Oct 6 RIBA   William McDonough and Michael Braungart    Cradle To Cradle Design

Bill McDonough is an American architect and Michael Braungart is a German industrial chemist. Their book Cradle to Cradle is a brilliant polemic about the need to re-think the way stuff is made and produced.  Ford motor company invented the notion of 'cradle to grave' production, and they have taken the notion to another level they call 'cradle to cradle': the design of items to allow perpetual re-use and redeployment of their materials and components. They posit, amongst many other ideas, a new model of 'ownership and usage' of commonly produced items, whereby 'leased' goods could eventually be returned to the factories for stripping out and redeployment. 
It was a very optimistic, humorous and inspiring evening.  I've just finished their book.  I'm writing this down several weeks after the event and the phrases and anecdotes that have stuck in my mind are: 
-Don't feel guilty, be happy and enjoy a beautiful life. 
-Be eco EFFECTIVE not merely eco-efficient 
- We can learn something from ants and termites, and observing how their 'societies' function and make use of everything in a clean and collectively intelligent way 
-Current thinking about the reduction of our carbon footprint is merely making a bad situation 'less bad' 
-Humankind needs to fundamentally re-think the entire way in which goods are designed and produced so that their ingredients and components can be 'upcycled' 
-Apply their triad matrix of economic soundness, social and ethical benefit and technical excellence as a conceptual feedback device to arrive at the most effective design 
-Recycling can sometimes create more pollution (e.g. paper that is washed in chlorine to make it white enough, or paper products that are fused to other toxic plastics or dyes) 
-Off-gassing from plastics and other chemicals is a serious health hazard especially in children's toys and many common items of furniture, paint, and building products. 
-Natural resources are being consumed at such a rate that their usefulness is being lost forever.  Worse, we are creating a nightmare problem for future generations to clean up the 'monstrous hybrids' that arise from current production processes.  The leaching of carcinogenic dioxins from industrial and agricultural wastes into the water table is one such by-product. 
-Many resources such as cadmium, nickel, copper etc are combined in metallic alloys and other finished items and these are very difficult to recover through recycling. Or if they are reclaimed, they are in a degraded and less strong form. The integrity of those minerals is therefore lost forever. 
-The CEO's of major companies such as Ford, Herman Miller, Dow Chemicals etc are surprisingly receptive to these ideas of how to restructure their systems of production and the working environment.  It is usually 'management' that is resistant to change because they have to implement radical or incremental changes that take them out of their normal comfort zones. The impetus has to come form the top. 
-Built projects for these companies have actually boosted profits and the workers are happier and more productive in non-toxic naturally lighted and ventilated environments. 
- Lots of ideas as to how everyday products can be rethought…carpets that don't shed poisonous fibres and can be safely re-used; car components that can be stripped and re-deployed without any degradation; an infinitely re-usable book printed on plastic sheets with non-toxic inks. Think clean from the start! 
I was minded of a book about product design I used to refer to a lot in the 70's called 'Design For The Real World' by Victor Papanek.  
I think this is one of those 'ideas books' that is prescient, in the same manner that the writings of Buckminster Fuller, Marshall McLuhan or Gunther Schumacher were so influential when I was an undergraduate student back in the day.  Judging from the crowd of young people at the RIBA waiting to get their copies signed, the rock star effect is already palpable.

8 Oct   The Building Centre   
Panel of speakers discussing retrofitting existing houses and promoting biodiversity in London

1. GLA representative name? 
I missed most of the first speaker’s presentation.  
He described the efforts of the GLA to promote energy efficient measures in council housing. 

2. John Doggart of 'SEA' ('Sustainable Energy Academy') spoke on Superhomes 
How to convert existing housing to save 60% of carbon.
He runs a consultancy that advises the government on sustainability policy, is involved with training schemes and pilot projects to retrofit existing buildings. He is I think a mechanical engineer and also an architect. 
Refer to website: 
70% of housing is owner occupied.
11% is privately rented
19% is social housing 
The govt's target is to have 100% carbon neutral NEW homes by 2050.  This will only reduce the national co2 footprint by 3.6%.60% reduction of co2 for EXISTING housing will have a far greater effect.
37 sample houses have been built to date.  They plan to have 200, but they need more exemplars in London. Their campaign is for a joined up programme to inspire and engage owner- occupiers via:·       Desire·       Information·       Incentives·       Skills training 
Of all possible measures to save energy by far the most effective are insulation and low energy lightbulbs. 
Skills database on the SEA website: ‘My Green Builder”.  A star rated system is being developed. 
The GLA are creating an academy. 
Adds 6% value to properties when they are ‘greened’.
Payback: 6-12 years. 
Requires funding to kickstart the process.  If we are to upgrade 150,000 homes p.a. by 2050, it will need £2billion p.a. with the balance being paid by the householders. Utility companies are starting up ‘Pay As You Save’ aka PAYS schemes. 

3. Matthew Frith – Deputy Director of The London Wildlife Trust (LWT):Biodiversity 
Has been working with the Peabody Trust and several London Boroughs.
The byproduct of promoting biodiversity is increased connection with nature and social cohesion.
3 million gardens in London = 38% of the o/a area.  This = the largest nature reserve, more significant than parkland.
Airtightness criteria are producing conditions that make it more difficult for certain species to nest e.g. bats, certain birds and insects.  Many of them have been living in roofs or eaves.  LWT are promoting the use of off the shelf nests/boxes to encourage nesting. Wood piles are good for stag beetles. 
High-end gardening often has a negative co2 impact.  Too many invasive non-native species, hard surfacing, water features, hardwood decking…serve to promote flooding from run-off and contribute to the heat-island effect in London. 
Pesticide use is increasing more in domestic gardening than in agriculture.
LWT are promoting:·       Domestic food production·       ‘future gardens’·       7 pledges (see below*) to encourage better practice·       study and mapping of wildlife patterns to find out what is happening on the ground·       elimination of DSD’s  (‘dog shit deserts’) on social housing estates.  ·       Estates generally have very poor landscaping provision. ‘`Grass Roots’ is an organization dedicated to promoting changes to estate gardens 
*7 Pledges: 1.    Plant drought resistant plants 2.    Plant a mixed hedgerow 3.    Plant a broad leaved tree 4.    Make a pond 5.    Use mulch 6.    Add a green roof to my shed 7.    Wild up my decking

4. Russell Smith – Parity ProjectsCarshalton Grove Eco Hous 
Some statistics:27% of national energy consumption is domestic.22 million existing homes need to be upgraded to 60% co2 reduction by 2050 = 150,000 p.a.  75% of the housing stock will still exist in 2050.75% of the housing in London is solid wall, not cavity construction. Patterns of energy consumption:60% energy from space heating24% from hot water3% from lighting 

RS is an engineer who bought a very ordinary dilapidated 3-bed 1870’s semi, and has demonstrated how to save significant amounts of energy, using the most standard techniques and commonly available products (B&Q etc) in the course of repair and improvement works. His total refurb cost was £85K. 

The house presented a number of problems:·       No south facing rooms·       Was solid wall construction·       Had no loft or roof insulation·       Had 6 different window types 
He made the following points: 
1.   He advised that one would not need to do all the work at once, but it works out much less expensive if one plans for future additions, e.g. putting in pipework for a future solar water heating apparatus while the roof is off will save £1,000 later. 
2.  Retro-fit: do the easy things first 
3.  Eco-fit: doing the work by planning in advance and together with concurrent work, e.g. if a plumber is renewing pipework under a floor, he can be trained to lay underfloor insulation at the same time, thereby reducing disruption and cash to the end user, as well as earning more money for himself. 
4.   55% energy reduction was achieved via the addition of insulation and draught proofing.  
5.  Builders need to be trained how to insulate! 
6.  ACTIS foil insulation is only good for keeping heat out in summer, but ineffective for heat retention in winter. 
7.  Drylined external walls will result in 5% loss of floor area.  He used Celotex plus a Kingspan steel stud prefinished plasterboard insulation system. 
8.  He devised a greywater recirculating system with several header tanks located in separate bathrooms.  This saved £1,000’s rather than having one centralized pumped cistern. 
9.  Solar water heating provides 60% of hw 10.             

He has achieved a 70% co2 reduction @ 15% of his total refurb cost.  He expects a payback within 7-8 years

RS did a study for L.B. of Sutton about suppliers for this type of work:·       Local suppliers are best placed to do the work·       D.I.Y. second best·       National suppliers scored the worst 
Open house days (places need to be reserved) on Oct 31 & Dec 12.  Some UEL students went to the one on Oct 31 and there is a report on Mehrdad’s blog

Oct 13 RIBA  Solar Century, Architype & Geothermal chaired by Jonathan Porritt

I didn’t take any notes on this session, and I’ve left it a bit long to record what I retained. There were three different speakers, one an architect from Architype, the second a supplier of domestic solar pv arrays, and the third, an engineer who specializes in geothermal energy systems. I tried to look it up online but the RIBA hasn’t listed it either, so I can’t remember their names!  

Mr Architype came across a bit opinionated, even though what he was saying was quite sensible. He showed a few examples of projects built to Passiv Haus/stack ventilation principles that require little or no artificial heating or ventilation, and minimal electric lighting. He said there were great problems with the maintenance of individual solar energy collectors, either pv arrays or solar water heating panels.  His view was that these would only be viable if they were centrally managed and sited on the ground. His point mainly was that it is best practice in the first place, to design out the need for artificial heating/cooling/lighting/ventilation, or at the very least minimize it, rather than concentrating on renewables.  

This provoked an interesting clash with Mr Solar Century, who obviously has a vested interest.  Nonetheless he could point to some impressive results from their solar arrays installed on domestic properties in London and the southeast. He said he was not at all against passive design principles, and regarded what he provides as entirely complementary. He also said that such devices are not difficult to maintain, and there was a market for people who want to micro generate their own electricity. The issue of selling surplus energy to the grid is one that needs urgent addressing.

I’m afraid I cannot recall much of what Mr Geothermal said…somehow it did not sink in!  It does not seem like a suitable or economical system for domestic installations.  It may have applications in larger housing schemes or business parks. The capital costs are too high otherwise.  It does not seem to me to be a realistic renewables solution, especially in London, because if everyone did it there would be too much waste heat generated.  

The questions were quite lively.  There is a potential problem of super insulation causing cold bridging and condensation behind the insulation layer. A member of SPAB (The Society For The Protection of Ancient Buildings) raised the question of how one deals with historic buildings, and the problems associated with over insulating them and making them airtight, see (old buildings are inherently designed to breathe via lime mortars and renders, chimneys etc).  The geothermal guy said he had insulated his 30’s semi and they now have an ongoing mould problem, thus far not resolved.  The Architype guy was quite dismissive of questions relating to existing buildings, and seemed only interested in new-build as a topic for discussion.  As most of the work for small practices concerns altering existing buildings, this seemed to me the height of arrogance.  I think there needs to be some specialist training offered for architects and builders in how to appropriately insulate and ventilate an old building, especially if its listed or in a conservation area and cannot be externally clad. The SPAB website has a lot of excellent advice.

Nov 3 RIBA Jaime Lerner: The Sustainable City (introduced by Jackie Gavron, former deputy mayor of London)

Architect, urban planner, former mayor of Curitiba and former governor of Parana State, Brazil. I had never previously heard of this energetic humorous man, who presided over one of the greenest cities in the world. See also  (which is basically the same talk) and He began by talking about the structure of cities, radial/linear etc, by showing illustrations from a children’s book he published. The flow of people and goods is so vital to the success and survival of a city. There are three big problems related to urbanization: mobility, sustainability and social diversity. Reducing the requirement for private car ownership has been paramount. Forming green public space has been another priority. Managing waste and cleaning up brownfield sites. Avoiding pointless and expensive monumental gestural architecture. All of these concerns have been achieved very quickly and cheaply via a number of clever techniques.He promoted a number of new systems and creative ideas: 
1.   The ‘metro on the surface’ - a ‘fine-tuned’ bus system originated in 1983. The capital investment required to build an underground system was not achievable, so they went for an above ground bus network, but one that runs like a tube train would…unobstructed, easy to get on and off and very frequent. This idea has been taken up in Rio and Shanghai. 
When they studied what people wanted out of a mass transport system they concluded that the critical issues were: 
·                 Dedicated bus lanes, which have been created
·               Level entry for boarding – make boarding easy.  This was done via wheelchair accessible ‘boarding tubes’ – bus shelters made of plexiglass. They are accessed via ramps and the curved canopies are illuminated with coloured LED’s.  These items of street furniture have generated considerable civic pride, and they have not been vandalized or graffitied at all! 
·                  Frequency -< 1 minute of waiting time between buses 
Other mass transit ideas he mentioned were: 
  ·                  Paris ‘velib’ bicycle scheme 
  ·                   A very small one-person car (0.61w x 1.36l x 1.51h) called the ‘dockdock’.  This is a prototype personal vehicle in development, runs at 20 kph. Formed in curved sections, not sure of the fuel.  6 of these (which can link together) will fit on one  normal sized parking bay. 

2.  The ‘greening’ of the city by improving the area of green public space per person. 
3.  Education about garbage separation. Currently some 70% of their garbage is recycled, which is the highest ratio in the world. This was achieved via an NGO campaign in schools using ‘street theatre’ techniques, over a six-month period.  The children then taught their parents how to separate their refuse.
4.  The ‘multi-use city’ - encouraging areas of the city to remain open for business and not closed off at night, e.g. the business district could become a street market or open air concert venue in the night-time.  This is achieved via a brilliant and inexpensive device called the ‘portable street’.  This is a movable plastic pod with shelves, with a curved lid that can opens up to form a canopy.  The pods can be used singly, linked in a line, or set in parallel rows with their curved lids joined in the middle to form a larger covered unit. These items can be used as bus shelters, news stands, shops, workstations, cafes, boutiques, vending booths, instant nightclubs etc etc.
They succeeded in pedestrianising the main shopping street of Curitiba over a weekend! 
‘Creativity starts when you cut a zero off your budget.  When you cut 2 zeros, its much better!’ 

He is not in favour of building great stadia and ‘white elephant’ monuments.  Very minimal devices are often more effective to foster a sense of community.  Part of the reason for this is that if it is low cost and involves local organisations, it can be done stealthily and quickly with the minimum of bureaucracy.  The energy and life tend to be sucked out of ‘grands projets’ that occupy years of gestation and construction…with too many vested interests interfering. A growing city like Curitiba (and many other relatively new cities in the 3rd world) cannot afford to waste their money in this way, when there are so many urgent problems of rapid urbanization to address. He cited several examples of this type of ‘urban acupuncture’ as a means of kick-starting development: 
·            The Open University of The Environment – formed in a disused quarry, and built by volunteers with recycled hardwood telegraph poles 
  ·            A Botanical Garden was created on a former landfill site in 3 months
·            The Oscar Niemeyer Museum in Curitiba
·            Celebration of multi-culturalism whereby many different immigrant groups have decorated and claimed ‘their’ urban spaces (e.g. German, Ukrainian, Italian, Japanese etc)
·            The ‘Cultural Convoy’ – fleet of buses fitted out to provide mobile theatre and performance spaces. They have put on shows for thousands of people all across the State of Parana
He cited other projects, some built, others still in planning:
·            Parque ‘Bossa Nova’ in Rio 
  ·            Mobility Museum
·            Sustainability Museum 
  ·            The Co-existence Park, Madrid
·            ‘Cracolandia’, Sao Paolo – urban regeneration scheme to form a green roofed route through a very degraded ‘crack’ estate and the ‘portable streets’ devices to encourage other forms of legitimate business to flourish.
·            Museum of Sport, Rio·           
·           ‘Passaros’ Brasilia 50th anniversary – creating green spaces, through routes and shelters for portable             streets in the satellite towns around Brasilia, home to 2.5 million people. Brasilia proper only houses about 500,000 of elite civil servants, but is actually serviced by the ‘real’ unplanned chaotic urban sprawl at its periphery.
·            Street shelter designs, Luanda, Angola –very popular with the locals
·            Design for new public stairs in David, Panama

The message he concluded with was ‘every city has to have a dream’ – a vision of its identity.

Questions led to the following points: 
  ·            The solution to climate change is less technical and more about adaptation and changes regarding human resources. 75% of co2 emissions come from cities.  It is more effective to operate at the macro economic level.
·            How to combine being mayor and architect? He had to stand back from the procurement process. He had to compartmentalize his work/teaching from the mayoral role. He admitted to having a hand in the design of the Wire Opera, made of recycled steel rings. 
·            Complementarity between systems of mass transit is key.  Different methods of transport should occupy separate spaces, but it should be easy to interchange and switch between one and another e.g. metro/bus/bike/car 
  ·            How to make it happen? To propose a scenario and thereby motivate people by their understanding of the benefit.

Dec 12: Retro fit project: Russell Smith: Parity Projects: Visit to 78 Carshalton Grove, SM1 4NB

As a follow up to the talk at the Building Centre I attended on October 8, I arranged to go with my colleague, Murray John, to look at Russell Smith’s house.

Russell is an ex- structural engineer who runs a consultancy and project management company called Parity Projects, which offers advice on how to most economically to ‘green’ a home. He has developed specific in house software to model usage, techniques and price options.  He is engaged in training surveyors in techniques for modeling, and contractors in techniques of correct installation of insulation.  

The focus is on affordability, by specifying commonly available and locally supplied products as much as possible, and careful sequencing and phasing of works to maximize installation cost savings. His company also trains plumbers to insulate floors and electricians to insulate walls, so these retro-fits could be done simultaneously with such works, to reduce costs as part of a staged plan of energy improvements.  

The ‘show house’ is his personal residence, which is an ongoing experiment in retro-fitting a typical suburban semi.  He has saved 70% of his running costs, mostly via insulation, triple glazed windows and improving airtightness.  The house is warm, light and pleasant.  He made the point that 84% of annual energy use in a house is via space heating and domestic hot water.    

 Each room of the house has been super-insulated in a different manner. This obviously results in a loss of floor area, but the cost benefit in terms of thermal comfort is measurable and tangible. Some walls are over-all 550mm thick (solid 225 brickwork plus 300 insulation in various layers & plasterboard).  The roof void has similarly been super insulated with 300mm rockwool (?) I think. The walls are solid 9” brick.  He advised that cavity walls with a cavity less than 75mm are not suitable for injected cxavity insulation.   

Solid floor to the kitchen was raised up to the same level as the rest of the ground floor via the insertion of a DPC, (200?) chopped polystyrene mixed with cement, 75 screed with underfloor heating pipes.  Timber boards form the floor finish over.     The solid floor in the living room was formed with (300?) xps insulation on hardcore with a new concrete slab laid over it, which also acts as a thermal mass store.  Heat that is retained from when the underfloor heating system is operating is slowly released into the rest of the house overnight.   

He has inserted temperature sensors at various points to monitor and measure the relative efficacy of the different insulation types.  The one he has found most effective is recycled newspaper, chopped up, slightly dampened to become like papier mache and ‘blown’ into a pre-prepared void formed in studwork.  It also provides good sound insulation. It will settle over time, but if the studs are formed into horizontal compartments, this can be minimized, and they can be refilled later.  He will thermally image that wall in time to test this.   

Other types of insulation used are Celotex, Kingspan, Aerogel, Isonat cotton fibre hemp & wood fibre (good sound insulation but very hard to cut), sheep’s wool (Thermafleece?) and Rockwool.  Interestingly he reckoned that Sempatap latex insulation would not be any more effective than adding a layer of 9mm plasterboard!  There are woodfibre and Hemp boards made by Steico, suitable for roofs and floors. He mentioned an external insulation woodfibre board called Diffutherm, not used on this house.   He did not seem unduly concerned about thermal bridging at the junctions of the party wall and the main external walls, although he has extended the insulation horizontally at the eaves.   

Windows are timber framed triple glazed units either by a Swedish company called Fonster (twist and turn casements achieving 0.8 u value), Bereco (British) or Rationel (a British company, but made in Denmark).  RS also recommended Velfac (part of Velux group) windows as good value and high performance.   

There is a rainwater recovery system, gravity fed into the low-flush Swedish toilet. There is one tank in the main roof, another overflow tank on the flat roof that in turn overflows to a garden butt.  A mains backup feed is also installed when there is insufficient rainwater available.   

Only one form of sealed biofuel stove is permitted for smokeless zones: the Dunsley from Yorkshire.  He will fit a stove eventually.   

There is also a flat solar DHW collector on the flat roof over the loft.  RS made the point that the pipework for this installation (and rainwater collection) can be installed in the insulated walls for about £75, and the items themselves can be easily fitted later, if cost is a consideration.  It is better to shower at night with a solar DHW system.   

He used B&Q downlighters with either low energy CFL bulbs or LED’s fitted.   

There are two Vent Axia mechanical heat recovery extract fans, one in the kitchen and the other in the bathroom.   

The bamboo ply laminate worktop in the kitchen was an interesting and attractive idea, although the material has to be imported from China! OSB used for floor tiles in the study.