This week should have seen the UK host the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26 (now due to be held next year in Glasgow). Wales marked the week by hosting Wales Climate Week, with a programme of talks focused on some of the most urgent climate issues, such as energy resilience and protecting our natural resources; along with solutions, including the role of society, net zero vehicles, net zero buildings, and how to procure for sustainability. On Friday the Welsh Government (WG) announced the launch of their £20m Optimised Retrofit Programme (ORP), part of the 4th year of their Innovative Housing Programme (IHP) to help upgrade social homes in Wales through energy efficient materials and technologies.
It was great to hear from Sero Homes about their approach to Net Zero and optimised retrofit. The WG IHP has helped accelerate the move to low carbon solutions for new housing developments in the UK. Tackling the existing housing stock is a bigger challenge, but Sero are proposing a sensible approach to this by acknowledging that each home is unique and should be considered according to their individual characteristics.
SPECIFIC’s Heat Week
To compliment this, SPECIFIC held an online campaign called “Heat Week”, which focused on challenges around decarbonising heating in the UK; showcased some of the available low-carbon solutions; and introduced some of the innovative emerging solutions that we and our collaborative partners are investigating.
Launch of the Active Building Toolkit
During this week, we launched my Active Building Toolkit, developed to share learnings from our projects and provide design guidance to help deliver net zero buildings. I have written about the Toolkit I’ve been developing in several blog posts, but was pleased that it was officially launched by SPECIFIC this week as an enabler for low carbon building design. It was nice to see this covered by an article in the Environmental Journal too!
I plan to run another webinar on the design of Active Buildings in December, where people can provide feedback on the toolkit and its usefulness.
British Construction Industry Awards
Also this week was the British Construction Industry Awards (BCIA). Our Active Office was up for an award for “Climate Resilience Project of the Year” – which recognises projects that are mitigating the impact of extreme weather and climate change on people, properties and business – a big ask for a small building in Swansea! We were one of 5 projects shortlisted in this category, amongst 2 flood management schemes and 2 coastal management schemes. The Awards ceremony took place virtually yesterday and we were thrilled to be awarded with ‘Highly Commended’ in our category. The winner was the Bacton-Walcott Coastal Management (Sandscaping) Scheme, Norfolk – a huge engineering scheme that “placed more than a Wembley stadium full of sand on a Norfolk beach” allowing the area to adapt to coastal change – a very worthy winner!
But why enter Awards?
I find there’s real value in the process of entering awards, whether we’re successful or not, as we learn from the questions asked of us, the categories, and the views of the judges. The whole process provides insight into the challenges the industry is trying to tackle, which is evident from the judging criteria and the need to prove we had addressed issues such as use of digital technologies, reduced carbon, collaborative working, and impact for change.
On Tuesday, the BCIA hosted a panel discussion with three of the judges discussing what they found to be the most important aspects of delivering a successful project. Unsurprisingly, good collaboration between design and delivery teams, clients, communities, and building users, was thought to be at the heart of successful projects.
And one of the key points made was about having a Vision, understanding what success looks like and the purpose of the building project. This struck me as something to reflect on. We are often self-critical about our buildings – they’re not perfect, we know all the flaws they have, what works well, what doesn’t work so well. We can spot all the problems with them and could provide quite a list! But, going back to our Vision, our reason for the buildings, their purpose was to demonstrate innovation, to trial technologies and systems that had not been used before, to test, to de-risk, to gather data, to learn. That was our Vision. Our buildings are not meant to be perfect, they provide a platform for experimentation and non-biased learning.
And that ties in with another subject of discussion, which was the fact that we don’t learn enough from our buildings and really need more shared learnings for improved building performance and reduced energy consumption. This is one of the critical aspects of our work, we share our learnings (good and bad) and use them to optimise building performance and inform the next building. You may remember my “Active Learning Loop” (Blog Post #11) – this continuous loop of learning is critical to delivering successful projects and in giving us any chance of meeting our 2030 and 2050 targets. For a “warts and all” review of our Active Building projects, check out our detailed case studies for the Active Classroom and the Active Office.
Finally, if you’re interested in listening to some fascinating conversations around future homes solutions, I can recommend listening to the WoodBUILD 2020 Autumn series of podcasts by Wood Knowledge Wales – excellent conversation between Fionn Stevenson and Rob Wheaton on the performance of homes.