Passivhaus residential architecture: learning from Goldsmith Street

 

The Goldsmith Street council housing scheme in Norwich is a gem of contemporary architecture, a precedent for the direction architecture should take as it wades through the challenges presented by today’s world. More than just a pleasant place to live, the scheme stands up to housing difficulties, faces dilemmas about inequality, and all the while tackles environmental concerns reaching Passivhaus standards.

Photo by Tim Crocker

Sustainability, equality, dignity, character, ecological and social consciousness, and the much-sought-after-but-rarely-achieved Passivhaus standard… we are all compelled by these terms and, in an ideal world, would like to implement them in our homes and our designs.

The truth, however, is that a very small percentage of new builds are willing to raise their standards to meet environmental and social demands, and that most home-owners and developers who do want to respond to these concerns are often deterred by the cost increase or the toll it takes on aesthetic aspirations. Indeed, for many years it seemed that too much had to be given up, that quality design and Passivhaus were a luxury… But then Mikhail Riches designed the Goldsmith Street housing scheme, and the Norwich City Council decided to build it.

Goldsmith Street is not remarkable just because it has achieved Passivhaus for social housing, it is remarkable because it is living proof that budget, design, and environment are not the irreconcilable points of a triangle we thought they were (read an earlier post we wrote on sustainable architecture principles).

This seemingly futile event has had a big impact on British architecture; council houses are constantly being commissioned and built, but few of them manage to have an impact, let alone a game-changing impact, on the way we see the future of architecture. And this is a future that is important to think about: as big cities like London face evermore pressing housing crisis and the effects of the damage to the environment start to be felt globally, it is crucial to identify a direction for architecture that addresses these issues.

The fact that Mikhail Riches’ design has received so many awards is a hopeful sign. To date, it has been bestowed with the RIBA East Award 2019, the RIBA East Client of the Year 2019 for Norwich City Council, the RIBA East Sustainability Award 2019, the RIBA National Award 2019, the Neave Brown Award for Housing 2019 and the RIBA Stirling Prize 2019… and there are probably more to come!

The scheme deserves each and every one of these prizes because of its relevance and uniqueness. For being innovative using humble forms, for proving that it is worth taking on a challenge such as is council housing, for having the courage to stick with its priorities, for designing with the people that will become occupiers in mind, for caring about the details, for not being afraid of using the traditional British street as a precedent, for understanding the difference between fashionable and good… and for inspiring other architects, like us, to strive to meet the same architectural and ethical standards.

You can read more about the Goldsmith Street design on the RIBA website.

Image © Tim Crocker

Looking back at 2019

 

Happy New Year to all our clients and followers. We finished some really exciting projects in 2019, two of which were shared widely online due to coverage from some of the architecture and design world’s top websites. Douglas House, an extension of a terraced house in Kensal Rise in London, transformed the property into a contemporary and light living space. The second, the ‘Brexit Bunker’, nicknamed by its owner in Kensal Rise, added a garden office and ‘place of serenity’.

Douglas House renovation Kensal Rise London Brexit bunker garden studio Kensal Rise London

Douglas fir-lined extension

“180 metre square project features an oriel window which sits in dialogue with a third-floor reading pod”

Dressed in Danish timber, the family rooms have taken over the ground floor to extend into the garden. The ground floor also houses a carefully designed utility room and built-in larders that extend from the floor and hide in the walls of the living room. On the first floor, the children’s rooms are decorated with wooden details and other natural materials, and the family bathroom is full of natural light. The loft conversion is home to the master bedroom, which has a second half-floor that extends upwards to a reading space from which you can look out over the local area.

The house also features a range of environmental technologies, including high levels of insulation, airtightness, roof-mounted solar panels, a mechanical ventilation heat recovery system, rainwater harvesting, and smart thermostats.

Douglas House renovation Kensal Rise London 2 Douglas House renovation Kensal Rise London 3

We were delighted that this project was featured by:

Architect’s Journal: ‘RISE Design Studio completes Douglas fir-lined extension to London house
ArchDaily: ‘Douglas House/RISE Design Studio
Dezeen: ‘RISE Design Studio adds Douglas fir-lined reading nooks to London house
Architecture Today: ‘RISE Design Studio has maximised the spatial and environmental potential of a semi-detached house in London

An oasis of calm in a busy city

“A calming retreat from the hectic outside world”

The ‘Brexit bunker’ was added to a small garden – although novel, it does not interfere with the property’s existing architecture and the raw aesthetic ties the entire garden together. The walls are built with reclaimed bricks and the interior is clad with birch plywood, giving the space a warm glow when the light reflects from the skylight in the roof. Spanish steps lead towards the roof light and a relaxing space to contemplate life without seeing any visual cues that the structure is in the city rather than the countryside.

Brexit bunker garden studio Kensal Rise London 2 Brexit bunker garden studio Kensal Rise London 3

This project was featured by:

Architizer: ‘The Brexit Bunker, London
designboom: ‘The Brexit Bunker is an oasis of calm in north-west London
Archilovers: ‘Brexit Bunker

You can also read more on our Projects page.

Architects Declare: the climate emergency and why it is more important than ever to think about sustainable architecture

 

Why the climate emergency is a crisis, and not just a concern:

The words ‘climate’ and ’emergency’ have only recently started to spring up in the news in relation to each other. Until now, we would talk of climate change, global warming, sea-level rise… so, what has changed, and what does it mean to be in the midst of a climate emergency?

Architects and the climate emergency

We have all seen the numbers before, but it is important to understand that the numbers are not just statistics. They are not predictions. They are the breakdown of our reality; unwanted guests that have already installed themselves in our living rooms… we are the ones who let them in and only we can tell them to leave. If we try to think about the numbers beyond their abstract measure, we may just be able to grasp the precarity of the times we live in:

– Loss of biodiversity fact: Our Living Planet Report 2018 reveals how there has been a 60% reduction in population sizes of wildlife worldwide since 1970. This does not just mean that we will see four instead of ten elephants on our next safari. This means that: a) entire groups of species have disappeared, forever; b) those who are still around are seeing their numbers reduce dramatically and struggling to keep up with reproduction rates, and paired with the loss of habitat this will likely lead to scenario “a” for many them at a vertiginous speed. However, this is not just about the effect these species have in the natural world. The plants and biome that the human race depends on are being affected just as much. Medicine and food are examples of resources that come in their majority from the natural world, and two of the things that we will witness being dramatically affected during our own lifespans. The consequences of their shortage will change our lives as we know them.

– Global warming fact: since the industrial revolution, the average temperature of the planet has increased almost 1ºC, and it is getting worse. The planet has natural cycles of heating and cooling, but these natural cycles happen slowly, which means that ecosystems can adapt to the changes. However, the exorbitant amounts of carbon dioxide that we have released into the environment since the industrial revolution have accelerated the Greenhouse Effect at an unprecedented speed. Among other things, this means that the natural atmospheric and oceanic currents are being disrupted and altering the natural climate that we knew as little as half a century ago. And the planet is not just getting warmer: hurricanes and cyclones are getting more violent, desertification is advancing and rendering miles of previously fertile lands sterile, and the poles are melting leading to a measurable rise of the sea-level. To put it into perspective, we are facing a situation in which our growing population will be left with less area to live in and less land to feed from… each of us can draw a conclusion of what this scenario may look like.

How it will affect the future

The consequences of any single factor that accounts for the climate emergency we are living will be far and wide. To make matters worse, climate change, global warming, sea-level rise, and loss of biodiversity do not act alone nor do they act on a single other element of their environments. Like any foreign agent introduced in an ecosystem, they interact with the ecosystem and with each other in such intricate ways that their full aftermath is often nearly impossible to predict. What we do know, however, is that the consequences will be bad. There is no sugar coating it. From floods to desertification, from arable land to drinkable water, the effects of the damage we are inflicting on the environment today will come back to haunt us on a scale that is difficult to come to terms with.

Why it is so crucial to act now

One of the main issues stopping real action from happening is that it can be hard to wrap our minds around this doomsday scenario from many of our perspectives. We can live in London, recycle our waste regularly, cycle to work and follow Greta Thunberg on Twitter and be at ease with ourselves. We can genuinely care about the environment and yet not fully understand the scope of the danger we are in as a species and as a planet… and that is why it is so important to act now; because, when the consequences are here, when there is no denying that we have gone too far, it will be too late to do something about it.

How architecture plays a role

That is why architects in the UK and around the world have been called to action and to unite in order to change our industry standards and respond to this climate emergency. It is a sad day in an architect’s career when they learn that the construction industry is responsible for almost 40% of the total energy-related carbon dioxide emitted to our environment. However, this also means that there is a lot of room for improvement and that real results can be achieved if we change the way we build across the board.

What is Architects Declare?

Architects Declare is a pledge to take on this responsibility and to be an agent for change within our industry. Along with almost 800 UK based architects, RISE Design Studio has committed to be an ambassador for the environment in the construction world and to contribute to a positive change in the way we conceive, construct, and deliver the built world. Together, we have the opportunity to make a real and positive impact in our world and our future through sustainable architecture, responsible building techniques, and environmental education at every stage of construction.

To find out more about Architects Declare and our commitment, you can visit the website at www.architectsdeclare.com. We hope you support us in our decision to tackle the climate emergency together.

What is green infrastructure?

 

Our green spaces are under increasing pressure as the climate and population change. There is a continued demand for housing and, as a result, there has been a tendency to replace green areas in towns and cities with bricks and tarmac, particularly on driveways and in gardens. When it rains, increasingly heavy rainstorms land on smaller areas of permeable or well-drained ground, making roads and homes more prone to flooding than previously. ‘Green infrastructure’ is a term used to describe all of the green spaces in and around towns and cities. This might include parks, private gardens, agricultural fields, hedges, trees, woodland, rivers and ponds. In this post, we explain the concept in a little more detail and share some examples of green infrastructure projects in London.

green-infrastructure

Development of the term

‘Green infrastructure’ is a description of what the land is, but it also describes what the land does. The term reflects a growth in understanding of the various benefits that are to be gained from providing and maintaining healthy green spaces: reducing flood risk; improving psychological health and well-being; boosting local economic regeneration, and providing a habitat for wildlife. Rather than valuing green spaces for a specific use (e.g. a football field for recreational purposes), green infrastructure recognises that green space can provide a variety of functions, often at the same time.

Green infrastructure in England

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) defines green infrastructure as “a network of multi-functional green space, urban and rural, which is capable of delivering a wide range of environmental and quality of life benefits for local communities”. The NPPF places the responsibility with local authorities to plan strategic green infrastructure networks, particularly to reduce the risks associated with climate change. Places where there is limited access to green space is also prioritised, as is the inclusion of green infrastructure in major development and regeneration schemes.

Green infrastructure in London

The All London Green Grid (ALGG) promotes green infrastructure across London. While London is already a very green city, with an existing park and green space network that functions well for recreational purposes, there is growing recognition of the need to plan, design and manage green spaces to provide additional benefits. Similarly, the London Infrastructure Plan 2050 emphasises that green infrastructure is as important for the city as other infrastructure such as roads and railway lines.

Recent green infrastructure projects in north and west London include the London Wildlife Trust’s new 11 hectare nature reserve, Woodberry Wetlands in Stoke Newington, which opened to the public earlier this year, and a new interactive map that allows you to explore the ‘Wild West End‘ of the capital. The aim of this project is to create a network of green spaces and green roofs between the major parks in the West End of London.

To learn more about green infrastructure and other local and national projects, visit the Green Infrastructure Partnership website.