Tom Dollard | Head of Sustainable Design | Pollard Thomas Edwards Architects

Ecobuild this year has been compared to a nightclub – a fair comment with all the Eco-bling and show-boating on a scale previously seen only at Interbuild or MIPIM. It is encouraging that Sustainability has truly hit the mainstream with Saint Gobain, Lafarge, and VM ZINC as some of the biggest stands. However, trekking around the mammoth air-conditioned halls of the Excel centre – I began to wonder – where was sustainable design? How would I ever see the sustainably sourced wood through the trees?

After some evasive action and sidestepping around the greenwash, I got my bearings and found a multitude of seminars and engaging briefings on practical subjects at stands within the main hall - RIBA, BRE, UKGBC, Building Magazine, Practical Installer and the Passivhaus Trust all had excellent seminars. The talks were more focussed this year – my personal favourite being “how green is tall?” The panel of Ken Shuttleworth(MAKE), Ken Mawer(WSP), and Jane Wernick (JWA) agreed that the market would continue to demand tall buildings in urban areas for reasons including cost of land and maximising density around public transport hubs. Jane Wernick argued the negative impacts of tall buildings including lack of permeability at ground level, increased operational and embodied carbon, overshadowing of neighbouring environment and the negative impact on the mental health of occupants. In the debate section, we heard Ken Shuttleworth again admit that they should not have designed the Gherkin to have glass all the way round showing little thought to orientation, and that he thought the Shard was a greenhouse which will overheat in summer and require excessive heating in winter. The conclusion was that tall buildings needed to take into account maintenance and adaptability for future generations as well as solar orientation/shading in order to future proof the building for a longer lifespan.

Another bastion of strategical thinking was the RIBA “village” – it acted as a safe house for all lost architects who felt vulnerable out in the wild of salesman suppliers. The village offered regular bitesize sessions on sustainable design and free tea to weary visitors. One of these talks was by Sofie Pelsmakers to launch her book The Environmental Design Pocketbook. Having briefly skim-read it, I got in line to buy PTEa several copies. I can really recommend it as a comprehensive explanation with clear diagrams explaining the fundamentals of sustainability and its relevance to environmental building in the UK. There are excellent sections on environmental site planning, building fabric/detailing, water and flooding, and retrofit of existing housing stock.

Also launched was the new RIBA guide to Sustainability in Practice – written by Lynne Sullivan with help from others including TGR’s Lucy Pedler. This guide expands on the previously produced Green Overlay to the RIBA plan of work by Bill Gething. The guide looks at the business case for sustainability, the benefit for clients and the 10 steps architects can take to help build sustainability in practice, and is available as a free download here:-

Next on my list was a demonstration of the environmental modelling tool – Project Rapier – a new lifecycle analysis tool from BDSP, Architype, Sweett and greenspace. It estimates capital and lifecycle cost, carbon and energy performance for a building design.

I trialled the software and was impressed by the simplicity and power of the tool. It combines a simple online interface that ties in with most 3D modelling software to produce headline figures of energy/carbon performance, capital and lifecycle costs. It was noted that the next beta version would also produce DER/TER, so that it could potentially be used for compliance with Part L. The full version will be released at the end of the year, and like almost everything at Ecobuild this year, will of course be BIM compliant!

I ended my visit on a high note with a cold pint of Austrian Lager from the Austrian Pavilion (a timber clad passivhaus of course!) and an inspiring speech from Dr. Wolfgang Feist to launch the UK Passivhaus Trust awards for this year. It could have been the beer, but with the passivhaus pavilion being the antithesis of ‘Eco-Bling’, I sensed that the sleek minimalist design would be a sign of things to come.

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