Monthly Archives: February 2020

Tackling climate change means listening to younger voices - 18-02-2020


The new decade has begun with a collective awakening to a serious problem. 863 UK architects have signed up to Architects Declare, demonstrating consensus that tackling climate change should be the focus of our profession. Yet as we face the perfect storm: climate emergency, biodiversity erosion, and social divide, it is clear that radical change in the way we design and make buildings is needed.

In our studio, we are grappling daily with the challenges presented by the climate emergency. dRMM is a steady ambassador for sustainable design and construction, but we’ve recently turned up the volume dramatically, contributed to the debate and changed our design process in order to learn more – and do more – about the crises at hand.

Despite real headway being made, the concept of progress in our industry still reminds me of the German car industry’s approach to innovation: sticking to a redundant century-old model and dragging it into the future via new designs, materials, and manufacturing.

The same attitude rings true during discussions on climate action. Focus predominantly lies with grafting solutions onto systems we are not ready to change. The discussion on swapping out concrete for more sustainable materials illustrates this attitude perfectly. It is certainly a positive and legitimate argument – one that dRMM has been making for twenty years – but it comes a little too late, representing a clear-cut case of missing the wood for the trees.

The problem is bigger. It requires radical change and questioning of old habits, design favourites and default processes. As an industry, we can no longer rely on legislative change to trickle down and eventually reduce the impact of our industry. We need to let go of the construction paradigm we have come to depend on and acknowledge its growing irrelevance.

Our industry contributes 40% of the UK’s CO2, much of it through embodied carbon, and therefore through our designs and the way we make buildings. The current reality was created by us. Constraining positive change through arguments of commercial necessity is no longer an acceptable exercise. Change has to be more than incremental.

Luckily, these challenges coincide with the rise of a new generation of talent – one that is nimble, non-dogmatic, and inclined to seize opportunities that come with change. If the global climate effort has shown us anything, it’s that youth and young adults are completely ready to abandon the status quo. They are not bound to it, because they had little to do with creating it. Their generation is enormously adaptable to change, and they have rightfully asserted themselves as leaders against this environmental catastrophe.

dRMM’s studio has always encouraged young talent to impact design, influence debate, and challenge pre-conceptions. We provide a space for collaboration and problem-solving, void of taboos and embracing of debate as fertile ground for innovation. In this same spirit, we have fostered a studio environment that doubles as a platform for climate advocacy.

Our team includes active members of some of the industry’s most significant climate lobby groups. Representatives from ACAN (Architects Climate Action Network) and LETI (London Energy Transformation Initiative) within our team have been given both license and encouragement to bring their knowledge and activism into the studio, helping to meaningfully integrate it into our practice. Some of our youngest team members have been crucially involved in the creation of the Climate Emergency Design Guide and Embodied Carbon Primer documents; both recently launched and well received by the industry. We have team members attending the Committee for Climate Change, and representation within Architects Declare Steering group. Our young members of staff are charged with planning our environmentally focused events diary and CPDs. They also champion our studio’s in-house climate action efforts, coordinating a carbon audit to review our carbon footprint.

As a founding signatory for Architects Declare, we’ve made it our aim to liberate ourselves from a system that no longer works and replace it with realistic problem-solving. The younger generation represent all the tools we need to actively change our situation – collaboration, openness, resourcefulness, and a touch of irreverence. We need to embrace the help of our younger colleagues by leaving our pride at the door, accepting culpability, and listening. Only then can we tackle the challenge of climate emergency, biodiversity erosion and social division.

Have you issued your response to the Part L & F consultation? - 07-02-2020

At dRMM, we have issued our response to the Part L & F consultation because we believe that the government’s proposals are a step backwards from the direction in which we urgently must head to meet our climate change targets.

In 2019, dRMM declared a Climate and Biodiversity Emergency, alongside all 17 Royal Institute of British Architects’ Stirling Prize winning architecture practices. This declaration has now been supported by over 850 architecture practices in the UK, and the list is growing. In parallel, there have been declarations from the wider Construction Industry – from Building Service Engineers, Structural Engineers, to Project Managers, also pledging to similar declarations.

Our industry is ready to make significant changes to the way we design, build and operate buildings.

dRMM broadly supports both LETI and ACAN’s views on the Part L consultation.

dRMM’s main recommendations are:

1. Local authorities should retain control.

To date 265 out of 408 councils, or 65% of councils have so far declared a Climate Emergency, and are setting their own stretching planning targets, including for energy efficiency. Local Authorities are well-placed to understand local issues, capabilities and needs, and we believe they should have the ability as such to implement energy efficiency targets to meet their own net-zero carbon plans.

dRMM recommends that Building Regulations form a national baseline, or minimum standard, and that Local Authorities should retain their ability to encourage stretching targets in order to meet their local net-zero targets

2. Fabric Energy Efficiency Standards should be retained, and improved

Homes are a major contributor to UK CO2e emissions, with 22% of UK emissions arising from homes, with 15% of UK emissions resulting from just heating and hot water for homes (refer to LETI Climate Emergency Design Guide, 2020 p. 14)

We need to better insulate our homes across the board, to ensure we work to reduce overall energy demand, and the resulting CO2e emissions. dRMM believe that the Future Homes Standard 2020 does not encourage well-insulated building fabrics, due to the omission of the Fabric Energy Efficiency Standard (FEES).

The proposed changes to Part L & F have the potential for building fabrics to become worse, not better.

dRMM are keen to emphasise that poor building fabrics have no place in the current Climate Emergency, and will likely need to be replaced in costly retrofits in the near future, particularly as temperatures increase in the UK.

3. We need Building Regulations to be developed in a holistic, Whole Life carbon way

The Part L and F proposed changes do not consider operational carbon from a whole life carbon perspective. Given that we are in a Climate Emergency, with only 10 years to limit global warming to less than 1.5oC, we as architects are mindful of the carbon associated with construction, maintenance and demolition of our buildings – Embodied Carbon. As operational carbon efficiencies improve, whether through fabric efficiencies or the decarbonisation of the grid, the proportional impact of embodied carbon increases.

We find that this can represent around half of a building’s Whole Life Carbon Impact, of which a large proportion can arise specifically from building services equipment (refer to LETI’s Embodied Carbon Primer). This is pertinent particularly in the present Climate Emergency, as embodied carbon emissions arise now, whereas operational carbon emissions accrue over a building’s life time.

The Building Regulations need to consider Whole Life and Embodied Carbon, as otherwise there is a risk that the targets set may have unintended consequences over a building’s whole life’s carbon impact. We need to design holistically to meet Whole Life Net Zero, and the Building Regulations need to help us to get there.

We will be publishing our complete response shortly.

Don’t forget to submit your own response before the end of the day on Friday 7 February.

National Infrastructure Design Group launches design principles - 06-02-2020

Well done Sadie and the National Infrastructure Commission for presenting the UK’s first ever Design Principles for National Infrastructure.

The principles set a design challenge for the industry, to inspire those involved in creating infrastructure to embrace these principles and think about what constitutes good design.

Four key considerations have been developed by the Design Group:

Infrastructure must help set the trajectory for the UK to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner and be capable of adapting to climate change.

Projects should be human scale, instinctive to use and seek opportunities to improve the quality of life for people who live and work nearby.

Schemes should provide a sense of identity for communities, supporting the natural and built environment and enriching ecosystems.

Value should be added beyond the main purpose of the infrastructure, solving problems well and achieving multiple benefits.

At the beginning of a decade in which many big infrastructure projects are set to start, these principles are more important than ever to ensure that the needs of climate change, the environment, and communities are met.

The National Infrastructure Design Group was established to renew the ambition in the quality of the UK’s infrastructure and brings together design leaders with experience spanning architecture, transport, landscape and engineering.

Forest of Fabrication Extended until 11 April 2020 - 04-02-2020

dRMM’s timber-focused Forest of Fabrication exhibition collaboration with RIBA North and the Building Centre has been extended until April 11.

As part of the exhibition, there is a varied programme of talks, tours and networking meet-ups placing timber under the spotlight.

The series explores timber as a problem-solving material, highlighting its successes when used imaginatively and creatively; and discusses the role of timber as a material champion for sustainability.

Upcoming events

Maggie’s Oldham: The Making of
Wednesday 12 February 2020
3pm to 5pm
Join us for a unique behind-the-scenes tour of Maggie’s Oldham, a benchmark project for dRMM.

Forest of Fabrication Closing Plenary
Tuesday 24 March 2020
5.30pm to 7.30pm
dRMM are joined by local and international speakers to discuss the future of timber buildings and the innovations driving the industry.