First published in Viva Brighton: http://www.vivabrighton.com/jan2015/60-61.pdf
Is Brighton at the forefront of sustainable architecture in the UK?
A lot of people in the business are looking at what’s going on here, for various reasons. Personally, since designing and building the Waste House – the first buildingnin the country to be entirely constructed from waste products – I’ve been inundated with requests to do talks about the project all over the UK. Brighton is the only city with a Green MP and a Green Council, and, crucially, it is the world’s first designated One Planet City with a Sustainability Action Plan designed to reduce the city’s ecological footprint. What’s more, the city has been classified by UNESCO as being a
Are you involved in building other ‘waste houses’?
Not exactly. The problem Brighton has is that there’s an enormous need for new housing – to the tune of 30,000 new units – but because of the Downs to the north, the sea to the south, and other developments to the east and west, there’s no room for expansion. A traditional solution would have been demolition of old buildings and rebuilding of others in their place, but that would mean, if we were to establish a carbon neutral city, the demolition of 97.5% of the existing housing stock!
We have been looking at more radical, and more feasible solutions. For example it is more cost effective, and more ecologically friendly to adapt and perhaps extend existing buildings instead of demolishing them, meanwhile making them more ecologically sustainable, in a process known as ‘retrofitting’.
Give me an example…
Just one example was our retrofit of a large Victorian house called The Nook, in Preston Village, having won a £150,000 grant for the purpose from the Technology Strategy Board. This includedmover-cladding with six inches of external wall insulation, and a complete refit of energy saving systems resulting in an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions from the building.
But that didn’t involve any expansion…
We are very inspired by an example of Parisian retrofitting, whereby a 25-storey block of flats was insulated by wrapping a layer of accommodation around it, in effect adding an extra room to every flat and in doing so making the whole building much more energy efficient. In some instances it is also possible to build up as well as outwards. We have considered these sorts of projects in detail with our postgraduate architecture students and we are currently looking closely at suitable sites in Brighton that could deal with these innovative ideas.
It doesn’t sound very ecological to increase housing density!
Believe me, it is the only way forward. The world population is rising so fast, we will need to find very radical solutions very quickly to create accommodation for everybody, especially in an area like the south-east of England. And all this while cutting the ecological impact of the buildings they live in.
Interview by Alex Leith
Duncan Baker-Brown is a director of BBM Sustainable Design, bbm-architects.co.uk, and Senior Lecturer in architecture at Brighton University