Our clients, VELUX have set up a blog for the duration of their study into the well-being of families living in the homes we designed for them in Rothwell, near Kettering, Northants, UK. The blog is being written mainly by the residents themselves as they report on their initial feelings and experiences of living in these very sustainable homes. The question on VELUX’s mind, and ours, is whether it is an enjoyable experience to live in a sustainable home, or not. In these times when there is much discussion on how homes are really performing versus how they were designed to perform, it is refreshing to find a client willing to hear directly from their residents and to publish their views. Over the next year HTA will be contributing regular updates on how the technical performance of the homes is being reported, but for the moment lets hear from the families. Read on…
I think he makes a lot of valid points, but there are equally seven reasons why Architecture (As we know it) is Only Beginning.
1. Architects are trained to think, not just draw, so we are used to looking ahead and assessing what the future holds, and often we are ready for that future when change hits us.
2. The skills of young architects coming out of architecture schools is very high, because of the recession many of them have stayed in to do a Masters degree so they are coming out with a lot of fresh thinking.
3. Manufacturing is changing rapidly, 3D printing, CNC machines, and a demand from clients for a customised service all point to a need for new design philosophies to help these technologies serve the market. Just how do we design to enable construction using CNC or 3D?
4. Sustainable design shouldn’t mean expensive design, it should mean cost-effective design. A generation of young architects who understand sustainability should be one which is able to offer leaner and more efficient buildings to clients. Too much of construction is influenced by risk avoidance and guesswork. Analyse and Optimise!
5. Banks may not be willing to provide loan finance, but because of this investors are interested in opportunities. Architects need to look beyond the single project to larger opportunities and to think bigger. Don’t design 30 homes, design 300 and find an investor to back it. Design it for a long-life that will appeal to a pension fund.
6. Be the expert! Google won’t teach anyone to be an good architect, or to design efficient buildings. Construction isn’t like medicine, or law. Its a collaborative experience. In such an environment a trusted advisor is essential for clients to feel that they are in safe hands.
7. Social media will help architects to get beyond clients to reach the people who actually use buildings, they can help to inform the design team about their needs through social media in a way that wasn’t possible in the past. This will enable us to design more focused buildings that respond to the needs of society, rather than what we think their needs are.
What is is about building services that we just cannot get them right? No matter how many times we design homes, apartment buildings, churches, office buildings, no matter how much care is lavished on the design of ducts, pipes, risers, laterals and entry points, as soon as the building is completed, along comes some ‘jobsworth’ and fixes a dish/aerial/conduit/meter/sign/pipe to it in defiance of taste or design. I am not seeking perfection, a perfectly ordered environment where everything is rectilinear and clean, where sunlight reflects from polished surfaces and all of life is hidden behind granite and glass. I am asking for the vandalism to be kept under control. If an unemployed youth drilled a hole in a facade and put a pipe through it and sealed it with expanding foam that dribbled down the front of the building, we would arrest him for criminal damage, if a heating engineer does it we shrug and say ‘it couldn’t be helped’.
Building and facility maintenance teams must shoulder responsibility for some of the damage, as they are the ones who either cannot be bothered to implement contractual agreements they have with their maintenance supply chain, or don’t even set up agreements in the first place that sets out what maintenance contractors can and cannot do.
Landlords should take this issue more seriously as this type of clutter devalues their asset and makes us all poorer. There is little excuse for housing estate managers allowing this dish rash. Cable providers have covered most of London and even unusual stations from abroad can be piped to most dwellings. The continuing drive towards faster broadband and fibre to the door should mean that most of these will become unnecessary in time. Will anyone come and take them away when they are obsolete. Not unless the metals they contain are valuable enough.
This image demonstrates the folly of designing in a servicing strategy when the building is constructed that leaves no room for additional services. Or it could be an example of a gas engineer who insists on the supply pipework being ‘ventilated’. With the price of steel and copper rising, I wouldn’t bet on these being still there in a few years time.
I could go on.
Send me your favourites..
On 12th April HTA Design LLP was formed. A new company built on the foundations of HTA Architects Ltd. The new name reflects our multi-disciplinary nature and the new partnership structure reflects our metamorphosis into a succession practice. I am proud to say that I am a partner in the new structure leading a team of consultants who will continue to specialise in sustainable and innovative design. We will continue to work on sustainable design for new and retrofit low carbon buildings , we also plan to grow our client base to include a broader spectrum of clients, particularly in the manufacturing sector. This is a new and important moment in the history of HTA, and in some respects what has gone before has been preparation for this. A succession practice is one which is designed to operate with a partner team, who work together to grow the team in expertise and scope, but who also welcome new partners into the team as older ones retire. This cyclical change sends a strong signal to ambitious members of the team that they too can become partners in the future, and participate fully in the operation and management of the practice. This ability to introduce new skills, strength and leadership at regular intervals will bring long-term vitality to the practice.
We will continue to serve our current clients in the way that we have been for the last forty-four years, and we look forward to working with you for the next forty four.
Please visit our new website where you can see the press release and other related news
Dambisa Moyo’s book, “Winner Takes All” is an important book that should be read by everyone interested in sustainability. The subject of the book, the growing need for resources and the failure of our current political and economic structures to react to this need, is an important one that goes to the heart of what sustainability is. Her time horizon is measured in decades, not years, and the relevance of her subject is as much for the next generation as it is for this one. The subtitle to the book ‘China’s race for resources and what it means for us’ is a canny one, and will have garnered her many readers for whom books on global economics or commodity shortages are rarely on their reading lists. The decades-old fear of China is hard to shake off and some readers will have bought this book in the hope of having their worst fears confirmed. The Chinese are coming!
Except that they’re not, at least not in that way. They are coming to resource-rich and money-poor countries, though. China has a different political and economic structure to the rest of us, and that means that they look at resource shortages in a different way too. For China, it is important to keep the population happy in the long term, because without that their entire political and economic structure is at risk. For most democracies, the focus is on the need to keep the population happy in the short term, because that is what keeps the current party in power. China’s longer term outlook has led them to sign multi-billion deals with Africa, Asian, and South American countries that deliver infrastructure and other benefits to the host country and deliver long-term resource flows for China. These resources range from copper, oil, and coal to keep the hungry Chinese industrial machine fed, and cotton, chicken and beef to keep the increasingly demanding consumer society clothed and fed. As these resources become scarcer, China is taking steps to keep them flowing to their people.
The interesting question that she raises is this, by signing these deals over the last decade, China appears to have stolen a march on other developing and developed nations and paid over the odds for these resources. Is this really the case? It’s akin to paying too much in today’s market for houses in a neighbourhood that isn’t much in demand now, but is a good prospect in two decades time. China’s strategy might work out in economic terms, and it might not. Between 2005 and 2012 China invested $400 billion overseas. This is not small change. What is concerning is that China appears to be the only major economy doing deals on this scale. China is able to do so because we have outsourced so much of our manufacturing there over the last few decades and they have a huge trade surplus that enables these deals. China is betting that it will need these resources, and all indicators are that they are correct. Other countries, including the developed nations will need them too, but don’t appear to be as interested, or if they are they seem to be unable to organise themselves to act. The recent GOP/Democratic squabbles are a good example of this. Dambisa contrasts the US foreign policy behaviour with that of China over the last decade, one the US side its a litany of failure, aggression, naked self-interest, paternalism and division. On the Chinese side its a different story of political disinterest, commercial goodwill, win-win agreements, and a long list of happy partners. The contrast could hardly be greater.
I commend this book to you, it covers a complex topic well, and the subject matter is very relevant to anyone interested in working towards a sustainable future.
The lights are on, but no one is home. The Mayor of Namie, one of the towns in the Fukishima Prefecture evacuated during the nuclear disaster two years ago, has invited Google to film the town as it is. The Streetview cameras allow us all to wander the haunting, empty streets of the town, and see for ourselves the mostly undamaged but empty streets that will remain vacant for decades to come while decontamination is carried out. The sight of abandoned bicycles, still colourful but unused vending machines, streetlights still controlling non-existent traffic, and children’s swings that will never be played on again tells a memorable and poignant story about the pitfalls of nuclear power. When it works, it works really well, but when it goes wrong, the people who pay the price are not the investors or energy companies, but the unfortunate 300,000 displaced people still living in limbo, and the Japanese taxpayer who never expected to have to pick up this particular bill.
Compare those views to this one of Bridgewater, the nearest town to Hinckley Point, where EDF plan a new nuclear plant. A similar suburb to Namie, Fukushima, in many respects, similar sized homes, relatively quiet streets, a not very rich suburb, it isn’t much of a stretch to visualise these streets deserted, empty, displaced. Are we prepared to foot this particular bill?
I understand all the arguments for nuclear, but I also understand that big businesses and governments like nuclear for one reason, it only takes one decision to get it going, and once running it stays going for a long time. In a democracy such as ours, where decisions can take a long time to make and are subject to so many checks and balances, nuclear presents a big result for relatively little effort. A windfarm can take a lot of effort, but produces relatively small results compared to a nuclear power station. It’s only one inquiry, one debate, one construction contract. The fact that it is a mammoth contract is less relevant to politicians. Others will deal with the small print, They can say that they have ‘kept the lights on’.
The lights are still on in Namie, Fukushima, but there is no-one there to see them.
Budget 2013, a lot of hoopla but not much moolah. There are several housing related announcements to raise expectations of improvements in the construction sector, but the last few budgets also contained similar announcements and none of them have had much impact. So why does the Chancellor think that these are any different? Here are the main points.
Help to Buy: Offering Government loan guarantees to all borrowers of up to 20% of £600,000 for three years, is a new step, and could be considered a backwards one as it will artificially boost the housing market and maintain housing prices at their current levels. While it may help to lower unemployment and increase construction output, it will do little to help those who simply cannot afford a mortgage on a new home in many areas of the UK. Housebuilders will be happy as it will increase the size of their market, and they are already doing very nicely out of the current one. It will also help to oil the wheels of the second hand market and bring more buyers into it, but the problem there is a lack of homes on the market, not a shortage of buyers.
Affordable Housing:What about affordable housing?
The Government also recognises the concerns of social landlords regarding uncertainty on social rents after 2014-15. Certainty is important to help landlords plan future housing development, providing affordable housing and boosting the construction sector. At the 2015-16 Spending Round the Government will therefore set out a social rental policy that gives social landlords certainty until 2025.
At the 2015-2016 Spending Round? When will that happen? It takes about three years to get schemes set up and running, so around now would be helpful for RHP’s who want to follow on from their 2014/2015 programme.
Right to Buy: Why the Chancellor persists in propping up the Right to Buy scheme, now to the tune of £100,000 for London properties, is beyond me. These properties will be sold at a loss, and cannot be replaced for anything like £100,000, so the real cost to the nation is going to be more than £250,000 to replace each property. It amounts to an enormous wealth redistribution policy that would be better carried out by simply giving social tenants, who are happy to retire out of London, a £200k bribe to go and live elsewhere, freeing up social housing in London for people who need it.
Private renting got an additional boost with the Build to Rent fund increased to £1Bn.
Zero Carbon: The most cheering announcement, which shows how low our expectations have fallen, was that the government is
-committed to zero carbon homes by 2016,
-will respond to the Part L consultation in April and
-will announce Allowable Solutions by the summer recess.
So while we may or may not get an intermediary step in Part L 2013, we will definitely see ‘zero carbon’ homes by 2016. This announcement makes me think that we will see an intermediary step in part L 2013 for two reasons: because it makes sense to gradually ratchet up performance to the 2016 target, and because the loan guarantee scheme will see the Government take a stake in a lot of new homes. It is one thing to say that the market should set the standards for new homes when no Government money is being invested in it, it is quite another when 20% of a properties values is sitting on the Treasury’s loan book.
Planning: On the other hand, planning to :‘consult on allowing further flexibilities between use classes to support change of use from certain agricultural and retail uses to residential use to increase responsiveness within the planning system.‘: sounds a lot like preparing to build over the countryside to please Nick Boles, when we should be building homes at sufficient density to enable development to support walkable neighbourhoods, local schools, shops and amenities, not distributed land-hungry car dominated suburbs.
Growth: The announcement that the Government will ‘ask local areas to put in place pro-growth planning policies and delivery arrangements as part of new Local Growth Deals’ in response to Lord Heseltine’s report No Stone Unturned, sounds suspiciously like imposing top down housing targets to me. He recommends:
‘At the earliest opportunity civil servants based across the country should be brigaded into Local Growth Teams, structured around clusters of LEPs, primarily tasked with joining up government and local partners in the areas of their responsibilities to facilitate, identify and realise economic opportunities.’
Wouldn’t it have been simpler and cheaper to turn RDA’s into Local Growth teams, rather than rushing to dismantle them? Just saying.
Green Deal: The Cinderella policy of the Coalition. No announcement of any support for this supposedly flagship policy, which will allow home occupiers to carry out energy efficiency improvements by borrowing at a rate of 6-7%. Given that the policy is intended to treat 14 million properties by 2020 and currently is attracting interest at the rate of 1,ooo assessments per month, it is unlikely to get anywhere near its intended penetration without some significant incentive. Perhaps the Chancellor’s support for fracking is a ‘cunning plan’ to drive up energy costs sufficiently to make the Green Deal more attractive?
Renewable Energy: Nothing, nada, but given the hash this Government made of the FiTs that is probably a good thing. In this case, silence is golden.