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.

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