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PTA Climate Summit 2021

The built environment contributes to 40% of global emissions. We acknowledge the hugely important role we have to play in addressing the current climate emergency and meeting the needs of our society without breaching the earth’s ecological boundaries. As signatories of Architects Declare a Climate Emergency, and participants of the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge, we are committed to actively curtailing climate change through both our business operations and through the buildings we design.

Coinciding with COP26 Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day, we held our first PTA Climate Summit - taking an in-depth look at our response to the climate crisis and what more we can do.

We kick-started the summit with a round-table discussion on the big issues around the climate and biodiversity emergency. Drawing from the recently published Architects Declare Practice Guide, we used the opportunity to have an open and frank discussion about individual action, as well as what we can do as a business to focus our attention on areas where we can have the greatest positive impact in building a sustainable and resilient future.

Through the lens of the eight RIBA sustainability outcomes, we looked at projects past and present to understand our role as architects in tackling the biggest challenge of our lifetime.

Net Zero Operational Carbon

At Gascoigne East Estate, we employed passive design measures and a fabric first approach to reduce energy demand, backed up by on-site renewables and a connection to a district heat network. The scheme will deliver the first building to achieve net zero in operation for Be First - Barking and Dagenham’s housing company.

Net Zero Embodied Carbon

The carbon dioxide produced from the energy used in the extraction, fabrication and transport of materials used in construction, can account for more than 60% of the total carbon emissions of a project. We see the understanding and calculation of embodied carbon as one of the key routes to reducing the environmental impact of our buildings. We have recently carried-out whole building analysis on projects at later stages to understand perform against RIBA and LETI targets. We are also using the H\B:ERT emissions reduction tool to develop façade studies at early stages, to help inform material selection and specification.

Sustainable Water Cycles

All our projects are dealing with the challenges of mitigating against flood risks in different ways. At The Reach in Thamesmead, blue roofs were integrated to attenuate and manage stormwater. These were integrated with PVs and green roof systems as part of a holistic approach to sustainability. Site levels were adjusted to bring the ground floor above the level of flood risk, this also reduced the amount of excavation and waste created during construction.

Sustainable Connectivity and Transport

Encouraging sustainable life choices is an important part of our approach, as well as creating new and usable routes and connections to the surrounding community. At Mint Street, a new pedestrian street was created, connecting two key transport nodes and activating this previously inaccessible site. Bike stores are located for convenience to encourage use and safety.

Sustainable Land Use and Ecology

Global and UK biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate, while at the same time the pressure to expand our built environment to create more homes is growing. Most of our projects are located on urban, brownfield sites where we aim to make best use of the land and improve biodiversity through collaboration with landscape architects and ecologists. Where we are faced with an empty green site, we try to touch the ground lightly, leaving as much existing flora and fauna as possible. For example, at Pound Lane in Essex, we are working to provide 12 new homes set within an existing woodland.

In a recent competition we looked at ways to introduce biodiversity and ecology into the city, and explore the role design has to play in the multifaceted challenge of climate change. To draw attention to the fact that 48% of London’s waste comes from buildings and the built environment, we explored the idea of re-wilding waste, using elements of dismantled buildings as a backdrop for promoting biodiversity.

Good Health and Wellbeing

Promoting health and sustainable life choices, as well as providing healthy and comfortable indoor environments, is essential in all our buildings. We work hard to optimise indoor health, visual, acoustic and thermal comfort, and promote occupant wellbeing.

At Mint Street, wintergardens were utilised to reduce noise from the adjacent railway, whilst providing usable and enjoyable amenity space. At Monier Road, dual aspect homes provided ample natural daylight and natural cross ventilation.

Sustainable Communities and Social Value

We consider the social impact of our projects on the end users and the wider community, creating places for people that support not only basic needs of security, shelter, and health, but enhance individual and social wellbeing, and community identity. We involve communities in the design stages to help inform and enrich our buildings. We provide places to live, work and play, as well as new enhanced public realm ensuring each development serves more than those that live there.

Sustainable Life Cycle Cost

We design buildings that are built to last and be loved by the people who inhabit them for years to come. Considering the whole life of a building is an essential part of our process, from ongoing maintenance requirements, material longevity and robustness, to building performance and user feedback. Post Occupancy Evaluations are a vital part of this, and we are working with our clients to understand how our buildings are performing in use.

Gap House was completed in 2007. Making the most of a constrained urban site, the project utilises a ground source heat pump, combined with underfloor heating, rainwater harvesting, and a high performing thermal envelop. Almost 15 years after it was completed, the project is still providing a comfortable, well-designed family living environment, with low maintenance requirements and minimal running costs.