Instead of adding technology for sustainability, we found it can be simpler to design it out
Irena Bauman, Bauman Lyons Architects
The Climate Change Adaptation Strategy research project was the first undertaken by Bauman Lyons and it had a major impact on the way we think and practise.
Our research, funded by the Technology Strategy Board, focused on a 1930s art college in Doncaster, that we were already redesigning. There were numerous questions: by how much would the building overheat by 2080? What adaptations are available and how effective would each one be? Can they be implemented room by room as vacancies occur? Are these commercially viable and what is the payback period?
The learning curve was steep. We discovered design tools such as weather files that indicate likely weather patterns up to 2080 for every location in Britain, and probability scenarios that indicate likely impact of climate change according to the level of achieved reduction in carbon omissions.
Also new to us were the environmental modelling software, and the volume and complexity of data fed into the model.
Some adaptations, such as shading with plants, cannot be modelled by currently available software and some commonly used standards are out of date. These factors, plus the sheer range of variables and the fragile accuracy of some data, open modelling to error.
We developed a new taxonomy of some 20 potential adaptations, loosely categorised as fabric, ventilation, internal gains and behaviour change, and modelled them in many combinations to arrive at the most effective way to prevent overheating by 2080.
Stunning lessons emerged to undermine a design we were developing at the time, most significantly the proposal to include cooling in the building when the need for it could actually be designed out. The initial proposed design introduced air pumps to meet provision of renewable requirement. Such nonsensical decisions seem to be happening unquestioningly on many projects.
We established that it was possible to prevent overheating without mechanical cooling, even on the most exposed west elevations, through room-specific adoptions such as window shutters, increasing cross ventilation, increasing thermal mass, reducing the U value of glass, locating high occupancy rooms on the north side and shading courtyard space for hot weather respite.
What is thermal comfort? ‘That condition of mind which expresses satisfaction with the thermal environment’ BSEN ISO 7730
Current legislation promotes ever increasing amounts of insulation and of air tightness. Everything that we are doing in commercial buildings locks us into dependence on air conditioning and, as temperatures rise, to higher carbon emissions and potentially unaffordable energy costs.
Since the 1980s architects have been complicit in creating a redundant stock of buildings. We could say that we did not know better back then, but what is the excuse now?
If I sound evangelical it is because I am. Our research highlighted that early design decisions are fundamental to integrating an adaptations programme into the maintenance cycles of the buildings. If this can be achieved, buildings can be future proofed while saving on running costs, reducing carbon emissions and securing commercially beneficial return on investment times.
There is no reason not to design with the future in mind except that most financiers, clients and their architects are focused on the short term and immediate commercial gains.
Once gained, knowledge cannot be unlearned. We have now trained ourselves in the use of DesignBuilder environmental modelling software and have reclaimed the early stages of environmental design – and the corresponding fees – from our services consultants. This will ensure we control and understand the data that is fed into the environmental models. We have developed office typologies that maximise the potential for retrofitting future adaptations within the maintenance cycle of the building.
Most important of all we are trying to face up to the impact of climate change and are taking responsibility for our actions in designing with the future in mind.
Climate Change Adaption Strategy was commended in the President’s Awards for Research