RIBA’s new drive for sustainable architecture

By Paul

Today, sustainability needs to be central to the design process. We were delighted that RIBA has created its 2030 Climate Challenge, which we’ve signed up to. This campaign aims to help architects design with a “climate conscious trajectory”. It’s a set of voluntary performance targets in three areas for sustainable architecture: operational energy use, water use and embodied carbon.

RIBA’s ambitions tie into how sustainability has been at the heart of what we do at TAS Architects since its inception. Most of our projects heavily consider energy efficiency and sustainable materials, and we look to research and establish what is the most sustainable option.

For example, take our design for a mixed medical and residential scheme in Southwark, London. This scheme uses passive strategies, a fabric first approach, thermal efficiency and renewables to ensure it can exceed building regulations. These measures fall into two groups: ‘be lean’ measures that focus on energy efficiency and ‘be green’ measures that use green technology.

We worked with Max Fordham to carry out a low and zero carbon assessment to confirm which renewable energy technologies were both practical and viable from a cost point of view. Three technologies came out as most feasible: photovoltaic (PV) technologies, solar thermal (or a combination of these technologies) and air source heat pumps (ASHPs).

We have proposed using each technology in a different way. For example, ASHPs will provide heating to the whole development, as well as hot water to the residential dwellings. Overall, the combination of technologies could save 52% of emissions.

Clients often choose to work with us for this focus on sustainable architecture. We put sustainable principles at the forefront of our design for Hidden House in Suffolk, a home for a family determined that their dwelling would have a low environmental impact. We are currently on site with a project in Hertfordshire for a single-storey home that maximises cutting-edge sustainable materials and techniques. Often, our house extensions can improve the energy performance of the entire dwelling.

We’re particularly proud that we recently won the Sustainability Award at the 2021 Hertfordshire Association of Architects Awards. Our scheme Loxley Stables, just outside Tring, won for its focus on passive house strategies and experimental use of eco materials and techniques.

We know that there is more we can do to further sustainable architecture, of course. The last item in RIBA’s 2030 Climate Challenge list is the hardest to tackle. Embodied carbon is the CO2 that is created when materials are produced and used throughout their whole lifecycle. This includes the carbon emissions a manufacturer generates during production, but also when a contractor transports materials to site and the practices they use during construction. This is a huge consideration in the built environment.

Keeping embodied carbon in mind requires looking at a potential extension or new dwelling in a different way. For example, while it’s great to create an extremely energy efficient new home, would less embodied carbon be created by retrofitting what is already there? Could you use existing walls and foundations? Both the designer and home owner can weigh up the embodied carbon impact of each decision with the financial implications.

We’ve signed up to RIBA’s 2030 Climate Challenge to give us something to aim for. It’s not going to be easy for the UK to meet its target of net zero carbon by 2050. Challenging ourselves to meet these targets is a step in the right direction.

Tags: Finished Projects, Architectural process

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