Working towards a Net Zero London

 

Earlier this month, New London Architecture (NLA) published a report on ‘Zero Carbon London‘. Part of NLA’s Net Zero programme (#NLANetZero), the report provides new insight into progress in the built environment profession in the fight against climate change. It is based on results of a survey of over 100 London-based companies in the sector and points out some of the biggest challenges and opportunities for the city to get to Net Zero. In this post, we pull out some of the key points that ring particularly true for our firm.

Net Zero London RISE Design Studio

What is Net Zero London?

‘Net zero carbon’ is often used as a proxy for the six greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide is the most common of these. ‘Net’ refers to the sum of carbon emissions and carbon offsetting/sequestration (e.g. via absorption of carbon dioxide because of new woodland creation) being equal to zero. It is now widely-proven that climate change is caused by the increased concentration of greenhouse gases emitted in the atmosphere from human activities. This leads to an increase in global temperatures (global warming). Reducing the emissions of man-made greenhouse gases is therefore vital for tackling the climate emergency, and this is why ‘net zero carbon’ is so important.

For cities, which account for over 70% of global emissions and consume over two thirds of the world’s energy, reaching net zero is urgent. London has been one of the first global cities to commit to becoming carbon neutral by 2050 – the Greater London Authority has a plan to achieve this ambitious aim. 27 of the 32 London Boroughs and City of London have so far declared a climate emergency. London is also one of the major global cities that has signed the C40 Net Zero Carbon Buildings Declaration, committing to ensure that all new buildings operate at net zero carbon by 2030 (and all existing buildings at net zero carbon by 2050).

Achieving net zero in construction

The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) explains net zero in construction as ‘when the amount of carbon emissions associated with a building’s product and construction stages up to practical completion is zero or negative, through the use of offsets or the net export of on-site renewable energy’. A net zero carbon building tends to be highly energy efficient and powered from on- or off-site renewable sources, with any remaining carbon balance offset.

There are plenty of exciting initiatives and projects being undertaken by public authorities and the private sector: from a citizens’ assembly facilitated by Camden Council to come up with recommendations for zero carbon homes, to the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge that sets out the actions that chartered practice like RISE Design Studio will need to take.

More to be done

The NLA survey highlighted good progress in the sector. First, the vast majority of those who took part have signed up to one of the industry pledges such as Architects Declare (we have signed up). Second, those in the industry generally feel that they have the skills to address climate issues.

However, those who completed the survey feel that the biggest barriers to positive change are regulation and finance. The lack of green finance is a critical barrier for the London Boroughs to implement and achieve their targets. For organisations like ours, the current policy frameworks are not effective and act as a barrier for implementing measures that will get us to net zero. For example, a recent government consultation on banning the use of combustible materials in buildings suggests that a lack of joined-up thinking remains an issue – timber plays a very important role in decarbonsing construction.

The Covid-19 lockdown between March and May 2020 demonstrated that it is possible to reduce emissions and address behaviour change in a short time – carbon emissions in London dropped by 60%. But, the challenge is to achieve this reduction at the same time as people living their lives freely.

There is strong optimism in the sector that there is now an opportunity to transform our way of life and act in a more environmentally-conscious way. The upcoming inauguration of a US President who ran on a manifesto of clean energy and net zero no later than 2050 is also encouraging, particularly if he manages to rally the rest of the world (and our Prime Minister) to take the same steps.

Terrace houses in London: a brief history of the most iconic British home

 

Terrace housing has become an icon of development in Great Britain and Ireland. But, did you know that despite its very British connotations, the aesthetic of the terrace house was, in its origins, an attempt to bring the architectural style of Palladio and the Italian Renaissance masters across the Channel? The Venetian palazzos, built around 1550 in Northern Italy are a great example of what the first terrace housing developers had in mind.

Venice canal houses RISE Design Studio

The trick, of course, was to be able to adapt the architecture of a palazzo to London, and to the much smaller building areas it offered. In order to do so, space was maximised by placing houses in a row, and building labour was standardised by making the homes in sets of almost identical mirrored pairs. Even with this efficient agenda, however, the original terrace houses did not look much like they do today.

 Georgian terrace RISE Design Studio

Terrace housing in London, and in other British cities such as Bath or Edinburgh, started to appear in the mid 17th century. In their origins, they were conceived as desirable houses for aristocrats, and sprang up mostly around well-off areas such as Regents Park and Grosvenor Square, for those members of the nobility who had to spend time in the city. Built in a classic Georgian style, the houses provided an all-in-one solution to accomplish the basic needs of a noble family within the city scale: family living, entertaining, and housing the servant quarters in the same building. During these Georgian times, terraces were typically placed around a communal square garden, giving the neighbours a sense of having a private piece of countryside within the city.

Terraced houses London RISE Design Studio

The grandeur associated with terraces did not last long, however. After the Great Fire of London in 1666, terraces gained enormous popularity as a way of rebuilding the city quickly and efficiently. The disaster worked much like a wildfire: initially causing immeasurable destruction, but sparking a renewed wave of growth and development afterwards. This time, however, the inhabitants that the developers had in mind were middle-class industrial workers rather than noble families.

In the course of the Victorian era, the terrace format changed from being a privileged form of city housing to becoming the go-to residential architecture solution to overpopulation. The new wave of terraces was very similar to the style we know today: they were built with efficiency in mind and arranged on two facing rows on a single street. Instead of the more noble stone of the Georgian houses, these terraces were made with cheaper materials supplied en-masse by the engines of the industrial revolution. A not-so-fun fact about these early terraces is that most were not provided with plumbing or sanitary installations… instead, they had outhouses that were sometimes shared between several households. The poor sanitary circumstances of the early Victorian terrace houses enhanced many of the hygiene problems faced by London as its population increased dramatically during the Industrial Revolution.

Even though these standards were raised, the early 20th century still associated terraced with overcrowding and poor sanitation, and terraces for the middle class lost popularity in favour of new tower constructions. However, as the modernist dream of the highly organised vertical city did not quite deliver its promises, terraces gained a kinder perspective again as people started to regard them as a good balance between city life, family homes, and private outdoor space.

Today, terraces represent the perfect marriage between living in the city and enjoying a family home with a sense of community. Terrace houses continue to increase in popularity and are constantly being updated and upgraded to suit their inhabitants’ needs. Divisions into several flats, regroupings to make single-family homes, extensions, renovations, and additions have passed and gone through many of these houses. Now, more than 350 years after they started to populate the streets, terraces keep proving to be immensely versatile homes that evolve with the nation, and homes that can constantly adapt to the needs of their time.

Harvist Road London RISE Design Studio

What does it cost to extend your home?

 

We’re often asked how much a house extension costs in London. Extending the home is a popular option among clients who perhaps need another bedroom, an office space, or a living area, without the hassle (and stress) involved with moving house. Although home extensions in London generally cost more than elsewhere in the UK, they remain a viable and cost-effective option to create your ideal additional living space and increase the value of your home. In this post, we set out the main costs associated with a house extension project.

How much does it cost to extend your home

Harvist Road Glazed Envelope

Extending into the garden and optimising natural light

You generally have three options for extending your home: single storey, two storey or basement. The construction cost of extending the ground floor of your home (in a single storey) is, as a general rule, between £2,200 and £3,900 + VAT per square metre, depending on the level of the specification you decide on. This is a popular option for extending into the back garden to add a dining area, studio or additional living space. It is also an excellent way to bring more natural light into the property, with the ‘glazed envelope’ (like the one in the above image) making the new space feel very spacious and ‘open’. If you plan to use the new space for a kitchen or bathroom then the cost of the fitting will need to be included (typically expect an additional £10,000 + VAT for a kitchen [low-mid level of specification] or £5,000 + VAT for a bathroom [mid range]).

The value of two floors

A two-storey extension generally costs an additional 50% of the construction cost of a single storey extension. It gives you the option of adding an upstairs bedroom or other room and the investment will seem like good value as once the foundations and other structural supports are in place, you do not need to bear these costs again for the second storey. It is important to note that a two storey extension may impact on the amount of light reaching your garden and may also present additional complexity in the planning process (achieving consent for a two storey is often more difficult that for a single storey and sometimes not permitted at all for example in a Conservation Area).

Going underground

A basement addition tends to be the most expensive option per square metre because of the structural and construction complexity and risk. The construction cost of a new space in your basement in London is likely to amount to between £4,000 and £5,000 + VAT per square metre. The costs may be less if you have an existing basement which may instead need converting or extending partially.

Other costs to consider

In addition to the estimated costs set out above, you will also need to factor in the cost of the professional services that you require, such as an architect and any other consultants that you need to involve – for the majority of projects you’ll need a Structural Engineer, Party Wall Surveyor, Building Control Approved Inspector and sometimes a Mechanical & Electrical Engineer as well as a Quantity Surveyor. This typically adds 15-28% to the construction cost. There are also planning fees (£200 to £300 for a house extension, although some extensions may fall under Permitted Development Rights), home insurance costs, and VAT. The costs of windows, doors and central heating will also be in addition to the costs already listed.

Site access and other constraints

There can also be costs associated with mitigating the constraints of a site. For example, the soil type may affect the type of foundation required or the types of building material that can be used, or there may be trees, drainage or other pipework that need to be (re)moved to allow access. If your property is listed and/or situated in a conservation area, you will need to allow for higher costs overall.

Despite the long list of costs, a home extension can greatly improve your living space and also increase the value of your home by 10% to 30%. We take pride in the home extensions that we have completed for our clients and it is always a pleasure to bring more light and space into the home. You can browse some of our recent residential projects here. If you would like to discuss a potential project with us, please get in touch.

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.