Tag Archives: sustainable futures

Long life, loose fit

by James Goodfellow

‘The circular economy’ is a phrase that’s thankfully becoming increasingly well known within the built environment industry, but sadly one that seems to be taking much longer to action in a meaningful way. The concept of course is about reducing our reliance on raw materials, minimising waste, and maximising the longevity of the final product to get as long a life from it as possible before recycling the materials for use again. Essentially, it looks to replace the ‘Take, Make, Dispose’ linear economy that has dominated our culture for so long with a ‘Maintain, Reuse and Recycle’ circular one.

Linear economy

For us it’s quite simple. We try look at it as a ‘Long Life, Loose Fit’ approach. We see it as trying to get as much from a building and the process of constructing it as possible. This applies not only to the lifetime of the building itself but also to the materials used to construct it.

Circular economy

We as architects approach the circular economy at four levels, asking ourselves key questions at the start of the design process:

Firstly, at the very centre is the building. Can we maintain or repair an existing structure?
 Small changes to the way we design buildings now will help enormously later when buildings are broken down and recycled.

Circular economy - Building (c) Make

Take our 55 Baker Street project, in which the 1950s building was considered to be at the end of its life. We proposed retaining the existing structure, and we were able to keep over 70% of the concrete frame and 50% of the existing fabric. Internally, the soffits of the concrete slabs were exposed to provide thermal mass, and bespoke chilled beams were hung from the concrete ceilings to provide cooling. Externally, the cladding was upgraded to meet the highest standards through improved thermal and solar performance.

55 Baker Street construction

55 Baker Street

This brought the existing building up to modern-day standards and provided renewed life to a building that would have otherwise been demolished.

Circular economy - components

Next we assess the components. Could we reuse or redistribute parts of the current fabric, or can we introduce modular or prefabricated construction? Like Meccano, a much-loved childhood toy, what can be reused or changed? How can we make the most of different pieces of kit? At our Pure Hammersmith site, we used prefabricated units manufactured off-site and inserted a finished product into the building structure.

 

We can now design in a way that allows components to be removed or deconstructed in the future and reconditioned for use again.

Circular economy - elements

Thirdly, we analyse the elements. Can we use reclaimed or refurbished elements? And how can we optimise materials or bring repetition to our design to enhance what we have? With 5 Broadgate we optimised the size of the cladding panels to work within standard stainless steel coil widths, which minimised waste through offcuts.

Circular economy - materials

Finally, we consider the materials we use. This is really interesting for Make and something we embrace passionately. What is the recycled content of the materials we specify? What could it be? And what is their durability? The Copper Box was one of the few legacy buildings at the 2012 London Olympics, and we are now enormously proud to see this world-class sporting facility open to the community. The cladding has 70% recycled content, and you can see how it’s changing naturally over time, adding further intrigue to the building.

Copper Box

One day, all this copper will be rolled up and reused somewhere else. And that gives us enormous pride too.

5 Broadgate cladding

With 5 Broadgate we analysed all the components within the building, and when selecting materials considered the recycled content as part of the selection process. We then tracked all these elements through procurement and construction, enabling us to establish that 38.64% of total material value derives from reused and recycled content. By undertaking this study, we now have a benchmark to compare future projects against as we strive continue to take make further improvements.

 

So that’s four layers, each of which gives us the opportunity to maintain, reuse and recycle, and ensure a ‘Long Life, Loose Fit’ approach. The ultimate aim of course is to create a new generation of flexible buildings that extends the life of its constituents and that one day will be completely recyclable – something we believe is becoming increasingly plausible if we all embrace a circular economy.

Circular economy

 

 

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Relevant Cities

By John Prevc

Cities need to keep pace with societal changes in order to ensure that they remain relevant for their inhabitants. This means designing flexible and adaptable cities where streets, spaces and buildings are able to slowly metamorphosize into places that resonate in their own time. Cities need to mature carefully, keeping the best and most significant markers of their culture and identity and hence preserving their individuality and essence.

We are unable to accurately guess where we will be even in the not-too-distant future. Keeping our cities relevant for the communities that inhabit them requires an understanding of the human condition and in particular our social and economic interdependence and our need to exchange information with each other. The human condition is consistent and universal, adapting to the context of place and time. Relevant cities are therefore a product of time and how we as humans interface with it.

Today’s relevant cities

Successful cities are cities that offer people opportunities to improve their lives. Whether it’s through an increase in employment opportunities, better housing, a well-established social infrastructure, a connected and well-maintained transport system or simply a cool place to be and hang out, it’s choice that’s the differentiator.

So how do successful cities optimise choice? We believe that one of the most significant factors is greater density. The exchange of information is at the heart of both economic and social success in the community. Through increased density connections are improved. Dense cities encourage social inclusion, foster business development, improve connections between members of the community and help to reinforce identity and a sense of place through design excellence.

High density life

High density brings life to the city

How do we deliver design excellence within a high-density city location? Our starting point would be to ask the community what it is that they feel they need. Consulting with the community and broader stakeholders will make cities more relevant. The specifics of place and the maintenance of uniqueness is something that lives in those who experience the area on a day-to-day basis. It is when a community is asked to adopt a commercial or political vision imposed from those on the outside that relevance is lost.

We can no longer consider the family unit in the traditional way. We are a more mobile society, more often than not living away from our families as we follow work opportunities. We live on our own for much longer at both ends of our lives and the fear of isolation brings us closer to those living and working around us. Our city communities are an extended family and often bring more relevance to our lives than our own blood line.

These social changes, together with an escalation in property prices especially in London, suggest that homes need to become more affordable either through a policy of subsidy or/and the consideration of smaller homes for single person habitation. Smaller homes will not however help families with children. Families with children are finding it increasingly difficult to afford three and four bedroom homes. If we are to encourage whole life city living and a more balanced community we will need to build variety of size and tenure.

Cities with greater densities encourage people to walk and cycle as distances between destinations are reduced and more accessible. Improvements in health and wellbeing are tangible results of this, with all of the social, environmental and economic benefits that this brings. The reduction in the pace of movement increases opportunities for people to meet informally and exchange information. This improves social cohesion and has economic benefit. It also makes for a more vibrant and active public realm which is safer.

Lower car use

Dense cities have lower car use than small suburban towns

Dense cities are green cities in both the physical and figurative sense. They offer visual and functional amenity at all scales, from the balcony to the private garden through to the public square and park. Density is a balance between building and open space giving people an environment where there are clear and well-defined boundaries between their public and private lives.

Density improves choice not only in terms of jobs and housing but also in terms of the types of goods and services available on the high street. Competition increases choice, reduces costs and improves quality. A significant population within the local community allows the market to offer a bespoke service which is adaptive and flexible following the societal needs which it will reflect if it is to be successful. For cities to remain relevant they need to be nimble and responsive adapting to the community they serve.

Flexible buildings

Flexible cities enable buildings to evolve with time

 

This essay was extracted from the Future Spaces Foundation report: Vital Cities not Garden Cities: the answer to the nation’s housing shortage?

 

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Greener Cities

by Frances Gannon

The value of green
Describing his vision of the ‘Town-Country’ Garden City, Ebenezer Howard said: “Human society and the beauty of nature are meant to be enjoyed together.” This chimes with contemporary research relating a connection to nature to people’s psychological state and social cohesion. Close proximity to nature has been linked to healthier babies, less lonely and depressed seniors, and more productive workers. Dutch researchers have investigated the value of ‘Vitamin G’, the effect of green space in the living environment on health, well-being and social safety. The Biophilia and Biourbanism movements are strengthening, asserting that humans seek connections with and gain positive feelings from ‘the rest of life’, including the whole of the natural world, be it plants, animals or the weather.

Vitamin G

Vitamin G: Visibility in a green city is just as important as direct use

Increasing densities = intense green
Accommodating an increasing population in higher density urban environments gives the opportunity to intensify the connection to nature. Rather than walking for 20 minutes through a suburban sprawl of tarmac driveways and fenced-off back gardens to reach a park, in dense urban environment accessible green places can be layered throughout. Faced with urban growth and limited land, the Singaporean Government has developed a strategy to transform Singapore from a ‘Garden City’ to a ‘City in a Garden’. This aims to raise the quality of life by creating a city that is nestled in an environment of trees, flowers, parks and rich bio-diversity. Key elements in bringing parks and green spaces right to the doorsteps of people’s homes and workplaces are: roadside greenery, planting and maintaining one million trees and creating a network of ‘park connectors’, green corridors which link between parks. Singapore is also tackling ‘vertical green’ with roof gardens and green balconies becoming the default.

Functional green
Green spaces provide a setting for relaxing or sunbathing, meeting and entertaining, walking, jogging, playing, gardening or bird-watching. In a subliminal way, walking past trees keeps us in touch with the seasons. Modern life is often disconnected from food production and there is value in re-establishing that connection: be it views of wheat fields, grazing animals, tomatoes in allotment polytunnels or lettuces growing in window boxes. Reducing suburban sprawl leaves more land available for food production, protecting that possibility for future generations and as-yet unknown challenges. Trees and planting in cities reduces air pollution and the urban ‘heat island’ effect. It reduces flooding and pressure on drainage infrastructure. Planting provides habitat for animals, birds and insects. It gives character and identity to an area and enhances local pride in the environment.

Embedded green
A wide variety of green spaces should be embedded at all scales of the city. The greater the density of the inhabitants, the more parks there should be and the closer they will be to each resident. Filling streets with trees and planted verges is an easy win in terms of visual amenity, environmental benefits and birdsong. Private individual back-gardens are the default British model for families and later life but investment needs to be made in other models in order to maximise value and relevance to a wider variety of households.

Most balconies built today are too small to be valued amenity spaces, usually home to drying washing and bikes. Making balconies large enough to be real useable ‘outdoor rooms’ with space for planting would make apartment-living immediately more appealing to a wider demographic, perhaps reducing the flight of young families to the suburbs. A simple move, such as offsetting apartment layouts on alternate floors so that a double-height outdoor space which is much more bright and airy. Built-in window boxes encourage micro-scale gardening, personal expression and character, giving visual amenity to many. Green and brown roofs play an important role in providing habitats for birds and insects, reducing water run-off, increasing insulation as well as visual amenity, without necessarily having to be accessible useable spaces.

Open space

There are many different types of open space that can be used in a dense urban setting to give residents the benefit of the vitamin G effect

Shared green
Shared private spaces, such as roof gardens or courtyard gardens are very popular in other European countries but not so common in the UK. Allotments or community gardens are being set up in neighbourhood parks and empty sites but these could also be established on roofs or in courtyards of new residential developments. Gardening, composting and play equipment, for example, can be much more effective on a scale bigger than a single household. The key is finding the size of the community where a sense of individual investment, responsibility and defensible space is maintained – easiest with a group of families perhaps. The exploration of semi-private or shared spaces can unlock many opportunities. Commercial units can also provide amenity in a city, such as a plant nursery or urban farm or café garden.

The built environment must always make way for some areas of ‘deep rooted’ green: mature trees or parkland that can become long-term habitats for plants and animals. Embedding nature at all scales and vertical levels of a building, a street and a city brings a vital connection into everyday lives.

Maximising green

Maximising green space in a dense city:
1. Juliet balcony
2. Balcony
3. Roof terrace
4. Private garden
5. Communal garden
6. Playground
7 Public square
8. Park
9. Avenues and boulevards

 

This essay was extracted from the Future Spaces Foundation report: Vital Cities not Garden Cities: the answer to the nation’s housing shortage?

 

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New Beginnings

by Chris Luebkeman

As I reflect on my year, I am struck by the rapidly increasing complexity of the world in which we live. 2011 was a year of extremes and I can only imagine that 2012 will continue this trend. Change is constant, but the context of that change is variable.

These extremes were seen across all of our social, technological, economic, environmental and political systems and have global, regional and local implications which frankly seem daunting to face. Yet this is a rare circumstance in which we find ourselves – we are confronting significant global challenges to which we actually have ready solutions which need not be extreme. Solutions that could, can, and need to be acted upon at both an individual and a professional level.

It seems to me that the biggest barrier to action is overcoming the inertia of the ways things have ‘always been’ and the debilitating paralysis precluding action which seems to pervade every level of society. The time for endless discussion and debate truly has passed. It is now time for action. It is time for each of us to commit ourselves to a year of action; to make the changes that set us upon the path of being active participants in sustainable communities and sustainable futures.

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