As part of OxArch’s Resilience Lecture Series, UK's leading Passivhaus practice, Architype, spoke about the importance of approaching sustainability as a holistic method of design.
The Enterprise Centre (UEA).
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking, both in practice and in academia, that sustainability is a far-off problem. It is something that can be looked at at a later stage of design or organised with a consultant. Or it is a problem that will be addressed through legislation at a later date - until building regulations do not improve, neither would building design.
In this context, it was heartening to see sustainability regarded with such high importance by Architype. In their lecture, Matt Hayes and Rachel Hare of the Hereford office treated sustainability not only as key design principle, but as a holistic concept, crucial for the survival of the practice, of communities and of the built environment.
Shaldon Road Community Housing project.
Credit: Architype via The Architects' Journal
They began by talking about how a practice can be both resilient and sustainable and placed great importance on the social aspects of the firm. Flexible working hours and sociability rated highly on their list of priorities, as well as the employee-ownership of the company. Architype’s ethos was all about people - an idea that fed through into the first project that they presented: a new housing scheme in Bristol.
The project focused on social sustainability, mostly due to the character of the client. The Bristol Community Land Trust, a ready-made community of people looking for affordable, sociable housing, came together with a local affordable homes group to commission a new housing site. A key requirement was the scheme to be self-finish as to provide the community with an opportunity to bond via shared work and learning. To continue this sense of togetherness, a common house was also designed for weekly shared meals.
Similarly to co-housing principles,
the community hoped to get closer together through these shared experiences;
looking out for each other and having an interest in each other’s lives.
What interested me the most about this project was that private space had been kept to a minimum, encouraging people to colonise public space, to have pride over the place in which they live. A lot of flexibility had been built into the project - while some areas had been designated as allotments or play spaces for planning purposes, for example, in reality they would be occupied depending on the needs of the community.
The Enterprise Centre (UAE).
Time-based resilience seems very important to Architype. Their Enterprise Centre for the University of East Anglia has a hundred-year planned lifespan; and thus, the country’s future has been factored into its design. Alongside a 65% reduction of emissions, the building has been designed for the predicted climate in 2080.
However, the energy credentials are not the only sustainable aspects of the scheme. In terms of materials sourcing, the design team strived for low embodied energy by leaning towards locally sourced materials such as thatch, flint and hemp. This not only means that the emissions involved in constructing the building are substantially lower than those in similar buildings, but also that when parts of the building need to be replaced the necessary skills and raw materials are easily accessible.
Bicester Eco Business Centre.
The most important aspect of Architype’s ethos, however, seems to be their Passivhaus design which they consider in every project. For example, in Bicester, they have designed a new business centre to that standard. With this project, the client first aimed for BREEAM excellent standards, before Architype modelled a Passivhaus standard building that the client agreed to. Due to the large decrease in electrical requirements and CO₂ emissions, in the end, it was the route that they wanted to pursue.
In all projects, [Architype] strive for environmental excellence –
often through Passivhaus.
After the lecture, I had the opportunity to speak to the Architype representatives about their approach to Passivhaus. They elaborated that sometimes, due to clients’ perception of related costs, they were not able to achieve the standard. However, in all projects they strived for environmental excellence - often through suggesting Passivhaus to their clients.
If I had to criticise the practice, I would say that they were perhaps a little single-minded in their pursuit of Passivhaus design above any alternative routes to sustainable design. However, this is unsurprising as they market themselves as a practice that promotes the standard.
I left the lecture inspired by Architype’s strong ethos of social and environmental sustainability and their love of innovation. As their clients said of the Enterprise Centre, they ‘encourage people to expect more of buildings’. And, as architects, can we do any more than that?
Twyford Barn - Architype's Hereford Offices.