Good for the environment

Sofie Pelsmakers’ Environmental Design Pocketbook, which was commended in the awards, brings some clarity to a sector overcrowded with codes and products

Rapid innovations in legislation and technology in recent years have generated a plethora of products for sustainable design. Each may be valuable in itself, but taken together, they can, in their sheer range and variety, begin to smother the decision-making process. Straightforward answers can seem hard to find – even though the same questions get raised again and again by practising architects. 

‘The book synthesizes and communicates a vast array of information into a single usable source and architects will regain some of their time to apply environmental theory in practice’

This is where The Environmental Design Pocketbook is pioneering: it is a carefully considered response to the architect’s practical information needs in support of the actual delivery of low carbon and sustainable buildings. It was written with busy practising professionals in mind: those who want sustainable design advice which is easy to find and easy to understand, apply and communicate to clients and others in the design team. It is for the busy practitioner looking for applicable legislation and codes and quick explanations of the main design principles while finding answers to commonly asked questions and clarifying misconceptions. 

The aim of the book is to ‘mainstream’ sustainable building by improving how we design and build, allowing architects to handle complexities with confidence and in a limited amount of time. The book helps readers understand complex design and construction principles, while reiterating all the basic, effective measures often overlooked in today’s pursuit of ‘innovation’ and box ticking. It manages to synthesize and communicate a vast array of information into a single usable source and architects will regain some of their time to apply environmental theory in practice, time which would otherwise be spent deciphering codes and theories. The book has been described by Angela Brady, president of RIBA as: ‘an invaluable tool in a fast-changing and complicated field... packed with useful information and guidance’.

The book puts into one single source a broad and complex knowledge base relevant to everyday practice and provides such tools as:
> a ‘zero carbon calculator’ and ‘carbon footprint calculator’ as well as embodied carbon calculator with worked examples 
> decision matrices for the initial feasibility of low/zero carbon energy sources to comply with on-site renewable energy generation requirements
> design and construction checklists, such as flood design response, internal environment, future proofing strategies, material specifications, design for deconstruction, concrete design, airtightness checklists and climate change adaptation strategies
> further reading references, codes and legislation as well as flagging up where Code for Sustainable Homes and BREEAM credits apply
> regional UK key recommendations where applicable, and take into account regional future predicted climate changes
> a website provides the reader with live web links and recent updates to keep the book up to date in between future editions:

Sofie Pelsmakers is a chartered architect and environmental designer. She is a doctoral researcher in building energy demand reduction at the UCL Energy Institute and co-founder of Architecture for Change. The Environmental Design Pocketbook received a commendation for the 2012 RIBA President’s Medal for Outstanding Practice Located research.

Excerpt: Designing with the wind

For best building ventilation and protection, it is recommended that buildings are skewed by 30° to the prevailing yearly or summer wind direction. Taking into account prevailing south-westerly winds in most UK locations and best winter solar gain opportunities, this means:
> a street axis 15°-30° from the west axis, towards west-south-west orientation in most UK locations
> exceptions to this include Edinburgh and Plymouth. Owing to these cities’ prevailing wind patterns, they would benefit from a street pattern on the east-west axis.

Excerpt: UK wind characteristics

Working with the wind is crucial for successful urban environments. Tightly knit, they protect each other from wind, but reduce each other’s solar gain, lack summer ventilation and pollution may not disperse.  UK winds come from the Atlantic, which explains the frequent and heavy rainfall on the western side of the UK. Air from the European mainland is less moderated in temperature as the North Sea/Channel is too small to have an effect. As a result, the south-westerly winds are less problematic than the colder north-easterly or south-easterly winds over mainland Europe.