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RIBA Awards up the ante on environmentally aware entries

Words:
Eleanor Young

Entering this year's RIBA Awards? Be aware that sustainability will be high on the judges' list of criteria

Section through the Stirling Prize winning Goldsmith Street which had an operational energy prediction of 16.5kWh/m2/y and embodied carbon of 336kgCO2/m2.
Section through the Stirling Prize winning Goldsmith Street which had an operational energy prediction of 16.5kWh/m2/y and embodied carbon of 336kgCO2/m2.

In 2019 the top level of the profession firmly grasped the need for change in the face of the climate emergency with Stirling Prize winners signing up to Architects Declare. This year it must make good on those promises and start the transition to carbon zero buildings.

As hundreds of practices log in to the RIBA Awards system they will see that the institute is doing its part too. There has long been a requirement for sustainability information in entries, but now the judging criteria for all the awards embody these values. Winners should be environmentally sustainable and must supply information about energy in use, embodied carbon and water use. The sustainability form has mandatory fields (which depend on project size) and entries will not be shortlisted if they are not filled in. 

However, the awards group and the visiting judges, who are primarily practising architects, are aware of how long even urgent sustainability measures take to feed into ­projects. Those completing in time for the 2020 awards are likely to have been designed some years ago. But all submissions with a construction cost over £1 million must submit data for operational energy and a narrative on strategies around embodied energy and potable water use. 

Where does sustainability information come from? On larger projects consultants will have it. A little less data is required for buildings below £1m  this year and should be available in building control documentation and bills – there is advice in the notes on the sustainability form. Part L information or predicted operational energy use (TM54 or Passivhaus) and water use can be submitted for 2020-2021 to demonstrate how the project has achieved 2020 targets. However, data on actual operational energy and water use will be viewed more favourably. There is more guidance on how to achieve this in the guide, RIBA Sustainable Outcomes

The higher the award, the higher the sustainability bar: for National Awards and the Stirling Prize longlist projects will have to submit predicted or actual operational energy use data and demonstrate how they have achieved 2020 targets.

Energy in use, embodied carbon and water use are agreed to be the key areas for improving sustainability of buildings. They are enshrined in the RIBA 2030 Challenge, which the awards will be increasingly aligned to. The RIBA is working with the CIC, UK Green Building Council, Architects Declare and the UK Committee for Climate Change to ensure these are industry wide metrics. The RIBA has also been advocating operational energy be adopted in Part L of the building regulations regulations (consultation closes on 7 February if you want to add your voice). The target figures on each measure between now and 2030 show a clear path to net carbon. 

No sustainability information means no shortlisting

HOK’s Gary Clark, chair of the RIBA ­sustainable futures group and a sustainability advisor to the RIBA Awards, says: ‘November’s UN Emissions Gap Report states a 7.6% reduction is carbon emissions is required every year over the next 10 years to keep global temperatures within 1.5% of baseline.’ Beyond this the ramifications of climate change, including more frequent extreme weather events, become increasingly serious. 

Requirements for awards entries will ramp up too. By 2022 failure to submit in use operational energy and water use data will mean projects are not shortlisted. By 2025 submissions will have to achieve 2025 targets or better to be considered and by 2030 they will have to achieve 2030 targets.

Chair of the RIBA awards group, Jo Bacon of Allies and Morrison, says: ‘Environmental performance is no longer detached from architecture. A lot of Stirling shortlisted schemes had good sustainability metrics… We want people to demonstrate the strength of their environmental credentials. If they are not there we need to be able not to shortlist them for the highest level of awards.’ 

Last year’s RIBA Stirling Prize winner, the Norwich social housing of Mikhail Riches’ Goldsmith Street, came very close on embodied carbon and carbon emissions to the levels required by the 2030 in the 2030 Carbon Challenge. Yes it was Passivhaus, yes it had a client who wanted a sustainable project, but it shows that meeting the 2030 Climate Challenge is possible. 


The RIBA Awards deadline is 20 February. See architecture.com to enter

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