Sustainability was defined by the Brundtland Commission as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. And with Climate Change in full swing and evident to all but the most stubborn deniers, everyone is looking towards sustainable applications for everything from agriculture to manufacturing.


The construction industry is no different in considering sustainability to be an ethical imperative as we go forward, especially as we consider the changes we will need to make to our building styles and methods as climate change affects the world around us.

Image of a green, slightly sunny, British countryside view. You can almost smell the mud.

It’s a situation made a little more complicated by the fact that there is never going to be a “one size fits all” solution within the construction industry — one site will always be different to another, no matter how subtle the changes might be.


For example, prefabrication has been cited as being more sustainable than some other construction methods, with the reduced time on site and reduction of potential fabrication mistakes amongst the factors that makes it a tempting prospect.


However, this method isn’t without its downsides. Prefabricated sections are usually large and require specialised transport to site, which can significantly increase the carbon footprint of a project, plus the additional provision of ways to manoeuvre the sections into place.


This has led, within the construction industry as well as within many others, to an increased level of creativity and innovation when considering ways that we can become more sustainable.


For example, a Scottish company founded by an Professor Gabriela Medero, an engineer from Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University, is currently working with a design for a brick that is made from construction waste.

The K-Briq is recycled and has a low carbon footprint (image copyright Dezeen.com)

The K-Briq (yes, I know) is comprised of 90% recycled material and is unfired, meaning that it generates a much lower level of carbon emissions than regular bricks. It is said by it’s creator to look, weigh and behave like a clay brick, however, we note that this is stated in an interview in DeZeen magazine and, at the time of writing, no supporting research is publicly available.

And this is by no means the only research into more environmentally friendly ways to form building materials.


Research is ongoing by Suzanne Lambert at the University of Cape town to create a zero-waste brick which is hardened at room temperature using bacteria and human urine.

The blocks use loose sand, bacteria & human urine to create a solid building material (image copyright Dezeen.com)

Following on from this use of bacteria, there was a post that caught my eye last year, largely because it combines construction with one of my hobbies, which detailed work by London-based architect Bastian Beyer who had been using bacteria to calcify knitted materials to form solid columns. They have a wonderful, almost DNA-like structure to them due to the solidification of the knitting structure.


It was interesting largely because, like 3D printing, it could be carried out, with an appropriate advancement of technology, on site with minimal space. And it has the potential for a much simpler repair process if the structure is damaged.

The column is knitted from jute and polyester fibres impregnated with bacteria which form a calcite coating (image copyright Dezeen.com)


Of course, the idea of a calcified structure in an era of climate change, pollution and acidic rainwater is certainly something that would need to be worked upon. As would the way in which the new structures would interact with the surrounding ecosystem and wildlife.


Likewise there would need to be rigorous testing on how these new methods of construction would work at a larger scale, especially with the potential ability to change the loading capacity of the structure by simply changing the knitted pattern.

However, a combination of technology like this with 3D printing and more traditional construction methods suggests that introducing sustainability to the construction industry may not be as far off, or as expensive, as many have stated.

We are pleased to announce that we have been shortlisted as finalists in the Local Authority Building Control, Building Excellence Awards 2018 for the South Yorkshire and Humber region.

The Building Excellence Awards celebrate projects, companies, partnerships and individuals within the construction industry. Each of the 12 LABC regions across England and Wales hold their own Building Excellence Awards, with awards being given across 12 separate categories. One overall winner from each region is then selected to represent that region in the national awards finals later in the year.

We have been shortlisted for our work on a semi-derelict farmhouse in the Rotherham area. The project involved partial restoration of the fabric of the original building along with careful extension of the structure, resulting in a spacious, 6-bedroom family home.

As the original structure dated back to around 1770, a key focus of the project was to retain the style of the original farmhouse whilst incorporating modern heating and insulation systems to allow for a contemporary interior to be designed.

We will be attending the LABC regional finals on the 18 May along with our Client at what is certain to be an enjoyable evening with stiff competition from our fellow building professionals.

As they say, watch this space!

 

Every month the Planning Portal (the online system through which all planning and building control applications are managed) sends out a newsletter covering new developments within the construction industry and any changes related to application processes and costs. It also covers news stories and opinion pieces, and as with any thing that involves someone’s opinion, sometimes you read it and go “huh”.

Sometimes it’s a good “huh” that means you’ve learned something new; sometimes it’s the kind of “huh” that is a precursor to you spending several minutes wondering how exactly someone thought that was a good idea. Anyone that has spent time on Twitter will be familiar with the second type of “huh”.

In the January newsletter there was an article piece describing how the Local Government Association (the LGA) was arguing that permitted development rights should be scrapped (link).

For context, the LGA is a membership organisation intended to represent the interests of local councils across England and Wales on a national governmental level.

Permitted development rights allow building owners to make certain changes and developments without going through the full planning application process. For homeowners this allows them to add small extensions or thing such as solar panels to their home without applying for planning permission (though building regulations are usually required).

The article from the Planning Portal does not explicitly discuss homeowners, although the absence of such a mention is important as I will cover below.

The article argues, correctly in my opinion, that there has been a certain amount of abuse of these permitted development rights by development companies. In particular in converting unused urban office spaces into apartments leading to a dramatic decrease in available office space and in some cases the formation of poor quality living accommodation that does not meet advised standards.

Similarly, the LGA makes the argument that the development of existing structures is being used to bypass affordable housing requirements by these same development companies. Although I cannot comment on the latter point, the development of poor quality accommodation benefits no one in the long term.

I think the intent of the article, and possibly also the statement by the LGA, was intended to say that permitted development rights should be scrapped solely for conversions such as these, but that is not communicated clearly. In fact, on a first read through, the impression I received from the article could be summed up by the first paragraph, which I quote in its entirety below.

“Permitted development rights rules are “detrimental” to local communities and should be scrapped, the Local Government Association (LGA) has said.”

As a statement taken individually, and without further clarification currently available, this is more than a little concerning. With the recent increase in Planning Fees, the removal of permitted development rights across the board would make small extensions increasingly expensive for homeowners. When considering the effect of the actions of large companies, seemingly no consideration has been given to the effect of such a statement on individuals.

An across-the-board scrappage of permitted development rights just to limit conversions of office space to dwellings is overkill. In fact, because I promised to shoehorn the cliché in to this article, it can even be described as a distinct case of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. This becomes even more pertinent when you consider that these rights for converting offices to dwellings without planning permission were temporary until as recently as October 2015.

Surely instead of removing all permitted development rights it would make sense to instead limit the ability for people to convert offices to dwellings without planning permission… which is the point at which I turn to discussing something called an Article 4 Direction.

This measure can be issued by the local planning authority to remove all or part of the permitted development rights for a structure or area. It is generally used in conservation areas where the “character” of an area would be affected by certain types of developments, but it is not purely a conservation designation. Rather it is a part of the Town and Country Planning Act and if it can be used for things such as limiting the number of days in the year when you can hold a car boot sale, surely it can be used by local government if they feel that there is a particular problem with office conversions in their area.

Or we could simply remove or limit the permitted development rights for office conversions.

We as a society seem to have a peculiar aversion to admitting when something isn’t working and that we need to reconsider the situation. Or maybe it’s just an aversion to admitting that we were wrong. It might just be that I’ve been conditioned by several years working in and around science fields, but I am firmly of the opinion there is nothing wrong with admitting that you have changed your mind based upon fresh evidence.

The comments from the LGA about the situation with office conversions, however, takes on a certain farcical air when you consider that just two articles below this one in the Planning Portal newsletter, there is an article about how Westminster City Council has been using Article 4 Directions to limit the conversion of office spaces into dwellings.

 

Well, yesterday was a day of many parts.

 

Side extension
Side extension

I spent some time providing design and content input for our new website with Mookat.

I designed a single storey side extension for a bungalow, dealt with Local Planning Authority and Building Regulation queries on a couple of other projects, and answered Client enquiries.

I made some serious headway into my application for membership of the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists, something I’ve been wanting to do since gaining my degree last summer (work has taken precedence, that and all the other projects I have been involved in these past 12 months). I have formerly held Associate membership of the Institute however I had to resign when I formed Taylor Tuxford Associates with Rhys and Anne, this coincided with the start of my degree course at Sheffield Hallam University so I decided to wait for my course to end before applying for full membership.

And then, after work, I edited a couple of backing tracks, updated our playing list and took myself and my trusty laptop off to rehearsals with my Blu Crew pals. The lovely people at Tesco in Rotherham very kindly allow us use of their Community Space in Store. They are holding events in store over the coming weeks to celebrate the Rio Olympics and so we are going to be in store on Saturday 13th August 2016 for a couple of hours between 10.30am and 12.30pm, to support their event and to encourage shoppers to get into the spirit of the Olympics whilst raising money for the British Heart Foundation and Diabetes UK.

After rehearsals finished at 9pm I safely delivered our equipment back to its current home; we really do need to find some form of secure storage for our equipment….can anyone out these help? Blu crew are a not for profit group and so costs need to be kept to an absolute minimum. There must be an empty garage out there that we could rent from you? Or perhaps one of the Storage Companies could help? We’d love to hear from you if you can.