Posted Apr 21 2023 | By Gina Windley

A story of tens for sustainability on our Manchester Studio’s 10th birthday

As we celebrate the Manchester Studio's tenth year, the world also celebrates another Earth Day – highlighting the importance and urgency of the current climate crisis.

Scientists warn that we have less than ten years to prevent irreversible damage to our planet. This is evidenced in the latest assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR6). The IPCC Synthesis Report published in 2023 summarises five years of reports on global temperature rises, fossil fuel emissions and climate impacts. To keep within the 1.5oC limit, emissions need to be reduced by at least 43% by 2030 compared to 2019 levels, and at least 60% by 2035. This is the decisive decade to make that happen. We work closely with LETI, and their roadmap sets out a path to net zero which states that by 2030 all new buildings must be built to net zero carbon. This means by 2025 we must design all new buildings to net zero – so those long-term projects going into planning now already need to be designed and on a path to net zero.

​​​​​How do we get there?

To follow LETI’s path to zero carbon, means to make changes to the way we design and build - but these changes need not be radical, they just need to be effective. Here are our top ten design measures that can help save the planet in the next ten years:

1 - Passivhaus design

As a practice we believe that architecture and design can have a significant role in mitigating the impact of climate change. Sustainable design is all about creating buildings and infrastructure that use fewer resources, produce less waste, and have a lower impact on the environment. To this end we prioritise energy-efficient buildings using Passivhaus principles; seek to reduced embodied carbon; and design for low carbon heating and renewable systems.

Our Easi Guide to Passivhaus Design includes ten steps for good design:

  1. Compact building massing
  2. Space for unheated facilities - considering this in the building massing
  3. Heat from the sun in winter - Orientation
  4. Elevations to balance heat gain, heat loss and daylight - Window ratios
  5. Natural ventilation
  6. Mechanical ventilation with heat recovery
  7. High insulated fabric
  8. Consider thermal bridges including balconies and access walkways
  9. Avoid excessive overhanging structure and terraces
  10. Passivhaus to zero carbon by adding a heat pump, and renewable energy sources such as solar panels

We are proud to have more than ten projects designed to Passivhaus or using Passivhaus principles (with PHPP modelling) in the planning stages as evidence that we practice what we preach. Here are ten projects, one completed and nine on the drawing board:

  1. Loudon Road (built to Passivhaus Principles over ten years ago, and monitored post-completion), Camden
  2. Melfield Gardens, Lewisham
  3. Plashet Road, Newham
  4. Carlton Dene, Westminster
  5. Vorley Road, Islington
  6. Highbury Quadrant, Islington (EnerPHit and Passivhaus)
  7. Cranwood House, Haringey
  8. Darwin House, Westminster
  9. Ashley Road Depot, Haringey
  10. Griffin Close, Brent

2 - Net zero operational carbon

A building designed to Passivhaus can more readily achieve net zero carbon with the final step of adding a heat pump and designing roofs for renewable energy sources, such as photovoltaic panels. LETI defines net zero carbon buildings as those that can generate as much energy as they consume, balancing energy consumed against energy generated. These buildings meet industry defined (LETI/RIBA) space heating demand and energy use intensity targets and are calculated using a predictive energy modelling tool, such as PHPP or TM54.

3 - Low embodied carbon

Although the embodied carbon in all new buildings cannot be avoided, we can specify low-impact materials that have a low carbon footprint, such as recycled, repurposed, natural, and renewable materials. Calculating the embodied carbon of significant elements is the first step in determining the amount that is in our designs. Key decisions can be made based on the biggest reduction in embodied carbon by working together with the structural engineer during the design development and focussing on big ticket items like structural elements or the façade. As the design develops, a more thorough assessment of the building's embodied carbon can be done, further lowering its impact.

Our 10 steps for low embodied carbon and circular design:

  1. Calculating the embodied carbon to reduce in design stage
  2. Design in layers for maintenance and changing needs
  3. Simple efficient structural grid
  4. Tall floor to ceiling heights to for future adaptability
  5. Design in standard dimensions to reduce wastage
  6. Detail for disassembly
  7. Specify high quality, durable, long-lasting materials
  8. Re-use of materials in the building on the site or supply to other sites and buildings
  9. Specify recycled and recyclable materials
  10. Specify local materials to support local businesses

4 - Retrofit

The most sustainable building is the one that already exists. By adapting, reusing, and retrofitting existing buildings, we can reduce the carbon footprint of construction and preserve historic buildings. Examples of our projects where we have retrofitted and re-used buildings, making them more energy efficient in the process, include:

  • Alexandra Road Estate
  • Highbury Quadrant
  • Perrot Court at Elizabeth College
  • Monmouth Schools 2023 Dance studio
  • Stonyhurst College boarding house

5 - Post occupancy

In any new build, retrofit or existing building it is important to understand the actual energy consumption in use. To be net zero you must understand the building’s energy usage and energy generation and crucially achieve a balance to be able to be net zero carbon in operation. Continual energy monitoring of a building’s total energy consumption should be used and reliably recorded to allow for review of and reporting and sharing data so that we can better the whole industry.

6 - Sustainable transport

Creating compact, walkable communities with easy access to public transportation. The 15-minute city is a concept that prioritises local facilities and choice in transportation, in order to reduce reliance on cars (particularly for short or regular journeys), to help reduce carbon emissions as well as making an accessible inclusive community. Focusing on public transport networks, walking and cycling routes and providing a wide range of amenities within the local area. Our projects place a lot of emphasis on urban greening, localised rewilding, healthy streets, active transportation, and biodiversity.

7 - Water consumption

Water is often something we take for granted in the wet country that we live in. However, we are going to see more extremes of weather which includes droughts. Water conservation is an essential aspect that often gets overlooked or is an afterthought when considering the sustainability of a building. As well as using low flow fixtures, rainwater harvesting systems can allow residents and users to collect and use the rain, and greywater systems in toilets can further reduce water consumption. Many of our masterplan projects have sustainable urban drainage systems and a rich biodiverse planting palettes.

8 - Designing for nature/ biophilic design

Biophilic design is all about connecting people to nature. By incorporating natural elements such as sunlight, plants, and water into buildings, we can create spaces that are not only beautiful but also promote well-being. We include green space and courtyards as crucial elements to many of our designs. Often incorporating green roofs to increase biodiversity, reduce stormwater runoff, and improve air quality. Green roofs are also an effective way to reduce the urban heat island effect and provide insulation to buildings.

9 - Education

Architects should prioritize education and outreach to promote sustainable design practices. By educating clients, contractors, and the public about the importance of sustainability, we can create a culture that prioritizes the health of our planet. Our work on local authority and housing association guidance and university lectures as well as public speaking allows us to spread this message.

10 - Strike

We have a record of attending Global Climate Strike and Fridays for Future to raise awareness of the Climate emergency. Time is running out; the government doesn't appear to recognise the need to quickly decarbonise and move towards zero carbon. Over 40% of all CO2 emissions in the UK are currently a result of the construction and operation of the built environment. Our sector's contribution to the climate emergency, we believe, can be greatly reduced by designing buildings that use less energy and retrofitting our existing buildings.

For this year’s Earth Day, join us and others for ‘The Big One’, which seeks to be a lawful, peaceful, non-violent 4-day protest, organised by Extinction Rebellion (XR) along with over 200 other organisations including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Architects Declare and ACAN. The events will take place at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, from April 21st-24th.

Architecture and design are extremely important in reducing the effects of climate change. The greatest impact we can have as architects in the next ten years is to emphasise sustainable design principles in every single project. Let's celebrate Earth Day every day and work together to build a sustainable future.