#35 Designing for a Changing World

There have been a lot of stories in the press recently either related to the current global pandemic or unrelated, but significantly affected by the pandemic. And all with the same theme – climate change.

There has been talk about how this pandemic and the new ways of working people have found could see the death of large, energy intensive office buildings, for instance. With normally office-based workers now working from home, this not only impacts on reduced carbon emissions from transport, but also changes the daily energy load profile – lots of small amounts of power being used in dispersed areas, instead of large amounts in condensed urban areas, effectively spreading the load. Many office buildings utilise whole building heating and ventilation systems regardless of occupancy, meaning that all spaces are serviced even though they are not necessarily being used, resulting in massive energy wastage.

However, if more people are going to be working from home, the need to include solar energy generation on residential buildings becomes even more critical. Currently, without storage, any energy generated during the day is simply fed into the grid (regardless of whether the grid needs it at that time). With home working, the energy generated could be used directly during the day, reducing reliance on grid-supplied energy, while also alleviating grid stress. Consequently, smaller volumes of energy storage could be used, which would make storage more affordable and hence more viable for residential buildings.

The need for more green-infrastructure has also been in the news – those of us lucky enough to have garden spaces or access to greenery close by are in a much better position to deal with a lockdown situation than those without access to green spaces either within or outside their plot. This has flagged serious concerns about the built environment and whether it is fit for purpose for everyone. Sero Homes in Wales are currently developing schemes where the environment around dwellings is viewed as just as important as the houses themselves. Their Parc Hadau scheme is a fantastic blueprint for housing developments, incorporating low energy housing with plenty of greenery, biodiversity, shared spaces and a real sense of community for the residents.

Some European cities like Munich and Rotterdam, have allowed restaurants, cafes, bars and shops to utilise parking spaces outside their premises as an extension of their business, allowing them to reopen in line with social distance rules, as well as providing attractive spaces within the city. This demonstrates a more climate resilient approach to urban areas – offering economic, social and environmentally friendly benefits (aligned with the 3 pillars of sustainability), as well as dealing with the immediate crisis. Cardiff based company, the Urbanists, have written some excellent articles on enhancing the built environment in this way.

When climate change induced natural disasters clash with a global pandemic, this has devastating consequences for some. Globally, climate change continues to cause massive disruption to people’s lives – a devastating cyclone hit India and Bangladesh last week, caused extensive flooding, killing at least 84 people, leaving 14 million people without power and the evacuation of over 4 million people – all emergency and relief efforts severely hindered by the Covid-19 restrictions, while the number of infections and deaths related to Covid-19 continue to rise in both countries.

More positive news included reports of clearer skies globally, due to the reduction in pollution – for example, people in northern India recently saw the Himalayas for the first time in 30 years, due to the reduction in pollution levels. The question is, will this continue once the World returns to a new normal, or will we go back to where we were pre-Covid-19?

As designers, we can do our bit by focusing on our built environment and the changes we can make to the design, delivery and operation of buildings.  In a recent RIBA survey, 82% of RIBA members, although committed to climate change, believed that the Government should legislate for higher sustainability standards. But, we can’t and shouldn’t wait for the Government to legislate, especially as there are solutions available to designers now. Now is the ideal time to review the way we design our built environment and ensure that going forward we design buildings and spaces that everyone can enjoy, that enhance wellbeing, without contributing further to climate change. It is also the time to work collaboratively within and across disciplines – something I have been advocating for some time and which is particularly relevant to Active Buildings.

Active Buildings are part of the solution for dealing with a changing World. You can join SPECIFIC on World Environment Day for a virtual tour of our Active Buildings. Sign up here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/active-buildings-a-solar-technology-tour-tickets-106908147146

Published by jorclarke

I am an Architect, currently working at SPECIFIC Innovation and Knowledge Centre, Swansea University, and studying for a Doctorate in Sustainable Built Environment (D.SBE), which is focused on developing an Active Building Design Guide.

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