Sun Jan 05 2020 00:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

It's the start of a new year and a new decade. A time to look back on achievements made and make plans for the future, as best we can. This month also marks Ollio's 4th birthday, a milestone that comes with a lot of pride in what has been achieved so far, and excitement at what is yet to come in continuance of the vision to improve building design and in use performance for users of buildings.

One Giant Leap

2019 saw us take some important steps with this as we successfully embarked upon and concluded our Innovate UK Audience of the Future case studies; to see if it was possible to introduce an Agile Methods approach to two live projects. The IUK project was a huge success and demonstrated that the introduction of users into the design process was not only possible, it was essential if buildings are to be cherished by the majority of customers who use them every day.  It proved beyond doubt that current methods of client engagement by architects are grossly inadequate, despite the protestations of most to the contrary, and that augmented reality coupled with new Agile ways to involve users in immersive testing and validation of early decision making is a must if project teams are to close the much talked about performance gap between what they design and have built and what customers expect.

With testing of the concept proven, our objective for 2020 will be to work with fee paying early adopter clients who are willing to embrace the methodology on their projects. To this end we are looking for more forward thinking organisations who are contemplating a move to a new building, or upgrading their existing one. Culturally you will be an enterprise who trusts your workforce and will be comfortable in allowing them to collaborate with our architectural teams to develop a building to propel your business forward and to take ownership over how the building will work for the business into the future. If you can, and only if you can, will you be more confident of getting a building that does what it is supposed to do after handover. For more details and case studies and videos check out our customer centrist design  web-page.

Greta the Great

No one can have failed to notice the increase of popular social conscience in relation to the climate emergency and the destruction of biodiversity.  Nelson Mandela said once "it takes just one voice to change the world". I am not sure he had in mind that such a voice could be so young or appear so vulnerable as she sat outside the Swedish Riksdag, holding a simple handmade sign that read "Skolstrejk för Klimatet".  That was August 2018.  One year later, we have witnessed in protests around the globe, the pent up anxiety of Greta Thunberg's generation at what is being done, or not done, by this generation of world leaders (if leaders is an accurate description)- the fear that is palpable.  Who as a parent cannot also feel anxious when we see the anxiety in our children's eyes at the future that is being created for them. 

It's clear, this year above any other in recent times will be pivotal in formulation of a series of policy directions that will dictate the success or failure of humans as a species to thrive beyond 2050.  The responsibility falls on of all of us of this working generation to make sure that "our one voice" is channelled to become a clarion call of actions on all governments that make some real differences to what happens next.   Included here is a responsibility on building professionals to bring our expertise to bare on the next updates to UK legislation that will guide how buildings will be designed and used for the next decade. The time for "better than nothing", "less bad", "kicking the can further down the road", is over.  Here in 2020, the time has come for our combined action to do our bit to turn the CO2 tanker around. Now is the time all of us as professionals begin by convincing our clients that buildings from here need to be "restorative", to uphold a "do no harm" philosophy. Anything else is futile and will ultimately fail them as clients as well as us as designers. Which is why we are committing from now to provide every client with a zero energy option design proposal.

And this does not mean the need for clients to throw pots of cash at the problem. What it does means however, is improving the quality of our advice and our analysis of the problems in each and every project. We have to stop the tick box compliance led approach to the design of building's energy consuming systems, and start to allow purposeful energy in use strategies to guide the geometry of our buildings. It means stopping so we can take the time to think about what needs to happen to build in as resource efficient way as possible.   Changing the emphasis from tick box mechanics to good thinking done early as a way to achieve more cost effect building, faster and with less mistakes, that you don't have to live with into the future. If we did this we would save 30% carbon without spending an extra penny.

Out-Stanton Success
As if by example of this better thinking discussed above, we were pleased to be part of the team that helped Latham Architects secure planning permission for a rather large family NPPF Paragraph 79 home on the fringe Stanton a conservation village close to Ashbourne in East Staffordshire. 

Stanton means stone town, a reference to the locally quarried material that most of the village is fashioned from so beautifully over two centuries and more. It seemed evident that the new home should be made from the same local materials which could also assume a narrative for our near zero energy philosophy of a passive heavyweight building.  In doing so, we evaluated the thermal ability of the stone facades to capture, store and then release energy by incorporation of a Trombe Wall. However, after exhaustive analysis it was shown that the stored energy available in an otherwise highly insulated, highly airtight building was insignificant in contrast to electrical plug loads from users. For the modern home there is a dynamic issue around when the sun's energy was available, and when users were at home to take advantage of it.  So out went the trombe in favour of increased storage of energy using batteries, or ground thermal stores and heat pumps.

And our big thinking did not stop there. Stanton as well as being a historic conservation town is also located just outside the High Peak District dark skies zone.  Meaning consideration needed to be given to how the home would preserve the dark skies of the village and eliminate impacts on the local ecology of bats, birds and insects.  Further detailed analysis showed that most of the light spill from the new home reaching sensitive bat feeding hedgerows was coming not from external lighting, but from internal lighting that via the large planar glazed elevations. This prompted the need for more sensitive approaches to internal and external low energy lighting design using timed lighting curfew hours of operation coupled with external PC Amber LED sources to limit light pollution, and to minimise impacts on local insect and bat population activity. 

It's these seemingly small, but early and detailed interventions along with close coupled architectural and building services design integration for a simply stunning solution by Simon Chiou at Lathams, that led East Staffordshire Council to permit the scheme when all of the local evidence was that this might otherwise have been a difficult project for them to approve on highly scrutinised P79 applications.

Part L, Part Hell
The work on projects like Stanton and Sydnope (see projects web page) but most especially our recent post occupancy evaluation of the CitizenM Hotel at Shoreditch, tell us that the impending new Building Regulations Part L (Conservation of Fuel in Buildings) needs to take a different approach to regulatory compliance of buildings if they are to hit zero energy in practice rather than in theory. The purpose of the post occupancy evaluation was to look back at the brief and concept designs for the building and to see how this was developed into the citizenM hotel building that stands on Holywell Lane, Shoreditch today. In review of the planning application for citizenM published in October 2014 it was anticipated by the designers that the base build design without any CHP or PV would emit 800 tonnes of CO2 per annum in use. Fast track five years to October 2019, the same building is actually emitting just over 300 tonnes of CO2 without any GLA or Part L intervention such as CHP or PV. (What happens with the CHP and PV in operation is another story for when we publish the final report later this month). The point here being that reducing carbon emissions happened because of the improving carbon intensity of the UK national grid. So we say why not use Part L and NPPF differently to introduce measures that drive the electricity grid carbon intensity down even further. Mandating more PV or a CIL for Offshore Wind could do this.

Of course we must also reduce the base building energy consumption to an optimal, but projects like Sydnope and Stanton where we have used Evolutionary Algorithms to find the optimal insulation and energy use, show that excessive insulation and airtightness (as per Passivehaus) is over engineering the problem, and that current Part L fabric insulation and airtightness levels are not a million miles away from optimal as they stand. One issue we would contest with the new Part L proposal is to specify airtightness at 5 achr/m2@50Pa. We suggest this needs to be 2 not 5. Again, all of this comes from a bit more thinking, and some clever EA (near AI) help to get us to optimal solutions means we get to zero energy within 10 year payback horizons. However, as we said earlier the pips are almost squeezed on fabric so we have to be looking at the totality of the problem which is now about load matching and storage, making sure that grid intensity is driven down to near zero, while also mandating that all new homes are zero energy on a much faster timeline than 2050.

A bit more concerning in the new proposals for Part L (out for consultation as we write) is the aforementioned timeline to zero energy buildings. Current proposals look for a 20% (option 1) or 31% (Option 2) reduction on current Part L 2013 levels in 2020, in the lead up to a new Future Homes Standard in 2025 where reduction will be 70-80% over current levels, hitting 100% at 2050. The delay in getting to 100% or zero energy is cited as due to the fact that the heat pump market is not ready, nor has the research for Future Homes Standard been completed. We say poppy-cock. At the very least the targets set by London Energy Transformation Initiative - LETI  ( a grouping of energy and building design consultancies, of which Ollio is a signatory member - www.leti.London) are advocating 50 to 60% reduction in 2020, most of this already available through electricity grid carbon improvements since 2013 standard publication. From here LETI are mandating all designs at zero energy by 2025 to get to zero in use by 2030. This is all of the most prominent consultancies recognising the feasibility of zero energy if still not as speedy as we think possible. Check out LETIs Net Zero one pager and join the LETI| response to Part L here. 

So with no technical reason for any delay to net zero energy, neither is there a supply chain constraint. Its inconceivable that world construction supply chains could not easily cope with the demands placed on it by the solitary UK market. In any event, the drive to heat pumps advocated by the proposed Part L (if that's the real worry) is in our view ill-judged. Heat pumps are a long way from the fit and forget technology of current boilers. PV and battery storage is the way to go, and as mentioned above the increasing renewable generation and better battery technology will further assist the grid to lower its carbon contribution to the rest of the economy.   A secondary issue for heat pumps is the damaging impact of extra refrigerant gas leakage to the atmosphere something that seems to have escaped our friends at UK Dept of  HCLG and needs careful attention.

Gonna be exciting.. Its a Gas gas gas

Speaking of refrigerants and the 1 January 2020 introduction of the latest EU and Kigali F gas regulation calling for GWP less than 150 for multi-pack installations over 40kW, we had a good and well debated discussion at the last ASHRAE UK Midlands and London and South East technical evening on 9th December 2019.

I made the point on the adequacy of the proposed new HFC replacement low GWP HFO refrigerants to not do any further harm to environmental species as warned by Greenpeace.  In my personal opinion the Building Services Design community and HVCA community needs to seriously consider whether the new HFO refrigerants are a serious proposition to guide the basis of our solutions into the future.  We are at a time and place where as an industry we cannot afford to get this wrong. It has all sorts of ethical and environmental consequences for our industry moving forward if we have to turn back mid decade due to ecological issues.  I see it as the role of our professional bodies to remain impartial and arbiters on behalf of its members in guiding this debate. As of yet I have seen nothing from CIBSE or ASHRAE that meaningfully contributes to the debate where silence is anything but golden.  For me nothing like enough research has gone into the risks to ecology by TFAs (component gases in HFOs) or indeed the development of natural refrigerants.  The Greenpeace paper is here  . It would be interesting to have the views of others. Respond to the CIBSE or ASHRAE LinkedIn page if you have a view. 

Don't Offset! - Educate
One of the other notable movements since the "Greta effect", has been the number of corporates dashing for the "offset" button.  Scans of Twitter and LinkedIn produce near daily declarations by well respected corporates, consultancies, architects, and others of their commitment to zero carbon business by 2025 some even sooner. The scramble is also to be found in the Local Authority sector where 2030 zero carbon seems to be the new thinking in the wake of a climate emergency.  Lets face it, if you are a business, most of your carbon is going to be in three things. Your buildings and what you do in them, your transportation, and your supply chain. It all comes down to where you get your energy from, how your people travel, and who and where you buy your stuff from. All fundamentals to economic as well as global sustainability. None of this is easy for any one organisation acting alone, so why pretend anything different. If we are honest the real heavy lifting bit needs to be done by governments at national  and international infrastructure levels. For me, while I appreciate the sentiments, and I agree business organisations can and should do more, it seems that most of what we are seeing is nothing more than a re-hash of green-wash. There are only a few that I have seen that are really serious, Interface (who have just achieved mission zero (impact on the planet) a journey they started in 1997) and Patagonia to name the two best examples. Most others are in the trival, saying they are buying their energy from renewable sources, or offsetting all corporate travel. Buying green energy is good, but it's still the same energy coming down the same grid connection as everyone else. Offsetting travel is about the worst thing you can do unless you know that it is making a real difference to offset your carbon emissions now not 20 years in the future. Planting trees is not offsetting, it only defers things to later when it is already too late, and it would be better if you just did nothing now. Take a read of a recent Nature Magazine article for more info on the real harm offsetting can do.

However, if you do want to do something positive what you could do is to invest in two charities that I support who I know do things that help or will help to reduce emissions in the next 1 to 5 years. First up is Ken Dunn's Africa's Gift, and second is Alison Watson's Design Engineer Construct programme. Both help to teach children, particularly girls to put sustainable practice into action. This is completely in keeping with Paul Hawkin's book Drawdown in which he lists the 100 things that we can do now to drawdown carbon to 1.5C levels. The top 6 on the researched list being, 1. Refrigerant Management, 2 Wind Turbines (reduce grid carbon intensity), 3. Reduce Food Waste, 4. Plant Rich Diets, 5 Save Tropical Forests, 6. Educate Girls (Particularly sub-Saharan African girls (as future educators of their children. Could perhaps be better if just education of all young people)). By the way Solar Farms are in eight place and Roof Top solar is 10th. Heat Pumps Mr. HCLG minister are down in 42. So if you are a corporate and really care about the planet, invest in any one of these to make a real difference. Speaking with Alison Watson recently, I know she has plans with Bentley to start a scheme that will allow companies to directly invest in sustainability education for children so they take up careers in sustainability.

Closing Remarks

Well that's as much as I have for now. 2020 is sure to be interesting. As for our immediate future, we are midstream in a number of interesting projects right now, some with high profile clients that I am looking forward to having the permissions to publish details about next time round. Presently, I would like to thank everyone who has worked with Ollio in 2019. A few names to mention include in addition to those above are John at DLA Design in Leeds, Richard at Hippo Digital and Scott at Playwerks. Our friends at the Cemetery Road Baptist Church and at Kollider.  I also want to give a big shout out to Nick Morgan and Adrian Hackett at Kollider for your incredible support this year. Audience of the Future would not have happened without you. The city of Sheffield owes you a great debt of gratitude which I hope is being recognised by the Sheffield City Region and the LA.  Also with Sheffield theme a big thanks to the folks at UoS Urban Flows Observatory, where again some incredibly interesting work is being done under the leadership of Prof. Martin Mayfield, and I am looking forward to adding to in 2020. Finally a big thank you to Donna, Liz, Duncan and Tom at Leeds Beckett  and Yorkshire and Humber Constructing Excellence. Your work in adding to the knowledge base of practising professionals is invaluable. Once again it was a pleasure to judge the CEYH awards and to see so many of them go on to achieve success at the national  CE Awards in November.  Thank you all.

Take care. Happy 2020.