Implementing Zero Carbon in London

Now that we are almost upon the deadline for the introduction of zero-carbon (GLA) in London I thought that it was timely to comment on it. 

Firstly. Brilliant! In a time when politicians appear to have taken leave of their senses permanently, it is reassuring that here (surrounded by the metropolitan elite) some things stay the same. We have a group of politicians willing to lead on principles rather than on the basis of prompting by tabloids or by their lesser selves. Well done London!

Secondly: Brilliant! We have a piece of zero-carbon legislation that has learned from the recent past, from multiple consultations by DCLG and the Zero Carbon Hub and run with it rather than reinventing this particular wheel. More importantly, it sets a precedent for other devolved authorities to follow. London can afford to lead on this one, to get the idea moving, to introduce developers and their design teams to the idea and to pioneer mechanisms for using the funds in a transparent and timely way so that developers can see the benefits to them. 

Thirdly: There is work still to do, as there is little clear understanding about many of the aspects of the new legislation. Can we claim a credit for making improvements above regulation? For example if the team introduce dimming into the building, can they claim some CO2 reductions below the line of the regulatory calculations. If the designers use a timber structure, can they claim some embodied energy reductions? When are the payments to be made? When the building is designed, or when it is built? There are likely to be differences between the two.

I think that it would be useful if the GLA held some workshops about this new legislation and had an open discussion about these questions, to help to introduce the legislation and to hear from design teams and clients how it can work best for them and for the GLA. It is very important that this new effort succeeds, it is practically the only star left in the low-carbon buildings firmament, so let’s make sure that it burns brightly and it isn’t extinguished at the first sign of difficulty.

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‘Heart in the Right Street’ a report by Create Streets

I attended the launch of this report last week, at the invitation of its author, Nicholas Boys-Smith, I felt compelled to do so, as he claimed that I had in some small way inspired him to write it. Two years ago he made a presentation at HTA and at one point I challenged him to back up some of his claims for how certain building types were ‘better’ than others, with evidence. He felt then that his answer was unsatisfactory, and when the opportunity arose to produce this report, he used it to provide a better answer. I may not agree with everything in the report, but I wish everyone took my questions as seriously!


Attendees to the event were given a sort of ‘cheat sheet’ with ten guidelines for how to create good cities, and the report presents the evidence culled from numerous studies to back up the ten points. I paraphrase them as follows

1. Provide Greenery

2. Build more houses than apartments and build at higher density than the suburbs, but lower than necessitates high rises.

3. Build at human scale and never house children in high-rises.

4. Created connected walkable environments

5. Mix up land use with many uses

6. Block sizes should be ‘not too big’ and made up of individual buildings, not super sized buildings occupying a single block

7. Minimise internal communal space and corridors

8. Beauty matters, 

9. Create mixed facades at street level, shops, entrances, etc.

10. Make neighbourhoods dense enough to be walkable, 150-220 homes per hectare.

Most housing designers wouldn’t be too frightened by this, in fact most would support most of them, if not all of them, most of the time. But probably wouldn’t support all of them all of the time. The report is well researched and documented and could be recommended for no other reason than its bibliography which provides any interested party with a serious amount of good reading material. He references Charles Montgomeries Happy Cities book a lot, which is a good thing, as well as academic research from around the world on city living in Singapore, Vancouver, Newcastle, Copenhagen, Hong Kong and, of course, London.

About the only area where I find myself violently disagreeing with Nicholas is on the subject of ‘Beauty’. He maintains that beauty is not really in the eye of the beholder and he points to a lot of research to suggest that people do know what they like, and what they like is not liked by architects. He goes on to suggest that if more new development followed his rules and was also liked by people (because it conformed to a more general sense of beauty), then more high density life would  be allowed to happen and we would all be better off. 

I find it optimistic that changing the appearance of some modern development would make its neighbours welcome it any more than they do, motivated as they often are, by concerns over traffic, schools, and a general incoherent fear of change.

The simple reality, as I see it, is that architects don’t exist to provide what people ‘like’ any more than any artist exists to provide what people like. You might say that architecture is not ‘Art’ but you would be wrong. The purpose of Art is not to comfort and reassure, but often to challenge, sometimes startle. I do agree that housing architecture should never terrify or induce fear, that would be going much too far, but trying to create an environment like the Disney Main Street is something housing architects are not supposed to do. That is the job of set designers, a different species entirely. Our job is to create good neighbourhoods where people will want to live, but we must also always deliver good value for our clients. He who pays the piper calls the tune.

This is a good and well-researched project. It’s aims are positive, and well-meant, but sometimes overstepping the bounds of academic research into populist polemic. All housing architects who take their work seriously should read it and be as knowledgeable about the research as the author is. Housing architecture is a serious responsibility and not to be taken lightly, and this work echoes that seriousness by providing pointers to a lot of recent valuable research, as well as pointing to many areas where further research would be useful and welcome.

A point that doesn’t really come across from the work, although it is one of the ten guidelines, is that suburban density is not high enough to create successful living environments. Much much more of modern housing is built at suburban density than any other density, and in terms of numbers, the towers that he dislikes so much will only ever provide a fraction of the new housing in cities, whether they are liked or not. Suburban density causes so many other problems in the form of long commutes, high CO2 emissions, use of agricultural land, than high-rises do, but the idea of suburbia is not disliked by the general population nearly as much as they dislike high-rise living. 

If this book has any impact on policy, I would like it to prompt a review of the density of new suburbs. We are fooling ourselves by thinking that low-rise low-density suburbs are the answer to any of our housing problems.

On the one had Nicholas would have it that the people are right, to seek their idea of beauty and to decry high-rise living, but on the other hand they are wrong to hanker for the suburbs and the inevitable burden on the planet and personal isolation it brings. I think he wants to have his cake and eat it. But, don’t we all?

Ask not what Drones can do for you, but what can you do for a Drone.

Musing over the idea that drones (and by this I mean the little ones, usually small quadcopters, not multi-million pound aerial weapons flown by remote) will have a major role to play in modern urban societies, I concluded that it would be both fun and instructive to work through just what their role might be. 

Both Google and Amazon are experimenting with drone delivery systems and I can see the appeal of this immediately. Instead of having to wait a whole day for gratification, the lengthy gap between ordering online and when our newly purchased parcel arrives, we can have our gratification almost immediately if we can organise a drone to deliver the purchase instead. We see that thing online that will make our lives either complete or a bit less incomplete, we buy the thing, and a drone delivers it to our door a mere hour later. 

Lets just take it as read that this will happen in any case, because if for no other reason, there are a lot of pizzas that need delivering every day, and this would take a lot of maniacs on scooters off our roads, and thats the thin end of the wedge. With the growth of online shopping I have heard a TFL* representative say that 30% of Londons traffic is delivery vehicles. Even if we took 50% of the vans off the road, we would reduce congestion a lot, reduce emissions a lot as most vans are diesel powered, and the streets would be quieter and safer. Apart from the hum of drones that is. Perhaps the pigeons would disappear too, perhaps there would be too much aerial traffic for them to feel comfortable, one can hope.

But there are a lot of problems to be solved and barriers to that future. 

Legality

They’re illegal, and cannot be flown near to people, which is a bit of a problem when you want them to get close to people to deliver goods to them. I think this will go away presently as the software systems running on the drones enables them to be more or less autonomous and able to avoid crashing into things or people. If cars can be considered safe as driverless objects, then drones shouldn’t present much of a challenge, being much smaller and lighter, and posing much less risk to human life. Lets assume that that challenge is surmountable.

Location

Drones don’t currently have much of a range from the signal that controls them, which means that if you are a kilometer away from their controller they aren’t much use. I think that this can be dealt with by allowing the drone to control itself and by having a distributed network of guidance, like cellular telephone masts, that provide locations to the drone as it comes close to the mast. We use these masts to locate ourselves with smartphones, so why not drones too? To get it to deliver to our houses we just need a way to broadcast a signal to it that it can recognise, perhaps like the one created by our WiFi routers?

Distance

Being battery powered the current quadcopter drone designs are limited in terms of the distance they can travel and the loads they can carry. Battery technology is getting better, so distance will grow over time. The location masts or beacons used above to tell them their location could also provide charging points, so a tired worn-out drone could stop off for a quick gulp of electrons on the way home after delivering your pizza, book, fresh coffee,..whatever. To take on heavier loads drones could cooperate. This video by ETH shows a group of drones constructing a rope bridge, and this one shows another team creating a structure using bricks. The relatively straightforward task of delivering a parcel looks rather easy in comparison.

Identity

One of the major problems with drones is privacy. People don’t like the idea of a machine equipped with a powerful camera flying over their heads on a daily basis. This seems a bit Luddish to me, after all, in our cities we are surrounded by cameras in the hands of everyone we pass as well as those on the streets and buildings. But lets address the problem anyway. Imagine a scenario where the drone is autonomous, and not under control by any external agent, as it winds its way from depot to you. It doesn’t even need to go to your house, if you are in the park having a coffee, it could deliver the pizza directly to you. What the drone needs is autonomy, and a way of getting an anonymous set of directions to you. It need never know who you are, or where you live, and even better, it need not know what it has delivered to you. This will help to avoid the problem of Amazon and Google knowing everything you ever bought so that they can try and sell you a duplicate of everything you own. (why don’t they try and sell you something you haven’t bought?)

Delivery

Lets take a scenario where you order a pizza and its awaiting delivery at the ‘restaurant’. A signal is sent out that a delivery needs to be made, and the nearest drone accepts the job in the same way that a Uber car would. The shortest distance to pick up the pizza would offer the cheapest transaction cost. The drone collects the pizza, and is given an electronic token at the same time. This was created by you when you ordered the pizza. Half the token goes to you, and half to the drone. You broadcast the token from your location and the token is passed from one point on the network to the next, every time the token is passed on it gets a bit added by every node on the network. The network propagates the token from one node to the next indiscriminately. This enables the drone to follow the trail back to you by seeking a broadcast token that is shorter than the one it has picked up from the network and which matches the other half of the token it already has. It will find its way to you without knowing who you are, or where you are. 
 

Esch bubble represents a location beacon, such as a wi-fi router., the routers broadcast the destination to the drone, and the drone follows this to you, wherever you are. The box at the top left is the warehouse sending in the message, the box on the right is you waiting for the delivery. Drones already in the network pick up the message signal, follow it to the warehouse, pick up the package and deliver it to you.

 

Security

In the same way that BitCoin has developed a security system that is distributed, and every bitcoin node knows how many bitcoins there are, and who owns them, without being controlled by a central source, drones could carry out the physical transactions managed by a similar system to the electronic transaction. In a nice parallel where BitCoins enable Payer A to use currency B to pay C, the drone can carry the package from C back to A using the network B. Read this article on blockchains and BitCoins and you will see what I mean. This method would prevent anyone knowing which drone was carrying which package, and who it was intended for. The only way someone could steal your pizza would be to follow you home and steal it from the drone as it delivered it to you. Of course there will always be people who will snare a drone for whatever it happens to be carrying, but at least they won’t be able to steal on demand. 

Physical Implications

A drone needs somewhere to land a drop off its parcel. It needs a flat surface to land, and if the person for whom the delivery is intended isn’t there, it needs an electronically linked drop box where it can leave your parcel. It could lock the box with its half of the electronic delivery token, and you can unlock it with your matching half when you get home from work. But the box needs to be big enough to accept your pizza, post, packages and needs to be somewhere that the drone can get at but where other people cannot. For apartment buildings this would ideally be the roof, where a landing platform and a set of drop boxes could be located without too much difficulty in many flat-roofed apartment buildings. 

Perhaps one day drones will be able to post letters through your letterbox, if you still get any, any that you actually want to read that is.
*Transport for London

Is London going to go Zero Carbon?

Business Green reported an interchange last week between the Mayor and Green Assembly Member Darren Johnson  in response to his question about the Mayors position on Zero Carbon homes. Boris’s reported response was

“What we are looking at is making sure that we can continue, through the London Plan, to ensure that Zero Carbon Homes are delivered in London and we will be issuing further guidance in due course to provide industry with the certainty it needs about how to do that.” 

Boris reported that London aims to achieve a 60% reduction in CO2 by 2025 and has achieved 14% to date. This represents a per capita reduction of 20% as London’s population has grown by 600k during the reporting period.

It is heartening to hear these words from the Mayor, and I hope that the candidates for the Mayoralty are listening. If devolution is to mean anything it should promote the ability of cities in the UK to sidestep the damaging and short-sighted environmental policies of central government.

Having recently completed a large zero carbon scheme at Hanham Hall with low-rise construction and learned what it means for most of the UK’s housing development, I thought that it would be useful to share below some analysis that we have done to assess how tall buildings can achieve the zero carbon standard. Given that many of the buildings that are proposed for the capital in future are going to be tall it is interesting to assess how the regulations might affect those building types.

The analysis has been done for a twenty five and a forty storey tower with six units per floor to demonstrate how different systems meet the targets. We tested gas boilers, CHP with gas backup, all-electric heating and hot water and finally Air Source Heat Pumps. Three of the four rely on a communal hot water distribution system, the all electric system being the exception.

Energy Options to meet the London Plan and Zero Carbon

Energy Options for a 25 Storey Tower to meet the London Plan and Zero Carbon

 

40-storey

Energy Options fora 40 Storey Tower to meet the London Plan and Zero Carbon

What the research shows is that for taller towers there is no difficulty in meeting the current definition of zero carbon. In fact it shows that achieving it is technically easier than achieving the London Plan, as the London Plan has a lower emissions target than the Zero Carbon definition. This is assuming that there is no special treatment for electric heating or hot water, unlike the current version of SAP which is based on comparative performance rather than on a definite figure as set out in the Zero Carbon Hub’s definition.

Based on these figures I would say that towers should be forced to meet the lower emissions target of 10kg/CO2/sqm since in both gas-based options this target can be met. Perhaps an all-electric version could be left as it is at the higher 14kg/CO2/sqm.

It also shows that a very efficient 25-storey building can meet the targets irrespective of the energy system used, the top graphs shows that it can achieve the target in all four options, even an all-electric option. The 40-storey is not so easy. My assumption is that only the roof can be used to house renewable energy,  but for the 40-storey version it would be necessary in the electric options to put some pv panels on the facade to reach the target.

But of course the technical success is not the full picture. In addition to the Fabric Energy Efficiency target of 39kwh/sqm/yr that apartments have to hit, and towers have no difficulty doing so, there is the Carbon Compliance which is shown in the graphs above, and again there doesn’t appear to be much of a problem for towers, but finally there is the Allowable Solutions element which says that whatever CO2 emissions remain must be offset. This offset is achieved by multiplying the tonnes of CO2 emitted, by the figure of 30 years, and by an agreed sum for each tonne. Currently the GLA uses £60/tonne. This produces a figure of approximately £1,000 per apartment to offset the emissions elsewhere.

Sadly the all electric system is unwelcome in London as it it not seen as ‘futureproof’ according to the gas-led ideology preferred by the GLA. This is understandable as an all-electric system does not emit the lowest CO2 emissions possible, at current levels of grid CO2 intensity. What will be interesting to see is how long before the grid CO2 intensity drops to a low enough level to change that thinking. The Committee for Climate Change has suggested that we need to stop burning gas by 2035 to meet our carbon budgets. What is the point in investing in gas burning equipment and networks now if they have to be decommissioned in less than twenty years time?

Certainly an all-electric system is the cheapest to install, avoiding the central distribution system, and it could be argued that an all electric system is just as futureproof as a hot water led system as the Grid is inherently flexible. Interestingly our research also suggests that in the majority of cases an all-electric system is cheaper than a communal system for residents as the standing charges are lower, even if the energy bills are higher than gas. The standing charge is used to create a sinking fund to replace the communal system. If there is no communal system the sinking fund is either not needed or is much smaller, thus lowering residents total bill. The cheapest system of all to run is an individual gas boiler, but no-one would consider installing that into a tower, and it has a higher maintenance and replacement cost than an all-electric system.

A major hole in this analysis is that it is carried out using SAP, which is pretty poor at dealing with apartment buildings. The energy for pumping heat around the building is ignored, as is the energy for ventilating corridors, pumping hot water, lifts, communal lighting etc, etc. Since the communal spaces in these buildings are not heated, SBEM isn’t particularly useful either. As buildings get taller these additional energy uses and losses will become more a more significant part of their energy use, we need better tools to assess them, and more regulations to deal with their particular demands.

 

Zero Carbon – Zero Chance

The axing of the zero-carbon housing legislation yesterday put an end to a decade of efforts to define a standard for new homes that would support the UK’s drive to reduce emissions from new housing. It was contained in a document from the Treasury, apparently now setting more UK housing policy than DCLG, entitled ‘Fixing the foundations – Creating a more Prosperous Nation’

There is much to welcome in the document, and a lot that seems eminently sensible, I say this to deflect any criticism that I am singling out a single issue to the exclusion of the rest, all 88 pages of it. But it seems to me to be entirely wrong-headed to drop this proposal now, after planning for it for such a long time, and after so much work has been done to prepare for it. I have seen no justification for the decision yet, and I await that justification with interest. The document is about planning to improve the UK’s productivity, so the assumption must be that dropping these proposals will improve productivity in the UK housing industry.

Whether this is really the case or not depends how you measure productivity.

Will removing this requirement mean that more houses get built than would otherwise be the case?

Probably not, as housing starts have more to do with sales values than build costs. The introduction of previous regulatory changes have not had any visible effect on housebuilding numbers as DCLG usually has a fairly relaxed transition period allowing housebuilders to prepare for the new standards over a long period. Housebuilders are also very skilled at passing on the costs of improved performance to their supply chain.

Will more plots receive permission with the legislation removed?

Probably not, as planning authorities will want to see evidence that new homes are sustainably developed and this would have been one way of demonstrating this.

What we will see is that the costs of occupying new homes will stay higher than it would otherwise be, as will the CO2 emissions from them. This could affect up to a million new homes if housing numbers improve towards the 200k per annum mark and this situation lasts for five years 2016-2021. (see graphic)

The Costs of Low Carbon Living

The Costs of Low Carbon Living

The additional running costs will be in the region of £200 per annum per household, meaning a spend of £200M on energy by consumers that could be avoided and the additional CO2 will  be around 2 tonnes per dwelling, reaching a total of 2 Million tonnes of additional CO2 emissions that could otherwise be avoided.

To meet our CO2 budgets this extra 2Mt of CO2 will need to be abated elsewhere, which will come with a cost, and our energy system will need to be developed to include the additional energy supply needed.

It makes little sense to me that a nation that prides itself on its universities and innovation, and associates both of these with improving productivity,  would make this decision. Housing manufacturing in particular is a very innovative and productive industry, and can meet these higher standards already, but needs a willing market to thrive. The companies that will benefit from this are the ones looking backwards, the brick manufacturers, the housebuilders, the landowners. The ones that will suffer are the ones looking forward, the innovative manufacturers, the developers of high quality homes, the purchasers and occupiers of the homes themselves. This change in direction simply retains the status quo and extends the period within which housing can continue to be built using traditional and low productivity methods, and removes any regulatory driver for the industry to improve and innovate.

By 2020 the UK is expected to have introduced legislation to deliver Nearly Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB’s) together with all other EU partners. The proposed 2016 regulations would have been a strong stepping stone to this higher standard and made for an easy transition. The Chancellor appears to be betting on that standard either going away, or being optional for the UK to adopt come 2020.

 

Jane Jacobs on Street Life

In her book ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs paints a rosy picture of urban street life. Particularly urban street life and the urban children she observes in it. She writes about the children playing in Hudson Street where she lives in Greenwich Village and draws firm conclusions from her experience.

She observes that shopkeepers are part of the lifeblood of the street, they partially supervise the children playing, tell them off for being troublesome, help them out when they need it, give directions to strangers and hold keys for residents who are away for the weekend. She notes that they don’t become close friends with many people, but have a relationship based on nods and smiles and the occasional sentence in passing. A relationship based on mutual self-interest. The shopkeeper is saying, ‘I’ll keep an eye on things and you can trust me because I need to retain your trust” 

She observes that the children benefit from the mixture of parenting from their real parents and the guidance and commentary they get from neighbours, shopkeepers and passers by. This tells the children that the world in general cares about them and takes a small but important interest in their well-being. They in turn learn that its important that they too take an interest in the world and the well-being of their playmates and the world around them. Soon, they too begin to offer help to strangers, giving directions or advice.

At no point does she mention the impact of traffic on active play, there probably wasn’t so much of it that it had a major impact on Hudson street, although photographs taken at the time show plenty of cars parked on the streets of New York in the 1950’s. She does state that to be effictive ‘play’ streets, the ‘sidewalks’ should be ‘thirty to thirty-five feet wide’ to accommodate any kind of play that could be required, but acknowledges that the requirements of traffic mean that there are few streets of that width even then.

 

Greenwich Village,New York, 1950’s Getty Images

 
She strongly criticizes the idea that ‘managed’ or supervised play space in parks is any substitute for ‘unmanaged’ street play. Her main problem with ‘managed play’ is that children beyond a very young age don’t want to be actively supervised by their parents and lose interest in such play very quickly. Play spaces in parks are also unsafe because they are usually too far from street life to be supervised by the passers by. She also critizes the lack of male intervention in such places, where children are usually supervised by their mothers only, in contrast to the street where they are supervised and protected by, and able to interact with, a host of different people, men and women, young and old, locals and passers by.

The image she paints is idyllic in some senses, a loose community of neighbours who look out for each other, particularly for each others children, while still going about their business in a normal way. Its the perfect mixture of privacy where no-one is prying into your personal affairs (associated with village life) and still enough human interest to know that if you didn’t show up to buy a pint of milk your neighbours would check up on you to see if you were OK.
The street itself had the interesting feature of steps up to the front doors of houses or apartment buildings. These steps gave places for residents to survey the street for a long distance from an elevated position in relative security. They gave children a small place to sit and play out of the way of passers by, but most importantly gave residents a place to watch, interact with or supervise the world as it went by.

Fast forward to London 2015.

Shopkeepers are rarely, if ever, at the front of their shops. Their windows are full of goods and it is often impossible to see the street from inside shops, particularly greengrocers and supermarkets. Even if the street were visible, the shopkeepers rarely own their shops as so many of them are chain stores and the staff are rotated on a regular basis. As automated tills come in the number of staff is dwindling, and the ability of shopkeepers to participate in street life diminishes. As retail moves more to the Internet, fewer and fewer shops are needed to sell goods on the high street, as they are being undercut by online businesses. 

The bright spark in this is food retailing, which appears to be getting stronger, and the increase of street life that comes with it is enormous, even if a lot of it includes the use of tables on already too-narrow pavements. Waiting staff come out to the street to bring food and deliver orders, deliveries come and go and the ballet of the street expands instead of contracting. It will be interesting to see how this develops over the next decade. 

No-one plays on the streets for any length of time, and hasn’t done so for a generation. Children’s play takes place either in their back gardens, or in schools, or, for a short while, in the street while they go to, or come from, school. This is also supervised play insofar as there is almost always a parent or two there to ensure that they get to school on time. This concerns the minority of children who actually walk to school, most of them are driven by parents fearful of their children being hit by a car while walking to school. 

Public parks are often empty, they are very busy on sunny weekends, but often deserted in weektimes, particularly the play areas, children are often brought there to play on their way home, and then ferried home for dinner, by car.

Children are not usually let out to play before or after tea/dinner. They sit at home playing video games instead, possibly playing with their friends in nearby homes, but only connected via cyberspace. If they do meet their friends to play it is usually organised by parents and the children are delivered and collected, by car.

Cars parked in the street take up about 50% of the land left for the street. Pavements are wide enough to allow two buggies to pass each other and no more. Parents don’t let their children play in front of their houses because they are afraid that they might be abducted, or damage a neighbours car, and in any case there isn’t room for them to play in. 

The only extensive street play I have observed is streets being taken over by parents in high-vis jackets to close it off to through traffic, with the support of the local council. Children are encouraged to play in the street, but supervised by their anxious parents. I can image how Jacobs would laugh at this. I am sure these street closures are helping people to get to know each other and to enable their children to be more active, but it is hardly a solution to the problem, more of a symptom. The presence of hundreds of cars means that the kinds of games children would like to play cannot be played, there simply isn’t the space. 

Disability legislation means that it is now almost impossible to design houses with ‘stoops’ or steps in front that provide places to view or supervise the street. Residents of new neighbourhoods will be on the same level as those passing by, and rooms on the street frontage are that much darker and noisier as a result. Ideally the ground floors of urban buildings would always be gven over to commercial uses, but it is unlikely that there will ever be enough commercial uses to go around.

Summary

We don’t appear to have learned very much from the mistakes or from the successes of the past as described by Jacobs, modern places are still mainly designed with traffic in mind, not with people in mind. Traffic engineering rules, bin lorry sizes and utilities have a  much stronger voice when it comes to the design of places than any consideration of what type of society a place is likely to foster. Children are given play areas which are intended for them to play in, but what child wants to play in an organised way? Some of these places, usually corraled by railings, are even intended for ‘doorstep’ play. Play, by definition, is not organised. 

Finally, Jacobs firm belief was that public street life allows people to interact with each other equally, because everyone has the right to be there. The street is the ultimate social leveller.

‘If there is no public street life, and there are only opportunities for formal interaction, this tends to suit a self-selecting confident middle-class.’

The Triumph of the City – Edward Glaeser – A Review

Edward Glaeser has penned this work on the benefits of the city from the perspective of the economist.  A useful and unusual perspective, the first major work on cities  from an economics perspective since Jane Jacobs penned ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’ and ‘Cities and the Wealth of Nations’. 

The book is wide in scope and exhaustively annotated, and suitable for use as a textbook as well as being an interesting read. Every town planner and every city councillor should be forced to read it and not allowed to make a single plan or decision without  reading it.

Glaeser is not such a good writer as Jacobs, but he does create some pithy one-liners that could go on a city planners or mayors annual calendar.

The essential ingredient for the success of the modern city is the accessibility of talent. The basic premise of the book revolves around this statement.


Cities and Talent

Glaeser writes extensively on the subject of cities abilities to attract talent, including presenting many case studies of city growth and city failure around the globe over the last two centuries.

When presented with a series of trade-offs including the cost of housing, the ability to earn high wages and the potential to be close to good schools, families will make a decision to go to the city or suburb that gives them the best likelihood of success. Cities that cannot provide all three are likely to be limiting their ability to attract the greatest amount of talent.

He points out the particular problem of enabling and maintaining good schools in inner cities and although this is heavily US-centric there are relevant comparisons to be made in the UK, particularly in London where there are fewer good schools in inner city areas and many families move to the suburbs in search of good schools.

Glaeser points to many examples of cities that have used good education systems, particularly universities, such as London, Paris, Boston to keep their best and brightest people and to attract outsiders: ‘to thrive, cities must attract smart people and enable them to work collaboratively’ and ‘Because the essential characteristic of humanity is to learn from each other, cities make us more human’

He points out, rather romantically for an economist, that the advent of the connected society through cyberspace has in no way lessened the neccessity of face-to-face connections with talent. ‘connecting in cyberspace will never be the same as sharing a meal, a smile or a kiss’

The Sustainable City

He makes the point that were China and India to live the way the US does, and follow a path of abandoning the inner city for the ‘exurbs’, would raise the planets CO2 emissions by 139%. He suggests that there is some evidence that the Chinese ‘get’ density in their deign of places. Whether there is evidence that the Chinese ‘get’ quality of life in the same way, I am less sure. But his central point is well made, we can only offer convincing advice to developing countries if we are seen to be busy repairing the damage we have done ourselves already. The US has some way to go on this point.  ‘The only way the West can earn any moral authority on global warming is to first get its own house in order.’

Being an economist, and having dealt with the improvements that many cities have made to their transport systems through congestion charging, he points out that ‘Unless we charge people for the carbon they emit, they won’t emit less’.

He suggests that the exurbs are a temporary phenomenon and limited to some places, rather than having a general future. But he doesn’t have the evidence to back this up. ‘I suspect, that in the long run, the twentieth century fling with suburban living will look, just like the brief age of the industrial city, more like an aberration than a trend.’

Misguided Conservation

He makes a strong point about misguided conservation in places like California. (it could easily be London) where he points out that Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) only assess the impact of develoment being built, and not the impact of it being built elsewhere instead; which is unfortunate because elsewhere in the US is a place like Houston where there is less development control than in California and where more houses are being built, and which are therefore cheaper and more attractive to workers and familes. But the result is a higher overall carbon footprint because Houston is uninhabitable without air-conditioning. And everyone drives everywhere. Conservation in California keeps California the way the rich Californians like it, but means that alternative places which are less suitable for sustainable living are used instead. In the UK, substitute Surrey for California and the result is largely the same.

He maintains that people who fight dense development in order to protect local low density life or green spaces  are simply moving the problem elsewhere, an elsewhere that is further from services and transport infrastructure that will mean more develoment on green field sites and more car travel.

‘The interests of people who oppose change are certainly comprehensible, but their interests usually don’t match the public interest.’

Policy should aim to encourage development in those parts of the country where it makes most sense, near to infrastructure and jobs, and not on creating areas of land like Green Belts that have little or no real environmental benefit but which results in more sprawl further away from economic centres and longer commutes for workers who cannot afford urban prices. ‘Urban living is sustainable sustainability,rural ecotowns are not.’ 

It seems to me that the difference between the UK and the US is that the results of long commutes is less obviously harmful in carbon terms as our cars are more efficient and public transport networks are good, but if you look at Charles Montgomery’s book on Happy Cities, you will see that the costs of long commutes include broken marriages and unhappy children because of the absence of one or both parents for most of the day. Environmental reasons are not the only reasons to be concerned by the need for long commutes.

On Urban Poverty

He takes a seemingly rather cold hearted look at urban poverty and points out that ‘Cities will always have poor people, and this is a sign of success, not failure, as cities should attract poor people who want to improve their lot’. Certianly the history of London and New York bears this out as places where waves of immigrants have come, found places to live near to the ports, worked in these cities, gradually become part of society and then moved from the enclaves where they started out together for mutual suport and eventually merged with society as a whole. There is a building in the East End of London that has been a mosque, a synagogue, and a church at different times as different cultures arrived and left.

‘Cities especially benefit from an influx of talent, because immigrants help urban areas play their crucial role of connecting countries.’

He deals well with the economic benifits of collecting talent in the same location, both for cultural movements and technical innovation. The problem is when cities create areas of poor people who will always be poor, as has happened in many areas of the UK where social housing has been built in large clusters. Sometimes this has resulted in creating communities where unemployment and benefit dependency has become a way of life and difficult to disrupt. He pours scorn on efforts in many US cities where attempts at regeneration have focussed on building infrastructure and housing in failing places where neither were needed, and suggests that a better use of money would have been to give it to the disadvanteged and allowed them to move to wherever they would prefer to live. A chilling piece of evidence that he provides is that poorer children displaced from New Orleans have demonstrated improvements in school results in the communities they have moved to. Sometimes, he suggests, new buildings are not what is needed.

On Management

‘The more centralised a nations government, the larger its capital city, because people are attracted to power as ants are to picnics’

‘Much of the world suffers under awful governments, and that provides an edge for those cities that are administered well’ He doesn’t examine the different types of civic government that have worked well, but its interesting that the examples he cites tend to be places where a strong individual took control, often for a sustained period. The same can be said of the failures.

‘..among cities, failure seem similar, while success seem unique’

Glaeser identifies a common problem of political and cultural attitudes to city life, which has often found its way into city management in the past, and still does today. Political animals who must attract votes from the wider community don’t always understand the particular needs of the cities under their control, or even how to ensure that they are managed properly. The conflict between what is good for the country, and what is good for the city is dealt with through a number of case studies. His comments about the negative impacts of taxation could have been written about the UK.

‘Cities can compete on a level playing field, but over the past sixty years America’s policies have slanted the field steeply against them. In the areas of housing, social services, education, transportation, the environment and even income taxes, American policies have worked against urban areas. Cities have managed to survive despite these advantages because they have so much to offer.’

When it comes to managing a city budget, he is unequivocal:

‘As much as I appreciate urban culture, aesthetic interventions can never substitute for the urban basics.‘ These are Safety, Education & Transport.

His case study on Singapore is very interesting as it demonstrates how a city-state can function without a rural hinterland. ‘Singapore’s success illustrates the irrelevance of acreage’. Again, he makes the point, as Jane Jacobs did, that cities are really the economic engines of a modern society, and as they need resources it doesn’t appear to affect their success or failure where those resoures come from. Provided the city can attract and keep talent, and maintain a good economic strength, it can afford to buy the resources that it needs. He fails to point out that the resources also come with a carbon footprint and outsourcing production of resources, such as food, from long distances, has the same effect on CO2 emissions as curtailing developent within its boundaries.

END

If you are interested in urban design, sustainability, town and city planning, then this book should be on a shelf close to your desk, alongside the works of Jane Jacobs and Henry Montgomery.

Happiness and Well-Being in Housing Design

This is an unusually long post. So make a cup of tea or pour a glass of whisky before starting.

In 2008 the UK Govt Foresight commissioned the New Economic Foundation to investigate well-being. The context was a concern among policy makers that Gross Domestic Product may no longer be the sole measure of success of Government policy. Many surveys have shown that even while GDP rises, happiness and well-being do not rise with it. Money does not buy happiness it seems.

The result of this work was a report called The Five Ways to Well-Being which contained some recommendations for you to follow. You might call them the Five Pillars of Happiness? These are described below. The italic descriptions below are NEF’s attempt to create short versions of the Five Ways that are easily communicated and understood.

This work prompts a question for designers. What does this mean for the design of places for people to live in, and how ought we design them differently if we have well-being in mind. Is Well-Being equated to Happiness and are either of them capable of being designed into a development? Is well-being or happiness so strongly related to an individuals personal circumstances that it is not subject to outside influences and it is unwise for a designer to ever suggest that one can design in happiness or well-being? The NEF research suggests that it is possible for people to influence their own happiness, and that there are objective as well as subjective elements to it, hence the Five Ways. Walt Disney gives it a good try in the various Disneyworlds around the globe, but those are hardly places that can, or should, be duplicated, and in any case, there aren’t enough Mickey Mouse suits to go around.

What is also interesting about this research is that it suggests positive action towards a positive goal, rather than positive actions to prevent negative results. Most regulations are aimed at preventing negative results or outcomes such as fire, accidents, structural failure, lack of space and so on, but what could design become if it aimed at positive outcomes instead? Of course many designs are aimed at positive outcomes, hospitals, schools, and many other building types, but the positive outcomes are usually measured by asking whether the temperature in the building is maintained at a steady level, whether the building uses more or less energy than planned, and whether the maintenance bills are low. While all of these are important, we rarely look at the well-being of people who use or live in them to assess the success of our buildings. Granted this can be difficult to measure, but part of the Office of National Statistics work on Well-Being suggests that it is possible to do, and is already being done in small unconnected ways in different disciplines.

It seems to me that housing and its relationship to well-being has a particular role here, insofar as people spend more than half their time at home, and probably change homes less frequently that they change their jobs. Creating a professional expectation that designers should try to enable well-being in their designs, and crucially, check whether they are succeeding, is likely to lead to better outcomes. I think that this expectation applies particularly to the designers of house types used by the major house-builders, as these will be built many times over, thus repeating the same mistakes over and over again, or improving the lives of occupants over and over again. If we are going to build something many times, lets build the right thing, and not the wrong one.

Reading through the five ‘Ways’, which are intended by NEF to explain to laypeople how to interpret the research, it is possible to link all of them to interventions in the built environment in some way or other. Either through direct interventions, or through the creation of space for something to happen. Some issues can be considered and responded to in parts of buildings or in the public realm between buildings, other issues can be responded to by creating spaces that in turn encourage actions by others who will follow on after the designers work is done. The designers job is to create a stage for the actors to use, an environment where things are more likely to happen than not.

The Five Ways to Well-Being:

Connect

Connect with the people around you. With family,
friends, colleagues and neighbours. At home, work,
school or in your local community. Think of these as
the cornerstones of your life and invest time in
developing them. Building these connections will
support and enrich you every day.

For designers, I think this means creating opportunities for people to meet, to create streets where they can interact, and to bring the activities that stem from entrances and pathways together to create places where the greatest number of people have the best chances of interacting. Making the ground surface the place where it all happens, pedestrians, drivers, bus passengers and cyclists, all merging together and creating possibilities for activity, commercial and social.
This also means enabling people to see each other, to be visible to each other. Places where windows and doors are visible from the street and the street is visible from inside homes.

This means that creating shared spaces is important, where people can mix and meet each other, where children can play and parents can interact, allotments where they can work together and community spaces where they can gather to plan their joint future or knit, play bridge, practice yoga or get married.

This means that high density mixed-use is better than low density monoculture. The more people that are mixed in an area and the more uses, the more likely people there are to meet people like themselves, and make connections, or find appropriate work. This refutes the idea that anyone will find happiness by buying a large plot in suburbia and driving there and back without ever seeing their neighbours.

(See Charles Montgomerys excellent book on Happy Cities for many examples of broken families and difficult lives created by the long commute to and from suburbia.)
Be Active

Go for a walk or run. Step outside. Cycle. Play a game.
Garden. Dance. Exercising makes you feel good. Most
importantly, discover a physical activity you enjoy and
one that suits your level of mobility and fitness.

For the designer this means creating readily available opportunities for exercise. Streets that are designed to be walkable, and enjoyable to walk along. For this to be true, there needs to be variety in the character of the areas, and potential for change so that seasons can be marked in changing colours of leaves and birdsong, as well as the visible changes in family life that goes on in homes. Washing on the line, children’s toys in the garden, bicycles parked in front of houses all give interesting clues to the life being lived inside. Green spaces also need to be provided, and designed so that they can be used as stopping points, or provide opportunities for more active exercise through fixed equipment.

Inside the buildings and houses, the stairs should be designed to be more prominent than the lift and designed to be welcoming rather than forbidding. Landings could have a window seat so that older people can still use the stairs, but have an excuse to stop and rest and enjoy the view.

Inside homes, spaces should be created to enable and encourage exercise. Why create a dining room with fixed furniture that is used once a month, and no exercise space. Put in an exercise bar and a mirror instead and celebrate the idea of exercise without making it seem too obvious. Use the mirror to increase the light in a room to make it more attractive to be in. Put in a wooden floor with underfloor heating so that it is comfortable to use all year around.

The availability of fresh air for health is important, as is the ability to filter out pollutants. Residents should have both opportunities, together with daylight at different times of the day to ensure that they get sufficient light to read or work by, and enough light to set their daily circadian rhythms.

I learned recently that bungalows produce a condition called ‘Bungalow Knee’ by doctors, where older residents knees seize up through lack of activity. This is the first such condition caused by a building that I have heard of. But it raises an important question about regulation and comfort. Providing ease in the form of level thresholds, ramps and stair free environments may be good for the less able among us, but are we inadvertently designing out the exercise in our environment to solve the problems of a few, and denying the regular exercise that the rest of the population needs? Similar evidence is growing around the provision of overheated environments in care homes where any interruption in the heating system produces a lot of ill-health among residents whose systems have become accustomed to constant temperature and are no longer able to regulate their temperature.

Take Notice

Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the
unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Savour the moment,
whether you are walking to work, eating lunch or talking to
friends. Be aware of the world around you and what you are
feeling. Reflecting on your experiences will help you
appreciate what matters to you.

For designers this is directly related to the ‘Connect’ and ‘Be Active’ ‘Ways’. Perhaps there is a prompt here for design to be more creative and to design in features that catch the eye, or which change when looked at from different angles. Buildings that have some greater level of detail that is only visible when you get closer, or a roof-level feature that is only visible from far away. The designing of opportunities for public art into a proposal is a potential route to creating places that catch the eye and encourage curiosity. The natural world is also a very interesting and varying thing, so creating opportunities for diversity in planting, and places for birds to live and roost, and bats and animals to live can all contribute to the rich experience that this ‘Way’ calls for.

The aspect of the design of homes that is most relevant here is the design of windows. It would help this ‘Way’ to create windows that provide different kinds of views, to the immediate outside, and to the distant horizon. If there is a tree in the street, a window should frame it. A window with a seat to sit in and to enjoy the view. A picture window that is low enough so that the view can be enjoyed while sitting or lying down. A window positioned to bring sunlight into the bedroom. A rooflight to bring a view of the sky into the middle of the house.

Keep Learning

Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for
that course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Fix
a bike. Learn to play an instrument or how to cook your
favourite food. Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving.
Learning new things will make you more confident as
well as being fun.
The response for the designer here is to create spaces where things can happen. Putting seats in the right place on the street so that people can watch the world go by, or take a break in a busy day. Create spaces in residential buildings that can be used for short periods of work so that they can run small businesses from home, and they can learn from our neighbours who can pop in to help them. Make sure that spaces in residential buildings are flexible enough so that if people want to have a hobby, they have space to do it in. Make sure that the building acoustics are good enough for someone to learn to play the drums or bagpipes without annoying the neighbours. Create communal spaces where people can run short courses for their neighbours, or have a party for the residents of the building.

Give

Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger. Thank someone.
Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Look
out, as well as in. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked
to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and
creates connections with the people around you.

Designers can respond to this idea with a home that creates zero harm by being very energy efficient, sympathetic to nature in its design, manufacture, operation and reuse. It may not be able to ‘give’ directly, but we can design it to ‘take’ as little as possible. We cannot help people to volunteer though, this one is almost out of the hands of the designer. But it can be helped along by creating places in a masterplan where community groups can meet and decide how they want to work together. By creating Community Interest companies that can run a development after the developer has left, and which create opportunities for people to develop skills in managing their local environment in a responsible way.

End

All of the Five Ways resonate with me, as directions that designers should keep in their minds while designing. It is not sufficient to design to meet regulations, there are other responsiblities than the clients direct needs and the regulations imposed by society that a designer should recognise.

In a period where the intention is to design and construct a lot of housing, we would do well to make sure that it is all of the highest quality as it will be there for many years after we have left, affecting the well-being of its residents and through them the success or failure of wider society.

Happy City – a Review 

Happy City, a book by Charles Montgomery, should be on the shelf (digital or physical) of everyone interested in the sustainable future of cities. Given that more than half the worlds population now live in them, and that the numbers continue to rise, that should represent a lot of people. For some people, myself among them, the ideas presented in the book are not new. What is new, is the evidence he provides, statistical, personal and independent, that gives new life to those ideas. 

The central theme of the book is that disconnected urban sprawl, the worst kind of supurbia, where people move further and further from major population centres, is bad for the planet, for the people whose lives are spent commuting, and for the rest of us whose taxes go to pay for all the infrastructure that such places need. None of this sounds surprising to me, and I imagine it won’t surprise you either, so why is it that across the world, including here in the UK, we continue to build most of our new homes in exactly these kinds of locations? Far from transport arteries, schools, amenities and services.

Montgomery points out that the appeal of the suburb is based on us lying to ourselves, that we owe it to our children to give them a good life, that crime is lower in the suburbs, and that schools are better. He demolishes these fictions by pointing out that in North America, the value of suburban housing is stagnating, making sprawl a poor investment. Children who grow up in sprawl are more likely to fail in school or end up with a criminal record because their parents are usually absent, working and commuting long hours to pay for the suburban dream, and because new suburbs are particularly bereft of services and activities for children and older people. Instead of the Good Life that buyers imagined, they end up in Breaking Bad. 

I particularly enjoyed the chapter describing how the car manufacturers bought up light rail systems in north America and then dismantled them, as they were a threat to their business. How they introduced the jay-walking laws to criminalise walking when there was a danger that deaths on the road would reduce car sales. When people talk about the dangers of listening only to the private sector, there is a good case study.  The car industry has been a good employer and earner of foreign exchange for a few countries for the last fifty years or so, but look at the legacy it leaves us. We bought the marketing, now we have to live with the consequences.

Happy City is not all about failure, it covers a lot of ground where improvements have been made in enabling cities to deliver a better life for their inhabitants through better public transport systems, cycling lanes, or just more local community life. From Bogota, to Paris, Mexico City to Atlanta, he has drawn on many sources and interviews for evidence of successes and failures. This is a thoroughly researched book, and an enjoyable read. I recommend it!

Testing Daylight and Sunlight in Masterplanning

“The code is more like guidelines than actual rules’  Captain Barbossa

Thus Captain Barbossa enlightens the confused Elizabeth Swann on the difficulties of interpreting the Pirate Code. When is a guideline a rule, and when is it a guideline, and what does it mean when it is treated by some as a rule and treated as a guideline by others. BRE Daylight guidelines are treated by some people like the Pirate Code, to be taken as rules in some cases, and as guidelines by others? Taking one approach or the other can have a significant impact on the design of masterplan, sometime with negative consequences for the urban design.

Most of, if not all of, the recommendations offered in the BRE Publication ‘Site Layout Planning for Daylight and Sunlight: A guide to good practice’ are guidelines and should not be strictly applied. The introduction to the documents even states “The advice given here is not mandatory and the guide should not be seen as an instrument of planning policy: its aim is to help and not constrain the designer. Although it gives numerical guidelines, these should be interpreted flexibly since natural lighting is only one of many factors in site layout design. In special circumstances the developer of planning authority may wish to use different target values. For example, in a historic city centre, or in an area with modern high rise buildings, a higher degree of obstruction may be unavoidable if new developments are to match the height and proportions of existing buildings“.

Yet, in many cases, authorities and even the BRE itself, make these guidelines into rules or targets for planning policy and sustainability appraisals.

In more specific instances, the BRE guidelines also state that ‘In a mews in a historic city centre …a VSC(Vertical Sky Component) of 18% could be used as a target for development in that street if new development is to match the existing layout’. This statement highlights the contrast between homes designed to match the character of historic environments by meeting a threshold value of 18% of Vertical Sky Component, compared to the ‘normal’ recommended threshold of 27% of Vertical Sky Component. This highlights the idea that different daylighting thresholds are appropriate for different types of urban neighbourhood.

In the Code for Sustainable Homes the BRE sets a level of 2% of Average Daylight Factor for kitchens, and 1.5% for living rooms and home offices. The guidance recommends a minimum of 1% for bedrooms. Credit scores are awarded in the Code for homes that meet these guidelines. While there is an acceptance that different rooms could have different light levels, there is no allowance made for differences in design that could mean that some homes may not meet the target at all.

Many local authorities use the BRE guidelines as de facto planning policy, and use them to argue against development that reduces the daylight or sunlight for other existing properties and residents. Unhelpfully, Rights to Light, a legal right to light, is a separate matter and dealt with in a parallel process, sometimes involving the courts. This is usually an issue when new development affects the daylight of an existing building by overshadowing it.

When designing large-scale developments, covering a new urban quarter, current practice guides the designer towards layouts that are partially reminiscent of historical urban quarters containing streets and squares.  It is entirely consistent with the design of modern urban masterplans that there will be areas of high density living and areas of low density living that have different characters, amenity, outlook, density, and property values. Daylight is part of the character of a building and the homes within it. It is part of the character of a street. In London, there is a world of difference between the character of the houses in a Victorian terrace, suburban Barnet, and mansion blocks in Kensington. Each have their own character and value.  Designing homes, streets and squares to all meet a particular daylight threshold may not help to produce an enjoyable and varied urban environment that reflects the variety available in most cities. I think that the BRE guidelines should be treated as guidelines and strict daylighting thresholds should rarely be applied across large scale masterplans.

Some countries apply this type of guidance very strictly, Russia and China particularly enshrine daylight into national regulation. The result is often poor quality urban design resulting in all new buildings facing South and ignoring traditional street layouts. It may deliver the appropriate hours of sunlight on a particular date in March but the impact can be very detrimental to the quality of life in cities.

I think that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to design a high density urban environment without having some units at street level with low daylight amenity, as well as many units at high level that have much higher levels of daylight than guidelines would suggest. Large glazed areas may give apartments a stunning view, but high levels of daylight almost always translate into high levels of solar gains and overheating.

It is important that streets are overlooked at all times by windows and have front doors coming from them at regular intervals. This means that homes on east-west streets will always have facades with a northern aspect and will have low levels of sunlight on that facade. Where streets are aiming for an urban character and are 4-6 stories high on both sides, it is inevitable that the units on the ground floors will have low daylight levels. This does not prevent those units from being attractive and useful. Central London has many basements which are fully occupied and enjoyed by residents and which undoubtedly have low levels of daylight. Their proximity to services and jobs is deemed to be of higher importance by their residents than daylight levels.

The Mayors Standard for Dual-Aspect Homes

London homes are designed to meet the Mayors Standard. This includes Standard 5.2.1 which states that “Developments should avoid single aspect dwellings that are north facing, exposed to noise levels above which significant adverse effects on health and quality of life occur, or contain three or more bedrooms”. The guidance adds “A home with opening windows on at least two sides has many inherent benefits, including better daylight, a greater chance of direct sunlight for longer periods, natural cross ventilation, mitigating pollution, offering a choice of views…..”.

Following this guidance means that even in situations where some elevations of buildings have poor access to daylight or sunlight, the likelihood is that homes within the plan can be designed to gain daylight and sunlight from another elevation, either from a side street or from a courtyard. The detailed design can prioritise the design of single aspect dwellings in areas where there is good daylight/sunlight availability to ensure that every unit has rooms that provide the best level of light available.

External Spaces & Courtyards

BRE guidance would suggest applying a single guideline for external amenity spaces, but the actual use of them may be very different, and may be in different character areas of any masterplan, external spaces should be designed to have different characters. For example, ground floor courtyards may become a first floor podium depending on the parking requirements, making it difficult to test the design at an early stage. Do you test the worst case or the best case, even though the worst case in daylight terms is the best case in urban design terms, as a courtyard on the ground will be a better used space than a courtyard on an upper level. If there are taller building should the roofs be designed as amenity spaces? High level roofs have very good levels of daylight/sunlight amenity, but they can never replace a ground level external space as the best possible common space.

Where courtyards are to be used for doorstep play, sunlight analysis can be used to show where there are places within each courtyard that have good light levels where play equipment can be located. It makes sense to put play spots in a sunny location, even if that location isn’t sunny for long periods.

Public Open Spaces

Daylight for Public spaces is even more difficult to deal with. Does it matter whether an urban square is well lit or not? When most of the activity in the space is transient and the space is largely serving the needs of people moving through the area from outside, it is arguable that the amount of light in the space is largely irrelevant. If the space is not to be used for people to sit, or play, then it is difficult to argue for a particular threshold of light or sunshine. This is not to say that sunlight or sunshine is not going to add enjoyment and character to the space, but that setting a particular threshold value of sunshine or daylight is not a valid approach. If the landscape designer wants to plant the space with trees, then the amount of light available is also a consideration for the types of planting that will thrive there.

Overheating

As the UK climate changes and average annual temperatures continue to rise, the danger of overheating due to solar gains will increase. High levels of daylight will also mean high levels of solar gains, which brings with it the risk of overheating. Currently there are no overheating tests that are required to be carried out by regulations that are sufficiently robust to deal with this problem. Overheating can be mitigated by a number of measures, including external shading, ventilation and occupant management. The people at most risk of heat stress are the older and younger parts of the resident group and particular care should be taken to protect older residents from overheating. There are some advantages to older people being in units at low levels of buildings with lower daylight and sunlight levels as these will be cooler in hot summers than units at high levels.

Summary.

Applying a single standard of daylight amenity to something as complex as an urban masterplan is not advisable. Different external spaces and streets have different requirements, and different buildings can and should have varying characters to make an interesting city. Daylight and sunlight are very important aspects of that character and should be appraised from the beginning of the design. The design team and planning officers should be aware of the impact of their decisions on the daylight available from the earliest part of the process but not rely solely on numbers to guide their decisions. Quality matters as much as quantity, but is much more difficult to appraise.