SGP interview: 10 questions with architect Colin Thompson
In our latest interview installment we are joined by architect Colin Thompson of AB architects who shares his thoughts on sustainability and its incorporation into architecture and more.
Sole principal running his own private chartered architectural practice.
•Where do you see the future of sustainable architecture in the next 10 years?
Proposed legislation to significantly reduce energy in use from new buildings should come into force within the next 10 years and this will have a huge impact on all new buildings. The effects of recent changes (for example the fairly recent introduction of mandatory airtightness testing to all new-build houses) is already having a positive impact. The problem I feel is the current building stock, much of which dates from Victorian times and much of which is completely un-insulated. Glasgow is in a relatively unique position for a major UK city - a large proportion of the Victorian housing stock consists of flats which are inherently more sustainable than houses both in terms of energy loss and proximity to services etc (i.e. schools/ shops etc within walking distance as opposed to driving distance). The real challenge will be to upgrade the existing building stock and this will not be easy. Initiatives like the green deal have tried to address this problem and seem sensible in principle but have come under heavy criticism.
•In your opinion, do you think there is currently a shifting market in the commercial and residential sector for environmentally conscious buildings?
I think various rating systems like BREEAM for commercial property and also Energy Performance Certificates have had an impact as buyers and tenants do hopefully consider these, but ultimately it is a commercial reality that the majority (although not all) buildings are constructed to the lowest possible standards possible within the building regulations.
•Do you feel Glasgow has the potential to become the greenest European capital by 2015?
Glasgow needs to broaden its horizons to the UK, Europe and beyond to gain a greater understanding of the issues and solutions surrounding sustainability and be willing to invest in those solutions.
•What do you feel is the greatest challenge when it comes to designing for environmentally sustainability?
There are many different factors to consider and some can be mutually exclusive, a simple example is a choice between the most environmentally benign form of insulation Vs using the highest performing chemical based insulation. I feel that every construction budget, even large ones, is inevitably limited and gaining the most carbon reduction ' bang for your buck' is very important. I also feel aesthetic and design considerations are also extremely important, even from a purely scientific point of view buildings which are ugly and unloved will become obsolete (and less likely to be retained and refurbished in later life) much more quickly than a sensitively designed beautiful building. Finding a balance between these factors can be difficult.
•What is your ultimate goal when it comes to your work? What do you want to be remembered for?
Designing buildings which are as socially/ environmentally responsible and as beautiful as possible.
•Who inspires you?
Some of the great architecture coming from places like Switzerland and Holland today to small Scottish practices leading the sustainability agenda at home.
•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?
I think it is a collaborative process and architects can have an influence but the people who ultimately control the design of buildings are the driving force (and these are not architects!). Enlightened clients will always commission one off exemplary buildings (and are willing to foot the bill for this) but I feel the real driving force must be legislation. We need the entire future building stock to be designed as sustainably as possible and this only happens in the mainstream through government legislation.
•Which do you believe are the main issues of construction regarding the environment?
Avoiding 'Green-wash' and using techniques which will give the most benefit in terms of carbon reduction for any specific budget. Very few techniques touted as low carbon are bad for the environment but I think adding for example a token urban wind turbine to a building is of very little benefit when the same budget could be spent upgrading a building in more sensible ways and gaining many times the carbon reduction benefit for the same expense.
•What do you feel about the current attitude with towards constructing green buildings in Scotland?
I think there is a will to produce green buildings particularly in the small self build house market where it is unusual to find a potential client who does not wish to build in as sustainable a manner as possible, even if only to save long term on heating bills. It is perhaps not surprising as these clients are stakeholders in the building process whereas most new-build homeowners purchase off the shelf developer led mass market housing which is built to the lowest common denominator. The unfortunate thing is that due to the state of the economy, the lack of self build funding is making self build housing a relatively rare occurrence. Hopefully once the economy seriously picks up this current level of interest will bear fruit.
For more information on AB Architects architectural services click here.
SGP's interview: 10 questions with architect Justin fenton
In our latest interview installment we are joined by architect Justin Fenton of Page \ Park who shares his thoughts on sustainability and its incorporation into architecture and more.
Joined Page \ Park in 2004 after working in a number of practices and on a variety of both Conservation and New Build projects throughout Scotland. At Page \ Park initially worked on a feasibility study for the Burrell Collection, supporting on the Eden Court Theatre Project and as the Project Architect on the Conservation and Renovation of Sir George Gilbert Scott’s, McManus Galleries in Dundee. Other projects include the Conservation and Renovation of St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Glasgow and The Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. Currently working on buildings for Edinburgh University in George Square, Edinburgh and as Head of Conservation within Page \ Park.
At Page \ Park we aspire to a design approach incorporating sustainability. We strive against our present disposable culture to create flexible and long-lasting environments. To make the most out of the embodied energy in existing buildings, it is fundamental that we examine whether existing fabric can be altered to meet current and future needs. This holistic approach to sustainability as part of architecture grows from the detailed research into the context of a development and from analysis at an early stage and throughout the project. This can be summarised as minimising impact, in terms of a building’s immediate context and in terms of its footprint on the planet. When we build, we need to assess the potential of the environment to sustain our intervention, to protect existing qualities of the site and minimise the impact of any new building on the immediate and wider environments.
Many old buildings waste large amounts of energy and provide poor internal conditions for occupants through poor lighting, inadequate ventilation, solar penetration and glare, and poor heating and cooling. The challenge is to improve these aspects within an imaginative re-working of the building. I see these issues as fundamental to sustainable architecture in the next 10 years.
Rising energy costs have affected carbon emission targets and U-values and the widespread adoption of recommendations within the Sullivan Report indicates that we are only part way along a steep upward curve. Targets for new construction are however only part of the action needed, improving the performance of existing buildings, previously a target for the future, now has immediate urgency in meeting Scotland’s upcoming carbon reduction targets. As a means of tackling the effects of climate change, statutory regulations and local and regional planning policies are becoming ever more stringent in proscribing unsustainable development whilst encouraging efficient and sustainable design. This has impacted upon not only insulation levels, heating and other services but also the specification of materials, construction methods and other issues relating to the lifetime of a building from inception to demolition. The benefits of a sustainable approach will be felt by users who will enjoy healthier buildings with lower running costs and clients who will be able to attract tenants looking for improved energy performance and a more sustainable profile. Improved building fabric has particular benefits for the social rented housing sector in helping reduce fuel poverty.
Glasgow needs to broaden its horizons to the UK, Europe and beyond to gain a greater understanding of the issues and solutions surrounding sustainability and be willing to invest in those solutions.
Capital cost is obviously a key driver when designing for environmental sustainability. Interventions and new works need to prioritise proposals using an additive strategy based on a hierarchy of rising costs. These costs should not only be economic but also relate to their environmental effectiveness and future-proofing capabilities. At Page \ Park the “Mean: Lean: Green” model has been a useful tool to demonstrate this. The effectiveness of sustainable measures are greater when incorporated with fundamental design decisions and, more usually these will ensure greater longevity to the new works through the design’s ability to be adaptable to increasing demands.
Reverse the question: Who are the architects who made our special cities, Glasgow, London, Edinburgh, Paris? It would take a book to answer but in the end, it is not important. These Architects left traces of their hand but looked at overall they become anonymous. So we too will become part of the fabric of our cities, and the longer what we contributed lasts, the more useful we will have been.
Walk across Glasgow from Glasgow Green up to Charing Cross and every step of the way there is architecture to inspire and challenge. So thank you to all the architects who have silently left their mark. Each is an inspiration in their own way.
At Page \ Park we believe our role should be to support our clients in making sustainable choices in each and every project. On every design we work with our clients’ agreement to establish an agenda for the project, which we integrate from the outset into the design evolution, developed specifically for the needs of the client, the building users and local community towards the creation of sustainable built environments of high architectural merit.
There are obviously a whole series of construction issues relating to the implementation of sustainable architecture. At Page \ Park, to enable us to analyse, understand and implement our aspirations we categorise these as:
Mean (low energy building design)
-Good levels of natural day lighting
-Passive services solutions for good natural ventilation
-High thermal insulation and improved air tightness
-Use of sustainable materials
Lean (efficient systems)
-Efficient lighting systems
-Seasonal commissioning of systems
-Low water consuming devices
Green (low carbon/renewable technologies)
-Use of renewable energies
There is almost universal support within Scotland for developing sustainable strategies for the Construction industry. What is key now is that these aspirations are made concrete.
This week the Sustainable Glasgow Project is looking to find ways of going green but also save some cash in the process. With very little effort, not much money, and a little imagination we can make some real savings. If you think you’ve heard it all before think again.
This isn't your usual turns your lights off when you leave effort, Have you heard the one about the light bulb that waits for you to leave the room before it turns on? We all know about energy saving bulbs and yes it’s true, sometimes they take a few seconds to warm up. But let’s get over that and look at the real cost of switching.
The Energy Saving Trust says that we can save around £3 per year for each bulb we swap for an energy saving one. If the average house uses 20 light bulbs, it means that we can save £60 a year just on our electricity bill - plus there’s savings to be made on the bulb itself because they last up to 10 times longer.
Cost of non-energy saving light bulb: £1.98 x 10 = £19.80 (over 5 years, based on average use) Cost of same energy saving light bulb: £3.98 (should last 5 years)
Spent: £3.98 Saved over 5 years: £15.82 (per bulb) Average annual saving (on energy and light bulb costs): £6.16 x 20 = £123.20
So when you’re next in the store and you don’t want to spend an extra £2 on an energy saving bulb it’s worth considering the future implications of your choice.
In the UK the price of our energy gets a lot of media coverage. The costs just keep rising whilst the winters seem to be getting colder. So what can we do?
Well this nifty Eco Freak Radiator Booster moves heat around the room more quickly so that your boiler needs to work less. They estimate that an average household can save between £70-140 per year with running costs of just 30p! The unit costs £24.95 + £2.46 postage, but they estimate it will pay for itself in just 8-10 weeks of use!
Spent: £27.90 Saved year one: Between £42.10 - £112.10 Ongoing average annual saving: Between £70 - £140 per annum (depending on usage)..
Every time you flush the toilet you waste around 3 litres of water and if you consider that around 30% of your household water goes towards flushing that’s a lot of perfectly good water going down the drain.
There are new low flush toilets but if your toilet doesn’t already need replacing you can still cut down on the water it uses. Check out the HIPPO The Water Saver.
HIPPO promises to save those three litres which in turn should save you around £30 a year (if you are on a water meter), but the real saving is for the sanitation industry which is ironically one of the most polluting sectors in the UK, emitting the same amount of CO2 as the aviation industry. HIPPO estimate that if every house in the UK was fitted with one of their devices we could save 600 million litres of water a day and over 65,000 tonnes of CO2 a year, pretty good eh!
Spent £2.98 Saved year one: £27.02 Average annual saving: £30 pa and an enormous environmental impact.
Some water companies in the UK offer water saving devices to their customers for free so make sure to check with yours first! Otherwise, if you don’t want to buy a HIPPO, fill a 2 litre plastic bottle with water and place it carefully in the cistern to do the same job.
Washing powder is expensive. I don’t know why, but it is. Not to mention all the horrid chemicals they contain which get flushed into our water system (unless you use a nice phosphate free one like Method or Ecover of course!). Well the Eco Egg promises to clean your clothes, save you money and help the environment. Big claims! I hope to do a review on one soon so I can tell you whether it actually works or not but in the meantime lets look at the numbers.
Spent: £19.99 (claims to last for 740 washes) Saved over three years: £159 – £681 (depending on your normal powder) Average annual saving: £133 per year
Ah the fridge, the most reliable appliance we own. Even when we go on holiday and all the other appliances are switched off and unplugged, the fridge is trusted not to self-combust whilst we’re away. It’s no surprise then, given our 24/7 365 requirements of our fridge this is the appliance that uses the most energy in our home. Full stop. In that case, we should make sure it’s running as efficiently as possible.
If your fridge was built before 2001 you need a new one. Newer models can be up to 75% more efficient so it’s a good investment.
Make sure you leave a few inches of space behind your fridge so that air can circulate.
Keep the coils clear of dust. I know this might be difficult because they’re difficult to get to, but if the filters and condenser are dusty the fridge has to work harder, so let’s try.
Keep your fridge full. In a full fridge the temperature is evenly distributed so it doesn’t have to work as hard as it does if it’s empty. If you have a lot of free space fill some containers with water and fill it. It’s simple but so effective, an empty fridge is a wasteful one. This applies to the freezer too.
And finally, make sure your fridge is set at the correct temperature. -4C for the freezer and 1-2C for the fridge are more than adequate to keep dairy and meat safe and those are the things you need to worry about the most. Anything below that is an unnecessary waste of energy.
Spent: Nothing, maybe a little time Saved: I couldn’t find the exact numbers for this one but I reckon the energy savings are huge!
So why all the packaging? Why oh why are these six tomatoes sitting in a plastic tray, surrounded by plastic wrap? It’s so unnecessary! And what do you do? Take them out and chuck the wrapping, which will probably end up in landfill (adding toxic chemicals to the water table and the air we breathe) because for some reason we’re still allowing non-recyclable packaging to be produced.
Next time you’re in the supermarket think about whether the packaging on a product is really necessary and if it’s not then don’t buy it. Take a stand. You can usually find the same product with less wrapping if you have a look. Tomatoes for example can always be purchased loose and won’t be any different to the ones in the tray, just better for the environment and they’re often cheaper too.
Spent: Nothing, maybe a little imagination Saved: Millions of tons of unnecessary landfill (if we all do our part)
Quick tips: Take your own reusable bags to the shops; use an eating plan, always make a shopping list.
Consider switching to a green energy supplier. Ecotricity promise to price match the big providers and only use green energy.
Spent: Your regular bills Saved: Nothing in cash but loads for the environment
Quick tips: Switch off appliances at the plug when you’re not using them and unplug chargers when finished, all those appliances on standby are still using energy and costing you money!
Every household is different, but if I made these changes this is how much I would save in the first year.
Total amount spent: 109.70 Total amount saved: £845
= £736 and a lot of trees, polar bears, fresh air and a guilt free feeling.
If like us and your excited by these potential savings, don’t stop here. Use our Carbon Calculator and save yourself some more.
Tips for sustainable living
All over the world, efforts are being made toward making our environments more sustainable. As more and more people become aware of the various threats to the global environment, steps are finally being taken on a fairly broad level to address the concerns and improve our ability to get by efficiently without causing a catastrophic environmental impact. Consider, for example, the various environmental projects receiving attention as they are undertaken in Glasgow and the surrounding area. These are the sorts of efforts that can ultimately contribute to a more sustainable planet.
However, it is also important for sustainable efforts to be made on a more individual level. It's wonderful for public initiatives to take place in widespread areas, but the greatest positive impact will more likely be made when individuals start taking steps to lead more sustainable lives. With that in mind, here are a few miscellaneous tips for starting your own efforts in this regard.
Cut Back On Driving
Many people are under the impression that hybrid cars offer a sustainable solution to the harsh environmental impact of driving cars. However, while hybrids are certainly less harmful to the environment than ordinary vehicles, there are some ways in which the difference in sustainability between a hybrid and a normal car is no greater than the difference in the Aviva insurance policy you'd need for each one! Hybrids still involve materials that are costly to use and dispose of, so while the fuel emissions are "green" in nature, you'd still be making a more sustainable effort by avoiding driving altogether when possible. At least when you can, try to get around on a bike, or by walking.
Conserve Water & Electricity
One of the most common ways in which most of us waste valuable resources is in draining our supplies of water and electricity without realizing what we're doing. The bottom line is, however, every time you run water for a couple of minutes to let it get warm, you're wasting water; every time you leave lights on in unoccupied rooms, you are consuming electricity unnecessarily. These are the types of practices that can easily be cut back on in an effort to lead a more sustainable and environmentally responsible life. Some even go so far as collecting the water they don't use- for example, catching shower water in bowls as it heats up, and using that excess water in household cleaning efforts later on.
Cut Back On Waste
Sustainability is largely about preserving the materials we have, rather than throwing them out to use new ones. One way to go about doing this is by cutting back on your waste as much as possible. One example might be a ziplock bag. Often, these bags are thrown away after a single use, when really they can be rinsed carefully and reused several, if not dozens of times before they stop functioning or become permanently dirty. The same concept can apply to a great deal of ordinary household waste.
In 2013 we at the SGP are focusing on new ways at reducing our environmental impact by embracing various new pieces of technology. We've rounded up 5 of the latest gadgets geared at helping you reduce you're carbon emissions and impact on the environment. Start 2013 off on a sustainable foot by employing some of these green gadgets in your life.
•Eco Button £6.40
A computer power saving device that aims to reduce your PC power usage. You simply press the eco button when you are away from your desk and your computer is put into the most efficient energy saving mode available called 'ecomode'. When you return to your PC, it switches back to ‘on’ mode when any key on the keyboard is pressed. The calculated energy savings you've made by using the Ecobutton are then displayed on the computer screen.
The device sits in the shower recording the amount of water you use per wash. Using a system of traffic lights it tells you when you're using more water than average and gradually cuts down the time until the amber or red lights come on. Cutting a shower from 22.5L to 18L uses one third less energy, but you probably would even notice. The idea is to keep you to an efficient six minutes.
•Bedol Water Clock £20
Bedol Water Clocks are quickly stealing the spotlight for their unique ability to run solely on H2O, helping to reduce our carbon footprint on the planet. Not only are these clocks environmentally friendly, they also come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors to suit any style. In addition, the clocks are high quality and perfectly accurate.
Each clock is beautifully designed and requires no batteries, chemicals or electricity to function. By simply filling these charming Eco-clocks with water, you can enjoy up to six months of hassle free time-telling! The Bedol water clocks have a built-in memory chip so that even while you are refilling the water in the clock, it is able to continue keeping time.
•Hue Light Bulbs £49.95 (starter pack £179.95)
The Hue bulbs look like ordinary lightbulbs, and screw into light sockets as normal. Inside each bulb, however, is a wireless transmitter that communicates with a hub you plug into the back of your router. Then simply download the app (currently only for iOS) and begin fiddling with the lights in your home.
The Hue LED bulbs at maximum brightness are said to offer 80 percent power savings over incandescent 50-watt bulbs. But Philips, to keep things simple in the launch version of the product, isn’t offering energy management or data analysis with Hue, the way a device like the Wi-Fi-controlled Nest thermostat does. Although the price of the bulb starter pack can be seen to be rather expensive the bulbs will last for approximately 15 years saving a lot of money in the long run.
•Skinny Player (TBA)
This is a music gadget that gets its power from your body heat by being attached to your skin! Designed for walking or exercising, the Skinny Player is a concept by industrial designers Chih-Wei Wang and Shou-His Fu that lets you listen to music without needing to carry a player or use headphones.