Dipl.Ing. MSc PhD RIBA
School of Architecture
Faculty of Technology, Design and Environment
Sustainable design, sustainability theory, ethics and practical implementation.
Research interests include social, ethical and technical aspects of sustainable architecture and urban design and focus on the practical implementation of sustainable development in the construction industry.
Domestic energy demand has been high on the carbon reduction agenda for some time. Today new homes are being designed following the “fabric first” principle which is reducing heat demand, but it is shifting the design challenge to ventilation. Further energy reductions and comfort improvements are needed. It is frequently proposed that automated control systems can achieve this. However, the technologies involved are currently considered expensive and complicated. There is little published evidence of how these types of systems perform in use, which leads to scepticism. This research study aims to test the hypothesis that automated demand-controlled heating and ventilation can provide a good indoor environment while reducing energy consumption in “real-life” homes. A year-long case study was conducted using six occupied, neighbouring dwellings installed with a low-cost automated building control system. The energy consumption figures recorded were compared to the values predicted by the Standard Assessment Procedure and by a Dynamic Simulation Model, and compared to Passivhaus standard. Significant savings have been identified. The results of this study show that an automated control system can lead to very low energy, and hence low carbon homes at a price-point that would incentivise widespread role out. This means that such systems have the potential to make a considerable contribution to reducing the carbon footprint of housing stock, and hence to meeting carbon reduction targets.
In Brazil the housing deficit is around 5.5 million houses. To address this need, the government created a program called “My house, My life”. The main subsidies of the program are for families earning up to three times the minimum wage. In order to formulate strategies for more energy efficiency buildings, it is necessary to understand the thermal and energy performance of what is being built. This article defines representative projects for typologies being built in the Brazilian social housing sector through the analysis of 108 projects considering two groups of income levels and investigates the thermal and energy performance of the representative projects in relation to the Regulation for Energy Efficiency Labelling of Residential Buildings in Brazil for two bioclimatic zones. Considering the most common features found, the study suggest that current building techniques for social housing show a tendency to perform medium and poorly in relation to the thermal and energy performance criteria of the Energy Labelling especially for lower income projects, showing the importance of addressing energy efficiency measures in the sector.
The term sustainability has been defined in many ways, discussed and criticised as a term that lacks clarity, but if the debate is put aside, the key concepts underlying the term are clear. Sustainability is about sustaining life in the long term and sustaining the life-support mechanisms that humans and other species rely on for survival.
From a built environment perspective, designing for sustainability is equivalent to designing for longevity. This includes longevity of buildings, which need to be viable in the long term and resilient to the stresses of changing climates, and the longevity of ecosystems and natural life-support mechanisms. To achieve the latter requires a reduction of the anthropogenic impacts on these systems, and this is a fundamental aim of sustainability. Another fundamental aim is to achieve a high quality of life and wellbeing for people. Not only it is undesirable and could be described as unethical to aim for a lifestyle that lacks quality overall or where quality of life is unevenly distributed between individuals and communities, but longevity and quality are interdependent. From a built environment point of view, high quality environments are typically viable in the long term. Furthermore, to reduce the anthropogenic impacts on the environment, people will have to change their lifestyles. To motivate individuals to adopt sustainable lifestyles, the new sustainable lifestyle has to offer a high quality life if not a higher quality life than the previous one. Therefore, to create sustainable built environments it is essential to create high quality, socially, culturally and economically long-term viable developments that have minimal impact on the environment.
Sustainability is multi-dimensional with technical, socio-economic, environmental, political and ethical implications, some of which can be quantified and others not. For instance, the ‘services’ provided by natural environments to society, such as purifying water and air, alleviating flooding and more, can be valued in economic terms (United Nations 1992; Girardet 2004; WWF 2014). The value of cultural activities is far more difficult to establish, as is balancing cultural customs and the natural environment when the former negatively impacts on the latter. Personal interests and ethics come into play when prioritising actions in relation to sustainability. However, there is now global consensus that addressing global warming and climate change resulting from greenhouse gas emissions is a global priority (United Nations 2015). The UK government, for example, has set a goal of an 80% reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2050 from 1990 levels (UK Government 2008) in order to keep global warming within the 2°C believed to mitigate risks, impacts and damages (Meinshausen et al. 2009). Buildings in the UK account for nearly 47% of total CO2 emissions in the UK (DBIS 2010) and 40% of energy consumption in Europe (European Union 2010).
Addressing climate change in conjunction with other environmental issues, such as resource depletion, pollution, destruction of biodiversity, as well as human health and well-being, requires technical solutions, many of which exist and are increasingly common. It also requires political and economic implementation mechanisms that, however, are often hampered by the human psychology, which can be characterised as conformist, ultimately self-interested, averse to perceived loss and change, and often subject to short term views (Cialdini 2008; Earls 2009; Kahneman 2012; Pratarelli 2012; Burns 2013; Kottler 2013; Dietz 2015). Sustainability requires a long term view and lifestyle changes, which may not appear attractive to many people and most are yet to become mainstream. As a result, progress towards a more sustainable society remains slow.
The regeneration of buildings and settlements is more acutely affected by the challenges related to selecting and implementing sustainable strategies and solutions than new developments. Apart from the potential technical difficulties of working with existing environments, regeneration affects the socio-economic status of an area and a community. These socio-economic impacts need to be evaluated but accurate predictions can be difficult to make. For instance, the regeneration of a deprived area should create a higher quality of life for residents, but can also negatively impact on local communities who are out-priced once property prices increase. An understanding of the context and the impact that the development might have is essential to make informed decisions.
Therefore, to be sustainable the regeneration of buildings or settlements has to be viable long-term and impact minimally on the natural environment, and this can only be achieved by first understanding the socio-economic and natural context and then developing solutions that respect it. Solutions have to be evaluated in terms of impacts (what is gained and lost) and feasibility (what is possible and what resources are needed to achieve the strategy). Designing for low carbon emissions throughout a development’s lifetime is a key priority, but other sustainability issues cannot be ignored. Nor can the human dimension that is pivotal in the implementation of sustainability.
Improved energy performance standards are resulting in better insulated and more airtight buildings. In such buildings ventilation can be provided by natural means alone or in conjunction with extract mechanical ventilation or with whole-house mechanical ventilation with or without heat recovery. This paper reports on a study funded by the NHBC Foundation of the indoor environment of eight super-insulated homes with natural and decentralized ventilation systems in the south of the UK. The aim was to examine the effectiveness of such ventilation options. The buildings were monitored for one year in relation to temperature, relative humidity, CO2, CO, NO2, CH2O and TVOC. The building occupants’ feedback and IES building modelling triangulated the site data. The study showed that natural and decentralized ventilation systems provided good air quality in the case-study buildings and allowed users to create comfortable thermally differentiate environments in response to their preferences.
The BESQoL (Built Environment Sustainability and Quality of Life) Assessment Methodology is a tool for professionals and students associated with the built environment designed to help develop sustainable low carbon developments that provide capabilities for a high quality of life for all members of the community.
Developed as a teaching tool for postgraduate students of Oxford Brookes University’s masters programme MSc Sustainable Building: Performance and Design, it has been applied to live built environment developments in the Oxfordshire area of the United Kingdom and in 2014 to two projects in Brazil in collaboration with local universities, stakeholders and professionals.
The methodology involves a multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary approach involving experts from different disciplines and stakeholders associated with the area of development. The methodology includes examining five categories relevant to the development site: 1) the natural environment and natural capital, 2) the built environment, 3) movement, 4) economics, and 5) human capital and quality of life.
By enabling a more holistic and informed approach to built environment developments through the application of the BESQoL assessment method, it is argued that students, professionals and local stakeholders a) begin a transformative learning experience that addresses professional and personal values and can help refocus their professional contribution; b) begin to understand the scope that needs to be addressed to create sustainable environments and learn to appreciate the relevance and importance of the various disciplines involved; and c) are better placed to developed holistic and informed strategies that provide sustainable high quality of life solutions for all community members while impacting minimally on the local and global natural environments.
Domestic energy demand has been high on the carbon reduction agenda for some time. New homes are designed following the “fabric first” principal which is reducing heat demand, but it is shifting the design challenge to ventilation. Further energy reductions and comfort improvements are needed. It is frequently proposed that automated control systems can achieve this. However, technologies are currently considered expensive and complicated. There is little published evidence of how these types of systems perform in use which leads to scepticism. A yearlong case study was conducted using six occupied, neighbouring dwellings. The energy consumption figures recorded were compared to the values predicted by the Standard Assessment Procedure and by a dynamic simulation model, and compared to Passivhaus standard. Significant savings have been identified.
Creating sustainable, low carbon communities requires the active participation of individuals and an understanding of what motivates individuals could help increase participating in sustainable developments. This paper reports on an ongoing study of a) motivations for participating in sustainable communities and adopting sustainable lifestyles, and b) contributions that the built environment can make in motivating and increasing participation.
The initial findings from 29 in-depth interviews suggest that the individuals instrumental in creating sustainable communities are motivated by an environmental imperative, while individuals that join existing communities are as much if not more attracted to the community aspects rather than the environmental benefits. The built environment’s contribution to motivating and increasing participation was found to be currently limited. However, there is potential to better exploit the motivational influence of sustainable high quality buildings and external facilities, as well as the less tangible characteristics that contribute to creating a community identity.