Matt is a chartered town planner and qualified architect. He studied Architecture and Plannning at UWE, Bristol and completed a Masters in Urban Design at Strathclyde University. He's a qualified Passivhaus designer.
Matt is a trustee of Skirmishes charity and current chair of the Scottish Ecological Design Association. He has experience working in architecture, planning and urban design practices including RMJM and Turley Associates. He has published research on Homezones and architectural critiques based on design themes of people, context and sustainability.
Outside the office, Matt has travelled extensively including 12 months cycling around the world – through Europe, Asia, South and North America – as well as expeditions to The Alps, Himalayas and Greenland.
What sparked your interest in climate change and sustainability?
Interest in climate change and sustainability is really an evolution of my interest in walking, climbing and outdoor sports. Whilst in my first year at architecture school, I was lucky enough to be selected for an expedition to Greenland to look at glacial changes and archeology. The results were pretty conclusive – glaciers are retreating at a higher rate now than ever before. This sparked further research and interest through my studies and work. Further travel and exploration has cemented this view whilst also developing ideas about culture and how people live in different extreme environments.
Travel, research and practice has led me to value architecture by how it creates place, responds to people’s needs and touches the planet lightly.
What opportunities do you feel are open to Glasgow becoming more sustainable (in its architecture)?
Glasgow has historically been a very dense city with a unique, adaptable house type (tenements) to make this work harmoniously. It has lost this density over the decades and I strongly believe that on a macro level there should be a drive for new urban living, particularly across the east and north of the city where there are significant vacant sites. Density and careful consideration of streets brings public transport, services and amenities to a local area which low density suburbia can not hope to replicate without dependance on the car.
There are significant untapped resources in and around Glasgow which could be harnessed to provide higher quality living, lower ecological impact and improve skills and training. An example is our work in Shettleston which showed how mine workings, a blight to many sites, can be used to provide a source of heat for homes and hot water. Scottish Power and the British Geological Society are mapping suitable mines across the east end of the city, allowing access to this valuable resource.
On a practical note, the city’s cycling infrastructure needs to be planned and designed by a cyclist. Incomplete, dangerous and pointless routes litter the city with no strategy or coherence. It is a miracle that levels of cycling continue to increase despite desperately poor facilities.
Why do you choose to design passivhaus over Zero-energy building (ZEB) design?
There are principally two mainstream views of sustainable architecture at present – one where buildings are constructed at an average standard with eco ‘bling’ such as photo-voltaic (PV), wind turbines and other kit clipped on to make them more ‘sustainable’.
The alternative is to build better and design carefully to harness solar energy, build with the minimum mechanical kit required and build robustly.
Passivhaus standard promotes the latter view with care required on insulating, airtightness and solar gain. I believe this approach provides the best long term solution, offers low energy bills for residents, can be more aesthetically pleasing and affords the opportunity to use more Scottish renewable materials.
As we approach the Government’s date for all new buildings to be zero carbon, the cheapest way to achieve this would be to build to Passivhaus standards and put the minimum amount of PV or small wind turbine to make up the deficit. We are currently working on Passivhaus standard new build projects across Scotland and retrofit of tenements and houses to meet the Passivhaus EnerPHit standard.
We have a lot to learn from some of our European and Nordic neighbours. The Passivhaus and Minergie standards from Germany and Switzerland are technically excellent and there are thousands of built projects. But I think a more important lessons can be learnt from the housing investment models from other countries, self build, collective and inclusive models of house building. Almere in the Netherlands with 100s of self build plots, Vauban in Germany with collective building and Sweden with over 20% of its housing stock owned by cooperatives. As the country emerges from recession, new models of building communities could make a big difference in terms of sustainability, community empowerment and local employment. We are currently working with a number of partners looking at how affordable, large scale self build projects can be promoted in Glasgow and Scotland.
Where do you see the future of sustainable architecture in the next 10 years?
Over the next ten years, I would hope that; funding bodies recognise building in long term energy efficiency measures, Green Deal and Eco are turned into workable funding packages, increase in production of innovative natural building products from UK / Scotland, greenwash is eliminated and UPVC windows are downgraded from an A+ rating in the BRE Green Guide.
In your opinion do you think there is currently a shifting market in the commercial and residential sector for environmentally conscious buildings?
There is an increasing body of research which suggests the value of property is related to its energy efficiency, recent research by DECC gives specific increases in value. We are seeing clients prioritising energy efficiency, natural materials and concern for indoor air quality. Working with developers and self builders, we still see a gap between what self builders and future residents want and what house builders are providing. There is also a gap between what is promised and what is delivered. Within our practice we are working to close that gap, with more focus on the actual performance of buildings, more testing and more feedback into the design process. With more of this type of feedback, we believe that a sustainable building can be affordable, beautiful and efficient.
What do you feel is the greatest challenge when it comes to designing for environmentally sustainability?
Perceptions of cost and benefit are sizable challenges, living sustainably means comfortable living with lower running costs, healthier buildings, more wildlife and longer life for occupants. Using more local materials bring more employment opportunities and business for the UK, Scotland and rural areas. Our clients value these benefits together with having a positive impact on the wider sustainability agenda.
Who do you feel is driving the sustainable movement in the built environment? is it the designers, the clients, the government? is it a collaborative process?
There is a lively scene of architects, engineers, designers, contractors, communities and clients across the country, many are members of the Scottish Ecological Design Association. They are all searching for new ideas to improve performance, use natural products, develop renewable resources, improve community spirit and people’s lives. With lively debate and a shared vision of living within our means, this group is supported by Architecture + Design Scotland and the Scottish Government and are making small but significant steps towards a sustainable Scotland.
Which do you believe are the main issues of construction regarding the environment?
Constructing buildings requires care and skill no matter what type or standard. There is currently a move in Scotland towards more of the process being undertaken in factories, which, given the Scottish climate, offers the opportunity to increase the quality of homes. However, this has the effect of requiring more skilled workforce on site to complete the work, more understanding of airtightness, more multi-skilled workers and more diligent attention to detail. Our European neighbours already work in this manner and it would be great to see more Scottish contractors working this way.
I would also like to see more rigorous testing of construction, thermal imaging, airtightness testing and feedback from the building in use. This is an important closing of the loop, giving feedback to designers and builders on how well they have made the building and how they can improve in the future. We already undertake testing of our projects on completion but would like to embed it into the process in a much more meaningful way.
Check out Matts interview below for A+DS, discussing Scotland's architecture policy after the break.