GHA has signed up to Architects Declare, and these are the actions we are taking in response to those commitments

What is Architects Declare

In May 2019 UK Architects declared a Climate and Biodiversity Emergency.

The twin crises of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss are the most serious issue of our time. Buildings and construction play a major part, accounting for nearly 40% of energy-related CO2 emissions whilst also having a significant impact on our natural habitats.

For everyone working in the construction industry, this will demand a paradigm shift in our behaviour.

Together with our clients, we need to commission and design more sustainable buildings.

The research and technology exist for us to begin that transformation now.

Recognising this, we are committing to strengthen our working practices to create architecture that has a more positive impact on the world around us.

Commitments

As a practice we have made a commitment to seek to:

  • Raise awareness of the climate and biodiversity emergencies and the urgent need for action amongst our clients and supply chains.
  • Advocate for faster change in our industry towards regenerative design practices and a higher Governmental funding priority to support this.
  • Establish climate and biodiversity mitigation principles as the key measure of our industry’s success: demonstrated through awards, prizes and listings.
  • Share knowledge and research to that end on an open source basis.
  • Evaluate all new projects against the aspiration to contribute positively to mitigating climate breakdown, and encourage our clients to adopt this approach.
  • Upgrade existing buildings for extended use as a more carbon efficient alternative to demolition and new build whenever there is a viable choice.
  • Include life cycle costing, whole life carbon modelling and post occupancy evaluation as part of our basic scope of work, to reduce both embodied and operational resource use.
  • Adopt more regenerative design principles that address safe and healthy materials, materials reuse, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship and social fairness
  • Collaborate with engineers, contractors and clients to further reduce construction waste.
  • Accelerate the shift to low embodied carbon materials in all our work.
  • Minimise wasteful use of resources in architecture and urban planning

Embodied energy vs operational energy – it’s a whole life cycle

To be fully sustainable the entire life cycle of a building needs to be considered, from design to deconstruction. The whole-life cycle or circular approach requires a response to the embodied energy expended in the construction methods along with the operational energy of a building, and recycling at the end of the buildings’ useful life. This approach considers a holistic picture of the entire process to minimise the carbon impacts. For example, increasing the thermal performance of a building has a corresponding reduction in the heating demand, therefore reducing the reliance on fossil fuels during the operational life.

Fabric first solutions

Considering the fabric of the building for thermal performance and environmental impact is the starting point of a successful project. A Fabric-first approach optimises the orientation, location and form of a building for example to avoid large areas of north facing windows or provide south facing windows, bearing in mind potential overheating.

A fabric first approach reduces the heating/energy demand of the building, therefore minimising the need for expensive sustainable heating solutions and carbon offsetting. The buildings’ fabric can be optimised to control the interior environment to eliminate overheating and moisture issues. For example, by providing plenty of natural light artificial lighting can be minimised whilst careful detailing and construction can reduce air leakage.

Performance gap

There is a danger with sustainable design that the designed performance is not realised within the constructed building, this is referred to as the ‘performance gap’.

Collaboration within the design team is essential to fully realise integrated construction information and this collaborative approach needs to extend to then construction phases. We work closely with clients to decide how sophisticated the heating/environmental controls need to be - it’s no good having a system which is too complex for savings to materialise. Proper commissioning of the system/controls is also essential.

Continued evaluation of the project post-completion in response to the fabric first approach, embodied carbon, and energy efficiency standards allows for us as a practice to refine our design processes to create healthy sustainable buildings.

Repair, Reuse, Recycle

We specialise in the conversion and reuse of buildings, and understand the importance of retaining existing buildings where possible. A buildings’ existing fabric is valuable in the reduction of embodied energy, as opposed to the need to construct a new building. We are also keen on researching the use of natural and sustainable products that are easily reusable and recyclable.

When working with existing buildings where building fabric cannot be upgraded to modern standards we work with sustainable technologies to reduce carbon impacts. Technologies we have installed include Ground Source Heat Pumps, Air Source Heat Pumps, Solar Panels, Mechanical ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR), and wastewater heat recovery.

How can we balance saving history with saving the planet?

Given the current heritage constraints to building in conservation areas and undertaking works to Listed buildings, it is clear more radical approaches will be required to significantly reduce the impact of development upon the climate. GHA recently published an article in Cambridge Architecture CA79 which explored some alternative approaches.

One area discussed was the evaluation of the city as a whole. Consideration of a discrete settlement within an overall carbon ‘budget’, which could be apportioned to different localities within the settlement in a way that reflected their relative heritage importance.

Although it is highly desirable to protect those places and buildings that contribute to the visual and cultural quality of a locality, it is clear that safeguarding the planet should be given a far higher priority. To achieve significant reductions in energy use requires an open and collaborative approach between architect and conservation officer.

The article in full can be viewed online here: https://www.cambridgearchitects.org/cambridge-architecture