as well as obtaining feedback once the building is occupied (and not just when things don’t work). The Soft Landings framework is a good start for the latter principle. (

• I understand ‘beauty’ in architecture within a broader definition of the term than simply aesthetics, but with regards to a building’s ability to inspire people and give pleasure. Architects who understand the constraints of environmental design are no longer simply at the mercy of their engineers trying to ‘tack’ on building services, but are able to use the environmental constraints as a generator of their designs. Some architects have done this successfully, such as Swiss practice Bearth and Deplazes’s Gantenbein Vineyard and the UK’s Alan Short and Feilden Clegg Bradley. Other good precedents might include for example RHMA’s Whattcotts yard and Clay Field; dRMM’s Kingsdale Sports and Music School; Allies & Morrison’s Charles Street Car Park in Sheffield, and Levitt Bernstein’s HIP Liverpool project.

Boat house, TYIN tegnestue ©Pasi Aalto

Inspiring places and spaces, which also function well environmentally, hold the potential to inspire people to make a change in their own lives, providing a key ‘marketing tool’ for promoting low carbon architecture and sustainable living.

Indeed, this ‘feedback loop’, which considers the relation between our ‘drawing board’ and the reality of construction and usability of a building, not only helps us improve as designers, but is crucial to delivering buildings that work and are sustainable for generations to come. A good example of designers taking this further into practice is the Norwegian practice TYIN Tegnestue ( TYIN Tegnestue works closely with the local community during all stages of design and construction, while also employing local materials and construction techniques in innovative ways to create low budget, yet truly inspiring places and spaces.

Reassuringly, architecture education seems to be changing, with some courses working closely with communities and users. This provides students with an opportunity to not only design buildings, but to cost, source and procure materials, to project manage, undertake health and safety checks, and finally, construct and handover their realised design to the community they are working with. Rural Studio at Auburn University in Alabama has been particularly commendable, and some European schools such as the University of East London, the Graduate School at the Centre for Alternative Technology and Sheffield University School of Architecture are also expanding this approach. The example pictured below by Sheffield’s students illustrates the practical skills obtained, ranging from project management to sourcing materials, as well as carpentry and site learning experience. Ideally, students will follow up on user feedback to apply this deeper learning to other future projects and hopefully, this will result in a new generation of architects graduating from such courses with the power to significantly influence our future building and architecture practices.

Ecclesall Woods Sawmill Live Project © School of Architecture, University of Sheffield

Sofie Pelsmakers is a chartered architect and environmental designer with more than a decade of hands-on experience designing, building and teaching sustainable architecture. She taught sustainability and environmental design and led a Masters programme in sustainable design at the University of East London. She is currently a doctoral researcher in building energy demand reduction at the UCL Energy Institute and co-founder of Architecture for Change, a not-for-profit environmental building organisation. Sofie is also the author of The Environmental Design Pocketbook (RIBA Publishing)

Biodiversity & greenery in the city

Sofie Pelsmakers

In my previous blogs, I made brief mention of greenery and biodiversity. The latter is under increasing threat in our cities. Especially in colder climates, our endless quest to increase building airtightness results in reduced nesting and roosting opportunities for birds and bats. Aside from incorporating wildlife habitat spaces in our buildings, the careful integration of greenery would not only support biodiversity habitats, but could lead to various positive outcomes including: the absorption of CO2 and pollution from car exhausts; reduced energy consumption in buildings; the minimisation of the effects of warm summers and urban heat islands, and increased water absorption through green and permeable surfaces. As long as native plant species are used, greenery in cities is of benefit to humans and to native wildlife. In dense urban areas, green space is particularly important to alleviate urban density pressures, providing human scale and a more attractive environment, as well as marking changing seasons with leaf changes and floral displays.

©Blanche Cameron, London and ©Pelsmakers, Renaudie’s ‘Jean Hachette’ housing scheme in Paris – examples of integration of urban greenery

Additionally, green spaces are also known to improve city-dwellers’ wellbeing, leading to decreased mortality. This is why it is crucial to ensure that the average global city-dweller lives within a 5-6 minute walk (or 300-400 meter radius) of a green open space. This can consist of a park, an outdoor sports area or playing field, but also squares, allotments, rivers, waterways, ponds, wildlife areas and reservoirs. An alternative open space could also include the delightful planted rooftop of a building, which provides a visual amenity and relief for surrounding buildings, as well as giving direct access to city-dwellers, such as the Jardin Atlantique on top of the Montparnasse station in Paris (see below).

©bere: architects – rooftop of the architects practice in London and ©Pelsmakers, Jardin Atlantique, Paris

To truly support native wildlife, continuous green habitat corridors need to be created, which connect smaller green areas with larger, more undisturbed city-edge habitat areas. This also maximises urban residents’ access to large and varied open spaces with interesting cycle and walking routes. Fragmentation of open spaces is problematic and occurs when patches of green are interrupted by roads and traffic. This isolates species from their habitat and other food or nesting sources, which affects their breeding gene pool and survival rate. So where disruptive new roads and passageways occur, undercrofts or green bridges can be introduced to interconnect the spaces. In addition to ensuring the safe movement of small mammals between open spaces, these measures also provide safe crossing conditions and uninterrupted enjoyment for visitors. It is for the same reason that greenery should be interlinked at macro, micro and building scale, as illustrated by the diagram below.

In several cities, the integration of greenery to the benefit of local city-dwellers and native wildlife has been extremely successful. For instance, this has been the case in London, Paris, Brussels and New York, where disused railway lines have been turned into pedestrianised ‘high walks’. After years of neglect, open spaces such as these were often earmarked for development, and it fell on local residents to win the battle to retain these special areas, and in some cases improve them. I have not visited New York’s central ‘High Line’, but if my experience from regular visits to Paris’ central ‘Promenade Plantée’, North London’s ‘Parkland Way’ and Brussels’ ‘Le Moeraske’ is anything to go by, they are wonderful opportunities for city-dwellers to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and reconnect with nature. They are all of a very different nature and not necessarily based in central city-areas, but this diversity proves that there is not any single way to create a successful urban open space for city-dwellers and its native wildlife.

London’s Parkland Way is wildlife-rich due to the fact that it links two larger open spaces at either end and has also been sparsely designed or maintained, allowing it to grow ‘wild’ for longer than the Paris and New York links. In the summer, you can go and pick wild blackberries without realising you are on a disused railway track, were it not for the occasional passing of what were once railway platforms. In Brussels, ‘Le Moeraske’, meaning ‘the little marsh’, is probably the most wild-life rich due to its swamps, which are inaccessible to visitors, but much loved by wildlife such as ducks, frogs, toads, bats, weasels, the red fox, and many more bird species and native flora. It is a truly amazing space, which is so easily accessible and makes up for a city-dweller’s ‘concrete’ living.

Le Moeraske, Brussels ©Pelsmakers and London’s Parkland Way ©ejbaurdo

The Paris link is rather incredible in different ways, as it departs from a central point off the Opera Bastille and opens up into larger urban open spaces (and urban woods on the outer edge). The passage also contracts into narrower green bridges between buildings – which I gather is much like Manhattans’ High Line according to Kayla Friedman’s beautifully described experience. Both the Manhattan and Paris railways are well-designed and maintained, providing a visual amenity for surrounding city-dwellers overlooking the spaces and access to richly inhabited bird and insect ecosystems. Most city-dwellers would argue that these spaces are invaluable and should be treated as such. Indeed, to experience birds and other wildlife from within the hustle and bustle of city life, is not only good for wildlife, but for us city-dwellers too.

One of the entrances to the Promenade Plantee, Paris, ©Pelsmakers and New York’s High Line, © Kayla Friedman

Sofie Pelsmakers is a chartered architect and environmental designer with more than a decade of hands-on experience designing, building and teaching sustainable architecture. She taught sustainability and environmental design and led a Masters programme in sustainable design at the University of East London. She is currently a doctoral researcher in building energy demand reduction at the UCL Energy Institute and co-founder of Architecture for Change, a not-for-profit environmental building organisation. Sofie is also the author of The Environmental Design Pocketbook (RIBA Publishing)

London 2062: The future for our cities in the next 50 years?

Sofie Pelsmakers

London 2062: where to start? Let’s face it; it is impossible to predict how our cities might change over the next 50 years, but we can speculate about what might happen if the UK, combined with other countries globally, failed to meet carbon reduction targets. Globally we are on a trajectory to medium or high global warming, and there is no evidence to the contrary that this will change. Consequently, this means a 2-6ºC rise by 2100, and while this blog will focus on the implications of this rise on London, cities all over the world will face adaptation issues – some similar to London, others entirely different.

Let’s start with the climate change predictions. By 2080, London’s summers are expected to be as warm as the Mediterranean climate of Marseille, but without the extra sun-hours. While some consider this ‘good’ news, the reality is that our urban and built environment is not built to cope with such weather. For example, in the 2003 heat wave, the UK alone counted 2000 heat-related deaths, while Europe suffered thousands more. While a 3-4ºC increase in winter temperatures undoubtedly cuts winter fuel poverty, a similar summer temperature increase is likely to lead to summer ‘cooling’ poverty – when the elderly in particular will struggle to cope in ill-adapted homes.

Additionally, sea levels are expected to rise by as much as 900 mm, and although annual rainfall is not predicted to change, it is the distribution of rain which will become problematic, with up to a third more rain falling in winter and nearly equivalent decreases in summer. Water problems are already being witnessed in London and elsewhere in England, as evidenced by the ‘hosepipe ban’ coming into force this month.

However it is not all bad news. While the predicted weather conditions will be new to the UK, they are already a fact of life for much of the world and building precedents in Mediterranean countries could teach us how to adapt our cities to cope with increased summer temperatures. Similarly, the Netherlands is a country with more than 50% of its landmass below sea level and can teach us how to work with water, rather than against it.

While we can only speculate about how things will change and how ‘bad’ they may get, we can and should future-proof our buildings today by undertaking adaptation measures, which simultaneously support climate change mitigation efforts. Here are my simple top 5 key adaptation and mitigation measures to undertake, for both new-build as well as retrofit of housing:

1. Insulating & increasing the airtightness of buildings helps buffer against cold winters and is also effective in assisting with warmer summers.

2. Incorporate sliding or inward-opening windows, which allow external solar shading to be closed, while allowing good natural ventilation (see also 3).

3. Ensure good night-cooling and cross ventilation, while blocking unwanted summer-sun out. Thermal mass may also play a role in buffering against high summer-time temperatures as long as good, secure night cooling is provided to release built-up heat from the daytime. Failure to do so may cause overheating.

4. Increase greenery, permeable surfaces & water storage – both at micro and macro scale. These measures will help London and many other cities deal with increased risk of localised flash floods and also the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect, which exacerbates summer overheating. Green spaces and water squares, which collect rainwater and act as an amenity for city-dwellers, can help reduce local summer temperatures by creating a ‘park cool island’ effect, with temperatures 2–3°C lower than the surroundings. The larger the green space, the greater the tempering effect, although this effect can still be felt with small spaces too.

5. Finally, provide light coloured external surfaces at micro & macro scale. Vernacular architecture in warmer countries show that light and reflective surfaces, when used on buildings and streetscapes, can keep buildings cooler and reduce surface temperatures by 10–20°C.

Of course, future-proofing means that, while certain measures can be implemented later, others need to be effected immediately. For instance, for new build, careful site planning and taking account of orientation must happen now, as would specifying a well-insulated building fabric and inward opening windows. However, solar shading could be provided later, as long as fixings are incorporated into the initial designs to make any future adaptations easy and feasible.

Whatever the future holds, we cannot afford to be complacent – especially as the measures above, and many more, can be easily incorporated into current procedures as part of good design practice. Given the required foresight and planning, we might be able to provide buildings which aid mitigation efforts – and if need be – support the future adaptation of our cities for years to come.

Sofie Pelsmakers spoke about the above at the Future of London/UCL ‘London 2062 – Housing Seminar’ Sofie is also the author of The Environmental Design Pocketbook (RIBA Publishing)

‘Low carbon’ design: a mistaken proxy for ‘sustainable’ design?

Sofie Pelsmakers

Across much of the industrialised world, the construction industry is tasked with meeting ambitious carbon reduction targets. Not only is the construction and operation of buildings responsible for a large proportion of carbon emissions, but they are also dependent on a dwindling and insecure fossil-fuelled energy supply.

Reducing carbon emissions is ideally done by significantly reducing energy demand. First through increased energy efficiency and then, if still required, by meeting the remainder of reduced energy needs with ‘renewable’ energy sources.

Usually, local building and planning codes regulate these aspects of building performance and are supported by assessment tools such as LEED, BREEAM and, in the UK, the Code for Sustainable Homes. Although such tools include wider sustainability aspects, such as water use, health, biodiversity, accessibility and material resources, these complex frameworks do not tend to capture the intricacies and interconnectedness of sustainability issues. This can result in ‘carbon counting’, which often neglects other environmental impacts that cannot be measured in CO2.

Sometimes carbon savings are contradictory with other environmental ethics. The following are just a few examples to illustrate this point:

Airtightness & biodiversity:

We are all agreed that ensuring airtightness in colder climates is crucial for thermal comfort and to reduce heat losses. Yet, by doing so we minimise the gaps and cracks where local birds can nest and bats can roost.(i) Particularly in the refurbishment of existing buildings, increasing airtightness can lead to a drastic reduction in local wildlife.

With careful thought, the designer can use planting to reduce energy consumption in buildings, while improving residents’ well-being and providing a crucial habitat for local wildlife. One such integrated approach is by bere:architects (see image below).

Airtightness & health:

The more airtight our buildings become, the more important it is to have good air quality – making the choice of internal finishes and materials crucial to the end design. Specifying materials and building finishes which are not made with formaldehyde glues and other off-gassing elements matters more in airtight buildings to keep its occupants healthy. However, such implications and consequences are not usually captured by existing frameworks.

The zero carbon & density paradox:

In the quest to meet a development’s energy needs with on-site low and zero carbon technologies, ‘zero carbon’ development densities tend to be below 50 dwellings per ha.(ii) Yet, this is well below the recommended sustainable density of 80 dwellings per hectare to support public transport, cycling and walking and mixed-uses.(iii) The impact of this is illustrated by the diagrams below. So while buildings may be ‘zero carbon’, the increased energy for local transportation is definitely not. Additionally, roofscapes, which can be used for amenity purposes, are now experiencing increased competition with roof-mounted renewable energy technologies.

Clearly, we want to avoid legislation and frameworks becoming any more complex; but if the direct impact of our ‘carbon reduction drive’ on other aspects of sustainable design is properly acknowledged then we would have a better chance of designing energy efficient buildings that are truly ‘sustainable’. The challenge is to acknowledge that by undertaking one strategy, adverse impacts may occur on another environmental parameter, which cannot always be measured in CO2, and to carefully investigate how any such adverse impacts can be minimised and negated.

I believe that it is where carbon counting and other sustainable issues meet that the richness, creativity and opportunities lie for environmental design. This means that decision-making is far from straightforward, but if a designer is aware of such opposing issues, at least an informed decision can be made and ‘low carbon’ can then also be, at last, ‘sustainable’.


i Williams (2010), Biodiversity for Low and Zero Carbon Buildings: A Technical Guide for New Build, RIBA Publishing

ii Pelsmakers, S. (2012), The Environmental Design Pocketbook, RIBA Publishing, London

iii Sustainable Neighbourhoods,(2005) Methodology-LDA design


Sofie Pelsmakers is a chartered architect and environmental designer with more than a decade of hands-on experience designing, building and teaching sustainable architecture. She taught sustainability and environmental design and led a Masters programme in sustainable design at the University of East London. She is currently a doctoral researcher in building energy demand reduction at the UCL Energy Institute and co-founder of Architecture for Change, a not-for-profit environmental building organisation.

Sofie’s new publication The Environmental Design Pocketbook is the culmination of more than a decade researching, teaching and practising sustainable architecture. The book is an attempt to cut through that confusion, synthesising the main issues into one single source of practical information.

A Postcard on Building from Israel

Israel is no Dubai, Cairo, or Istanbul when comes to its urban buildings. It is something all of its own. Located in the Levant, the western edge of the Middle East, and sandwiched between Lebanon and Egypt, Israel fancies itself as somewhere between London and New York. It looks to the west despite being firmly planted in the east. And this is also despite the climate, culture and mood being undeniably Middle Eastern.

The same is true in Israel’s modern architecture starting with the Bauhaus movement in Tel Aviv in the 1920s. Shunning the Ottoman style of Turkish rulers before them – remnants can be seen in Jaffa, Jerusalem, Acre, and even the ramshackle city of Lod – the new Jewish nation wanted to build something new. Something of its own. One hundred years later what has resulted is a hodgepodge of architecture styles without any clear vision, and one which for the most part denies its Middle Eastern location and Arabian influence.

Unlike the rich Gulf countries and even Beirut today, Israel relies more on market demands than the whims of rich construction magnates – and their architects – when designing the modern city. People here are less concerned about aesthetics, and more about practicality.

If you look hard enough you will find architects in Israel like Moshe Safdie, romancing the Middle Eastern styles, winning contracts to gentrify old buildings like Mamilla in Jerusalem. But this is not the norm. Most building projects in Israel resemble some generic high-rise suburb from Anywhere and Nowhere, with apartments built to sell to young families. Kids in some towns draw construction cranes as part of the skyline instead of birds.

Over the last ten years in Israel the wealthier have been in the mood to move from their mansions in Caesarea, where the randomness of city life is lacking, to buy into luxury towers, like the Yoo Buildings built by Philippe Starck in Tel Aviv. They are in the city, but protected from it.

I had the unfortunate experience of living beside one of these towers as it was being built in Zedek Neve, a historic neighbourhood in Tel Aviv. With no regard to the existing neighbourhood’s character or flavour, this monstrous building rose up into the sky; apartments were sold to foreigners mostly looking to spend a month or two in Tel Aviv. Living in a Templar building smack dab beside the construction zone I had workers pee on my windows, steal my morning newspaper, peek through the curtains. There was a thick layer of dust in my home every day no matter how hard I cleaned. A crane accident killed three workers, and sounded like an earthquake when it was coming down. Another day flying debris like a 4m 2×4 speared my backyard shed as it launched from the top of the 30-storey tower. More people could have been killed, myself even. And complaints to the construction company were futile.

I’ve seen Arab construction workers hired to rip apart historic buildings and the asbestos roofs on them with no safety equipment (boots or hats), masks or regard for the safety’s wellbeing.

There is no accountability in Israel when you have claims to make against builders, and there is no one to speak to when you call the police. I’ve seen piles of asbestos waste in my hometown Jaffa, piled beside the roads where kids play. I’ve seen asbestos board in fact littered throughout the entire country. You can find it everywhere. I’ve found historical graffiti from WW2 English soldiers started in Tel Aviv and no one from the city seemed to care when I mentioned the idea of preserving it.

When you are caught between the east and the west, survival and leaping forward, lower middle income families and the nouveau riche, there are bound to be growing pains. We feel them in the built environment in Israel, as towers explode on the skylines, and smaller neighbourhoods fight to preserve their recent and sometimes ancient past.

Karin Kloosterman is the founder and editor of Green Prophet, the only sustainable news source covering the Middle East region. Green Prophet often features green design news from the Arab world, highlighting ancient practices and techniques that can promote energy efficiency and smart design for the future.

Building a Sustainable City

All good things must come to an end, and as my turn in the ECOWAN Blog hotseat draws to a close, there’s no better time to look at what happens when our lovingly crafted buildings reach the end of their lifecycle.

While we place increased emphasis on creating the sustainable buildings of tomorrow, we need to ensure we’re thinking about the impact buildings will have on the environment once they’re no longer a proud part of a city’s skyline. This increasingly means factoring in long-term material sustainability right at the drawing board. Amongst other materials, we need to consider what happens when the glass that we manufacture for architects reaches the end of its life.

Waste glass (or cullet) can be recycled to create new glass. This results in less CO2 emissions than creating glass from scratch using raw materials

If processed carefully, glass can be fully recycled, enabling significant savings in raw materials and energy used in production. Melting glass is easier than melting the raw materials used to make it. With that in mind, it makes sense to reuse scrap glass (or ‘cullet’) and therefore reduce CO2 emissions compared to making new glass. Additionally, the raw materials used to make glass emit CO2 as they react in the glass-making process. Cutting the amount of ‘new’ glass being created reduces this CO2 burden too.

This has been understood in the industry for many years, and all good glassmakers recycle cullet from their own processes to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Now, however, there is increasing pressure to recover glass from further down the supply chain, from glass processors, window manufacturers, installers and, eventually, from the companies who scrap the glazing at the end of its useful life.

Cullet can often be reprocessed into usable architectural glass products again

This end-of-life recycling can be more of a challenge. One can easily spend more energy collecting windows from a demolition site than is subsequently saved by recycling it. This means there are significant challenges we need to overcome to ensure such recycling has a real financial and environmental payback and is not just window dressing, if you’ll pardon the pun.

In order to achieve this, we need to work closely with architects and builders to ensure buildings can be demolished in a modular way, allowing end-of-life glass to be salvaged and reprocessed cost- and energy-efficiently. We need to establish systems that treat cullet as a valuable resource, keeping different types segregated and free from contamination, with the possibility to consolidate loads to make transport for recycling environmentally beneficial and cost effective. We all have a part to play in designing systems, processes and glazing components that make this a possibility.

This approach is already mandatory in vehicle scrapping as part of the End of Life Vehicles EU Directive (2000/53/EC). As a key member of trade body Glass for Europe, we will be actively looking for ways to implement a similar approach across the industry. This will ensure that architects don’t just leave a positive legacy in the buildings they create, but also in the overall sustainability of our cities.

Nick Shore is Sustainability Director for the NSG Group’s Building Products division. His remit is the creation and implementation of sustainability strategy to ensure it remains a core value at the heart of what the NSG Group does. The NSG Group is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of glass and glazing systems in three major business areas; Building Products, Automotive and Specialty Glass.

Living in the East and the West House in Jaffa

Karin Kloosterman

The city of Jaffa, adjacent to Tel Aviv, is going through a strong period of gentrification. I moved here more than 12 years ago, a period when escaped donkeys would run unleashed through the city at night. Considered one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, many of us know Jaffa from the story of Jonah and the Whale in the Bible. This is where Jonah set off for Ninevah before getting swallowed by Leviathan. I know Jaffa for its unpredictability, its undeniable Arab flavour, and its gorgeous Ottomon and Templar style buildings.

For years I lived in a thick-walled Templar building, a basement with light-soaked interiors thanks to the thick, large windows angled to let in the maximum amount of light. Rumours had it that the basement of my house led to an underground weapons cache; and my neighbour Doron had the blueprints to prove it. I believed him because shelling on one of the nearby buildings suggested that the railway that ran through the valley was targeted in one of the many recent conflicts, recent in the context of history here. Not far from home I found etchings on a wall left by WW2 era British soldiers.

Now I live in the East West House in Jaffa, a large Arabian-style house built during the Ottoman Period, by the Turks. When my husband bought it, its charm was barely evident, its roof had collapsed in major sections of it; some of its walls too. With a major overhaul that left half of the house in its complete and original format, the other half became a modern, small family home. One can find many cases of extreme renovations in Jaffa, most notably any building created by one of Israel’s most famous architects Ilan Pivko, who I’ve interviewed in the past. I love the Pivko buildings – but only millionaires can afford them and others like this by Pitsou Kedem in which I attended a party recently. But without millions of shekels in renovation budget, my husband (a musician) re-fashioned our house with his own hands, enlisting a team of volunteers including a dentist and stage designer to help him clean, polish, repair and rejuvenate this space. It’s called the East West House in Jaffa. And it really does exist between the spaces of the East and the West, in art and living. My husband’s family is from Tajikistan, and my side from Holland-Scotland-Ireland.

Half of the house is kept as it was, with two large rooms, a sprawling hall, and now stage, antechamber and bathroom/kitchen. The old 100-year old tiles made by the Freres, a French company in Tel Aviv, are in perfect shape, and get even better as they are used. This half of the house functions as the home to my husband’s non-profit house, an NGO that features ethnic music from Israel. He also performs his various projects there, most recently Debka Fantasia.

The other half of the house in which I am sitting now writing this is modernised. My husband kept the original look and feel of the house on the exterior, as he rebuilt the front exterior wall, creating two pointed arch windows and an exterior interface that blends with the old. Inside we have a split level home with a labyrinth of rooms that provide modern comfort and inspiration. While many architects justify their salaries by creating ambitious and large renovations into old spaces, this model of the way our house is renovated could be something to think about: just like archaeologists studying antiquity leave something behind for future archaeologists to dig into (no doubt tools in the future will be more robust), perhaps architects of today should leave, where possible, large portions of gentrified buildings almost as they were with flaking paint and the original character and quality of the house.

All images courtesy of Karin Kloosterman.

Karin Kloosterman is the founder and editor of Green Prophet , the only sustainable news source covering the Middle East region. Green Prophet often features green design news from the Arab world, highlighting ancient practices and techniques that can promote energy efficiency and smart design for the future.

Pushing the Building Envelope

Nick Shore, NSG Group

Derby University - Pilkington Planar™

Compare a city skyline fifty years ago with one from today and the most striking difference is glass. Whereas the skyscrapers and façades of old often featured large glazed areas, these were always framed with thick, heavy steel, brick or stone. Now, as technology and fashions have changed, these same skylines have become vast panoramas of glistening glass.

This is not just because glass is ‘in fashion’. As we discussed in an earlier post, the combined aesthetics and performance of glass products make it far superior to other building materials, and this has driven architects to use glass more in their designs.

The technology that makes full, uninterrupted glass façades possible has been around for decades now. But with constant investment in R&D, and some truly cutting-edge innovations, the different ways architects can use it are changing all the time. Now, structural glass systems like Pilkington Planar™ give architects new opportunities to design buildings in the way they want to.

With Pilkington Planar™, buildings can be completely clad in glass, while the system can also be used to create curtain walls, opening lights, curved glasses and complex three dimensional façades and roofs. Because of the way the system fits together, it can be manufactured off-site and simply bolted together on the ground on the day. This gives architects new creative possibilities as the system can be customised to meet any requirement.

It’s also incredibly versatile from a safety and security point of view too. Pilkington Planar™ has undergone intensive testing to simulate its performance across a variety of scenarios, from seismic activity to bomb blasts and hurricanes. The most important factor here is that the system remains intact under pressure, even if one of the panes is broken.

This flexibility and integrity means the Pilkington Planar™ system has been used for a huge variety of applications all over the world. From the New York Presbyterian Hospital to the University of Derby, the Star City leisure complex in Athens to the Turku library in Finland, architects are using the system to create ever more interesting additions to our cityscapes.

Ensuring longevity and flexibility is crucial when designing modern buildings. As with any structural system of any material, the key to this lies in understanding the effect it will have on the building’s overall performance. When using full glass façades, or any other application with Pilkington Planar™, these effects must be understood and managed from the start. This can range from the way heat and light is transmitted around the building, affecting air conditioning and lighting systems, to the way it affects the usage of each room. Installing a full glass façade in a locker room, for example, is not advised.

Tracking these effects is complex, but the software to do it is commonplace in the architects’ office. As BIM systems continue to become more accurate, specifying full glass systems in the building envelope will become second-nature; enabling more and more architects to design stunning and useful buildings in whichever way they desire.

Nick Shore is Sustainability Director for the NSG Group’s Building Products division. His remit is the creation and implementation of sustainability strategy to ensure it remains a core value at the heart of what the NSG Group does. The NSG Group is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of glass and glazing systems in three major business areas; Building Products, Automotive and Specialty Glass.

Building over my dead body

Karin Kloosterman, Green Prophet

Jewish legend has it that when the Messiah comes every dead person buried will come back to life from an indivisible node at the back of the neck. Jewish law holds supreme reverence for the dead. In the Holy City of Jerusalem the dead should be buried before nightfall, and all those old bones you can imagine are piling up.

With extreme prohibitions on moving the dead, the Holy Land of Israel is coming to terms with how to keep the urban fabric going as previous gets left in the dust. There are lots of opportunities for urban architects not only in Israel but for the world, in coming up with respectful and religiously-sensitive solutions to keeping the dead in their rightful resting spot, while allowing the living to expand gracefully.

Dense burial is one important way in Israel: Jerusalem is stacking its dead. Like raised parking lots at airports, cemeteries in Jerusalem are stacking the graves on cement stilts and platforms, solving the problem of limited space. It costs more at first, but long-term maintenance costs less. Four times the dead can be buried in dense burial graves versus conventional graves.

Then there are the ancient graves: in Israel urban planners must learn to build around them (see this old case study from Cairo). Last year surveyors found an ancient Jewish gravesite while starting a new highway project. How was it solved? A bypass bridge over the graves was constructed at a huge expense. In other cities where old graves are within the city limits, special roads must be built for the Cohens, the Jewish priests, to drive on so they don’t come in contact with the dead – a prohibition in Jewish law.

Then of course there are the contractors and architects who ignore requests to desist from building on hallowed ground. In the land of the prophets, this way of thinking channels particularly bad Karma. The Andromeda building in Jaffa was a project that went ahead despite massive religious protests. The contractor died in the midst of the construction; further infrastructure and support is at a standstill created by extreme religious protest.

Like most environmentalists in Israel, I am for saving open space, and building up the urban core, rather than building across new open land, even if it’s in the desert. I value nature, as much as I love the frenetic craziness of living in an Israeli city.

What to do with the dead in our cities and towns will be a bigger question that Europeans, North Americans and the world will face in the new millennium. I think that ‘architects of the dead’ could be a new line of work for the designers and builders of our future – a task to incorporate the bones of our past with the living in our cities.

Karin Kloosterman is the founder and editor of Green Prophet, the only sustainable news source covering the Middle East region. Green Prophet often features green design news from the Arab world, highlighting ancient practices and techniques that can promote energy efficiency and smart design for the future.