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Webinar: Sustainable places work on many levels

Our latest webinar shows there is no shortage of committed innovators out there trying to make life greener, improve our wellbeing and cut embodied carbon as much as possible

Heatwaves, flooding, wildfires and extreme weather events appear to be happening more frequently in the UK. Scientists looking at these trends are now finding that significant changes to the UK’s climate appear to be happening over shorter timescales – making these events more common. ‘All is not right with our climate,’ said chair Jan Carlos Kucharek in his introduction to the PiP webinar Design for Sustainability.

It was appropriate, therefore, that the webinar’s opening speaker was Mina Hasman, leader of SOM’s sustainability practice and author of the newly published RIBA Climate Guide. This book is intended to equip built environment professionals with all the information necessary to deliver sustainable projects.
Hasman says the guide is ‘the first in the world that contextualises the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 within the built environment landscape’.

She has organised the book around six overarching themes: human factors, circular economy, energy and carbon, water, ecology and diversity, and connectivity and transport, each of which forms the basis of a chapter. 

Sustainable sound levels

Ben Hancock, managing director of sponsor Oscar Acoustics, then outlined the importance of sound insulation in creating sustainable workplaces. ‘Sustainable design is not just about energy efficiency; it is linked to wellbeing,’ he pointed out. 

He reported that a 2022 Oscar Acoustics survey found that ‘over half’ of those surveyed believe their workplace to be too noisy, which was affecting their health and productivity.

Hancock said that there is an opportunity to improve acoustic performance and ‘to fix a long-overlooked productivity pitfall’ in commercial offices as part of the energy efficiency improvements needed to bring most offices up to EPC band B by 2030 to comply with MEES .

Next, James Lingard, owner and practice director of Nidus Architects, spoke about the practice’s approach to sustainability, using its award-winning extension to a 17th century Welsh longhouse, Pen-y-Common, as an example.

He said the practice’s work with older buildings had given it an insight into building techniques developed to optimise the use of local materials, which he says forced regional builders to be more creative and sustainable. ‘If you cannot have what you need, you use what you have,’ he said. ‘As a practice that is the approach we try to embrace when designing for sustainability.’

Nidus Architects used local larch as cladding for its Pen-y-Common retrofit and extension.
Nidus Architects used local larch as cladding for its Pen-y-Common retrofit and extension. Credit: Nidus Architects/Finn

Sustainable design is not just about energy efficiency; it is linked to wellbeing

At Pen-y-Common, this philosophy saw the practice use materials from the area, including larch board for cladding from a local sawmill. Using a random board width allowed the sawmill to be ‘efficient in assessing timber required for the job’, said Lingard, meaning there was no need to cut boards at window openings. Meanwhile, a BIM-generated cutting list enabled the contractor to ensure timber cladding was used so efficiently that ‘a good proportion’ of the contingency was available for the interior, avoiding waste.

Units in the utility room were salvaged from the science lab at the local school, with those in the kitchen beautifully crafted by a local carpenter, using storm-damaged oak ‘mended’ with timber butterfly ties.

Cathi Ramsbottom, UK technical manager and sustainability ambassador for sponsor Thrislington Cubicles, talked about the importance of embodied carbon. She used a series of washroom case studies intended to reduce embodied carbon, including the refurbishment of the Theatre Royal, London, where durable materials minimised the need for cubicle replacement, and St Boltoph Building, also in London, where cubicle door locks incorporate sacrificial elements to ‘allow the door to be rammed open in an emergency without damage to the cubicle’.

York St John University was keen to put sustainability at the heart of their new Creative Centre.
York St John University was keen to put sustainability at the heart of their new Creative Centre. Credit: Hufton and Crow

Creative flexibility

Jolene Hor, an architect at Tate + Co, spoke about the development of the design for the award winning Creative Centre at York St John University. She explained that, following input from teaching staff, the design of the competition-winning entry was reconfigured, including moving the auditorium from first to the ground floor, to enable spaces to be used more effectively.

The building’s envelope is designed to Passivhaus standard. Hor explained that it is clad in prefabricated timber modules in  various textures ‘to break up the mass of the facades and animate the public face of the building’.

Following this, Gonzalo Bunse, director of sponsor Wienerberger, outlined how the building material manufacturer was innovating to lower embodied carbon in its bricks, blocks, roof tiles and rainscreen cladding systems. He explained that the kiln at its Broomfleet roof tile manufacturing plant had been electrified to eliminate the use of natural gas, ‘reducing its carbon emissions by 75%’. Bunse also showed Wienerberger’s Eco-brick, which he said has ‘all the aesthetics and performance of a standard brick’, but is 37.5mm narrower, allowing additional insulation to be accommodated within the same wall width. 

Fireworks Factory in Woolwich.
Fireworks Factory in Woolwich. Credit: Timothy Soar

Embrace the limitations

The final presentation was from Matthew Curtis, project lead at Bennetts Associates, on the transformation of a quadrangle of former industrial factory buildings into the Fireworks Factory arts venue in Woolwich, south London.  

Curtis said the key to the project was ‘accepting and embracing the limitations that come with these listed buildings’. This meant most interventions were ‘light touch’, apart from the addition of an extra bay to the South Building, which Curtis says ‘unlocked’ the scheme by enabling the audience to circulate around the venue. This bay is clad in insulated cast glass to form a simple contemporary addition which contrasts starkly with the older brick fabric of other courtyard buildings. Internal  finishes include new poured concrete or existing timber floors and simple plywood bars.


Creation of a new bay at Woolwich Works unlocked the problem of how to sustainably convert the former factory into a new theatre.
Creation of a new bay at Woolwich Works unlocked the problem of how to sustainably convert the former factory into a new theatre. Credit: Tim Soar

All these featured projects demonstrate that there are those who are committed to innovation and to creating more sustainable solutions and, perhaps, even helping slow the worrying rate of climate change. 

Sponsored by: Wienerberger, Thrislington Cubicles, Oscar Acoustics




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