11 May 2012

Greenbuild Expo 2012

I am writing this blog on the train back from Manchester after presenting at Greenbuild Expo 2012 struggling to decide whether or not it was worth the long trip north.  This was my first time at this show and I have to say it did make a pleasant alternative to the monster that EcoBuild has become.  On the positive side the presentations take place within the exhibition hall, so it is easy to catch those that are of most interest and catch-up on the trade stalls in between.

Greenbuild Expo at Manchester Central
I had a good look around the show first and found that although there were less manufacturers represented than EcoBuild, there was the now familiar range of PV, low energy lighting and solar water heating solutions, along with a smaller number of consulting companies and media organisations.  The product with the largest range of options was definitely biomass heating systems, ranging in scale from the domestic right up to the industrial.  I was left wondering if we are increasing the amount of fuel we grow at the same rate that different technologies for its consumption are being brought to market? 

Before making my presentation I had just enough time to catch a session by Rachael Mellows of M&S and Ed Dixon of Simons Construction on M&Ss Plan A, Sustainable Learning Store at Cheshire Oaks.  They build two of these projects each year and then undertake post occupancy evaluation before incorporating the most successful initiatives into their mainstream development programme.  What is surprising is that as a repeat client there is still this separation between learning and development.  I think it would be cheaper and easier to redesign their standard store model in such a way that it is economically sustainable and able to be rolled out everywhere.

What was most noticeable about the presentation was the emphasis placed on community consultation and engagement during both the planning and construction phases.  There was some interesting ideas about local procurement with the majority of packages drawn from companies within 25 miles of the site and then 50 miles if no suitable companies are available locally.  It was stated that for each package about 60% is spent on labour with the remaining 40% on materials and that the majority of expenditure on labour is spent locally, whereas materials need to be sourced from much further away.  I am old enough to remember when the majority of M&S products were made in Britian and this got me thinking that it would be great if their buildings were specifically designed to be made with building products and materials from the UK.

Institution of
Civil Engineers
8 Storeys Gate Building
In the afternoon I spoke about our project for The Institution of Civil Engineers at 8 Storeys Gate, as part of the session on commercial refurb.   I ran though our approach to the refurbishment of this grade 2 listed building in Westminster, explaining how user centred design and social sustainability were at the heart of our design process.  There was significant interest in research that Professor Doug King has carried out that begins to challenge measurement of CO2 emissions not on a per square meter basis but instead uses a per workstation measurement. 

This analysis suggests that mixed mode buildings are more sustainable than passively conditioned exemplars as they do not rely on low occupation densities.  This also offers the benefit of larger teams being able to work in closer proximity improving communication and user efficiency.  We have used these higher densities to create a wider range of social spaces throughout the building.  These provide venues for colleagues to meet and share knowledge on an informal basis, helping to break down barriers to communication created in multi storey buildings.

I concluded by making a challenge to the traditional, three ring, Venn diagram that places sustainability in the region where the rings intercept; arguing instead that social sustainability should be at the centre of a target diagram, constrained by economics and with environmental design that meets the needs of both users and the budget with the least impact on the planet.

Renault Twizy Electric Quadracycle
As I was leaving the Manchester Centre I had the chance to take a first look at Renaults new Twizy electric quadracycle with a 70 mile range on a full charge that only costs £1.  Even better, it is road tax exempt.  If only building technology products could be so well resolved and so cheap to run.

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