By Anna Hanson, Bryan Oknyansky, Senior Architect, John Harding, Partner
DMA’s goal is to constantly push for greater efficiency in how we build and keep sustainability at the forefront of what we do.
The threat posed by climate change and biodiversity loss is impossible to ignore. Buildings and their construction processes impact our natural habitats and account for a significant amount of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. Everyone working in the sector has a responsibility to look for more sustainable ways to build and manage our built environment. We need to follow the principle that a building is not a good design unless it is also sustainable.
As a sign of our commitment to change we are signatories to the UK Architects Declare Climate and Biodiversity Emergency initiative and reiterate our commitment to this.
Architects have a vital role to play and at DMA we have been investigating and implementing strategies to achieve greater sustainability, both within our own practice, and also when working with clients. We are investing in training for staff so that they have the skills needed to take this initiative forward, and are making a fundamental change in our thinking, fostering and enabling sustainable design at the earliest stages of development.
Sustainability is a notoriously slippery concept to grasp, it means different things to different people and can be very difficult to evaluate objectively.
Tools exists that allow all construction professionals to assess the impact of their designs on the environment by comparison using a set of criteria. Probably the most commonly used tool in the UK is BREEAM. This is an assessment method that is flexible in that the criteria are points based, allowing building owners to target the credits that suit their real-world operations best. Its points-based system allows ‘trade-offs’ that ensure an acceptable and balanced overall environmental rating, so, for example, the points missed from a slightly less efficient envelope – perhaps dictated by the re-use of an existing building – may be offset by points gained for a supremely efficient heating system.
It covers many areas of the environment including biodiversity, water usage, light pollution and even building longevity, adaptability and ease of maintenance. It is regularly updated to take account of changing priorities and trends are visible through the points allocations; it’s gratifying to see, for example, that we are now producing greater amounts of ‘clean’ electricity which is reflected in BREEAM points-prioritisation.
Compliance with BREEAM in the UK is now quite common and we’d like to ally this with other sustainability initiatives to do more. One such initiative is the internationally recognised Passivhaus standard, which is directed at achieving occupant comfort with very little use of energy through joined-up thinking; early-stage consideration of building form, placement and design of glazing, ventilation and heat recovery, effective insulation and air tightness. Rigorous construction detailing is key to Passivhaus principles and this extends to the construction process, too, with higher levels of workmanship required to ensure the requisite air tightness and elimination of cold bridging. The rewards are highly valuable, though, with very pleasant and stable internal environments being produced, matched with massively reduced energy use and cost.
We have been researching how we can use Passivhaus in our project portfolio which includes hotel design. Anna Hanson, Senior Architect at DMA and a Certified Passivhaus Designer, is undertaking an assessment of a range of our current projects to give us a better understanding of how we can design with Passivhaus principles in the future. In tandem, Bryan Oknyansky, Senior Designer at DMA and a Certified Passivhaus Designer, is working on compiling a knowledgebase for our designers to have Passivhaus fundamentals at their fingertips. We have implemented regular, early-stage and practice-wide in-house design reviews as a key measure to ensure these important considerations are incorporated into the DNA of our planning schemes. Including these principles in our designs going forward will be a big step toward reducing negative impacts of the construction industry.
All the participants in our built environment process need to collaborate to make sure sustainability is given the support it needs to be truly meaningful. There are financial benefits from being greener, as well, which can help to justify a robust sustainability strategy that goes beyond what building regulations require for a development. As well as bringing cost savings and efficiencies in the running of the building, more and more guests are wanting to see that their stay has minimal impact on the environment. Harnessing this as a key marketing feature is a sign that your business is acknowledging and acting on the importance of the cause.