MESH Energy Panel Discussion

Challenges to retrofitting the UK housing stock

I was invited to join the panel of experts for the recent MESH Energy discussion, looking at the challenges we are all facing when retrofitting the UK housing stock. The aim of the session was to understand how we could adapt the current housing stock in the UK, to tackle the fuel crisis and to reach the critical net-zero targets.

There were some interesting questions, including: What role do you think architects have when it comes to retrofitting the UK housing stock in light of the fuel crisis? Can you explain the difficulties when considering embodied carbon in retrofitting of buildings? We know retrofitting can provide an influx of new jobs, but how can we bridge the skill gap? If you were in change of the political retrofit, what would you priorities?

I was joined by three brilliant experts, each at the forefront of their specific area of the sustainable sector, so it was a great discussion to have with some interesting input from each person.

  • Graham Hendra, an independent heat pump consultant with over a decade in the renewables sector specialising in air to water heat pumps.
  • Jenny Wallace, Operations Director at MESH Energy, with over a decade of practical experience in the energy industry consultancy.
  • Graham Lock, founder of Low Carbon Homes a nationwide independent retrofit network.

The discussion was hosted on MESHWorks, the free community hub that brings together sustainably conscious members across the design, architecture, built environment. If this is an area of interest to you it is well worth looking into, details can be found here. 

MESH Energy are independent building performance consultants who I have had the pleasure of working with them on multiple projects, most recently when looking at sustainable energy solutions for St Margaret’s Church refurbishment. It was a privilege to be asked to be part of this event, as it is such an important topic and so central to Studio BAD’s company ethos of reuse.

The watch can be viewed here. 

Award Win – AJ Small Projects

We are thrilled, surprised, astonished and delighted to have won the Sustainability Award at the AJ Small Projects Award last night for our St Margaret’s Church, in Portsmouth.

The church had been one of the 20 projects shortlisted in this year’s awards, due to the high level of the other projects shortlisted we hadn’t anticipated coming home with a trophy, to be honest we were just going to enjoy the evening! It was such a wonderful shock when our project was announced.

As part of the process for these awards all those shortlisted were invited to present the project in 2 minutes! Followed by an in-depth Q&A session afterwards from the judges, which was slightly intimidating but a good way to really get to the heart of the project, it must be extremely hard for judges to understand the nuances of each scheme just from a standard award submission.

Thank you to all our wonderful collaborative team who were involved in this project, it could not have been done without us all working together. Also, this project could not have been achieved without our amazing and encouraging client, always so open to our ideas and really became an integral part of the design process, making for a richer and more successful scheme.

This award is so important to us, not the trophy but what it represents. As a practice we strongly believe that architecture hold the potential to be a vehicle for social and economic change for the better, we strongly advocate the idea of reusing and reimagining where possible as it can deliver more sustainable and far richer designs.

Congratulations to all those shortlisted in the awards and to Atkin Studio the overall winner for their Drovers’ Bough project, and to Unknown Works for Brightbox which took the People’s Choice Award. There is an exhibition running for the next month of all shortlisted projects at the APT studio at 235 St John Street, London. If you get a chance it is well worth visiting and is free to all.

Reading University lecture

We were delighted to be invited by Reading University Architecture Society to deliver a lecture in their 2022 lecture series titled ” REFORMATION REQUIRES” which we gave last night; after so long presenting lectures across zoom it was a delight to be back talking to a real audience.

For the lecture I focused on our most recent community and public realm work, to highlight how architecture can be a vehicle for positive social change. This is an area which all of us at Studio BAD are really passionate about, in many ways it is a key pillar of the company and the reason I set up the business as I wanted to focus on this area of work.

We strongly believe in re-using what is existing, creatively engaging architecture to re-imagine the potential of a building, or a site, to make it fit the current needs. For example, St Margaret’s Church building had been condemned and likely set for demolition, through our work we have delivered a vibrant space for the whole community which is activated throughout the day and week with much needed services, such as a food bank, café, child’s play area and bicycle workshop. We touched the building lightly, only making physically alterations where vitally needed, such as the flooring where we replaced the wooden floor (which we sold, to help fund the works) and replaced with poured concrete, to work with the newly installed, zoned underfloor heating.

Architecture in the 21st century does not have to be just about a physical building, I believe many projects need architecture in a different which is not necessarily just about the bricks and mortar buildings. We have recently been working on projects that focus on reactivating the traditional high street; with these projects we interrogate how we can change the dynamic of the streets to create vibrant and engaging spaces. In Bedford Place, in Southampton, our project was a result of the community needs in the wake of covid, answering how to activate and reanimate the area to create opportunities off the back of temporary road closures. It has been a real pleasure to see the success of the scheme, now nearly two years later much of the scheme is still in place and the local council are looking to make it permanent. We are currently looking at similar reactivation projects in Gosport, Eastleigh and other areas of Southampton.

We truly believe Architecture can creatively problem solve many of the issues we are currently facing; without ego architecture can be immensely powerful, helping to reactive our cities, reduce waste, reduce carbon and deliver richer, long lasting and interesting projects.

 

 

St Margaret’s Church – Phase One Completed.

‘Come as you are, no perfect people allowed in this church’

 

The first phase of our St Margaret’s Church redevelopment is coming to a close. This project has been such a journey. We are so proud to see the physical changes implemented into the building but also to have been part of the design journey the whole community has taken.

We were commissioned to undertake a complete architectural overview of the existing church, a Victorian church with a 50’s front extension. The building was in need of an overhaul, to revitalise it, make it more welcoming and more fitting for the array of community needs. More information on the building refurb can be found here.

Last month saw a milestone moment in the project with the polished concrete floor installation throughout the whole ground floor of the church. The interior has been transformed, the floor unifies the interior and the highly polished surface brings a contemporary edge to the traditional heart of the church.

The floor was installed with trenched underfloor heating, placed in zones and the concrete gives the thermal mass needed to heat this system. One of the key requirements for this phase was to introduce internal heating to the church, after listening to the community and their requirements we opted for underfloor heating as it gave full flexibility for the internal space, with the zones allow the heating to be adjustable across the interior.

Other new facilities which have been completed in this phase include toilets, baby changing facilities, a new kitchen and café and new internal lighting which have been recycled from a Russian factory. Very simple robust and movable furniture has been created as ‘meanwhile’ solutions, the multi-functional furniture can be used across the church offering flexibility of use across the community spaces such as the café, children’s soft play or the food bank. The bespoke units are crafted from birch plywood, on wheels which have created a fully adjustable interior space for the church.

We are so thrilled that Phase One of St Margaret’s Church is nearing completion, this was one of the first large scale community projects that Studio : BAD Architects were commissioned to work on and has become quite a personal project for us. The project has inspired us in so many ways, how the community has embraced the change and future plans for their church; how the client has engaged with the design journey and now driving design forward across the whole church and seeing the building reborn, reusing a sustainable preexisting building.

The next phase includes a revised front entrance, the designs have been submitted for planning and we hope to start on these in the new year.

Image credit: Andrew Malbon

https://www.stmagscc.uk/

Ecology of Communities lecture for PASS Portsmouth

I was delighted to take part in the PASS (Portsmouth Architecture School Society) series of lectures around the ‘Ecology of Communities’ last month. As a part time academic I feel it is important to continue to engage the next generation and to inspire those coming through. Others who have been part of this lecture series have included Piers Taylor, James Dale, Jo Hagan and Spark Architects. The whole series can be found on YouTube

 

‘In this time of uncertainty, we need more tolerance, compassion, and trust for each other since we all are one. Otherwise, humanity will face an even bigger crisis’

Ai Weiwei, Humanity

 

As a practice we have been fortunate to work on several community based projects, such as October Books, Bedford Place and St Margaret’s church, each quite different, with their distinct set of design aims, but all with driver to engage with their local community.

Recently we have been working on a feasibility for a mini masterplan of the Bedford Place district of Southampton. The area is set at the opposite end of town to the large shopping malls and has a reputation for being an independent district, with handsome Grade II listed buildings and with boutique retail offering and local restaurants. Due to the Covid outbreak many of the streets were closed to cars earlier this summer to allow for extra social distancing and additional outdoor seating. Initially this was a temporary measure by the council, done in haste and without much thought to the aesthetics, we were brought onboard to look at on-going street activation and animation.

Our recommendations included painting the concrete bollards, originally quite bleak but now bright and colourful, even acting as a draw to bring people to the area to see and engage with it. Our street activation plans have gone further to address the signage, put up street bunting, paint the road, increase planting and set up a series of events throughout the year to use this space. We see this as a huge opportunity for Southampton to create a distinctive district, with a unique sense of place which will draw people in, helping to improve the local economy.

This type of project is highly emotive, whenever there are discussions regarding reducing car access it makes people very passionate as we are a nation addicted to our cars. This is not a new thing, it is easy to find videos from Amsterdam in the 1970’s of locals getting violent at the new pedestrian streets, an area we now look at so positively.

It is however important to listen to the community and their concerns, to really hear what they are saying and reflect on their fears. As an architect it is important to not bring your ego or believe you know the solution from the start, I believe you can learn a great deal through listening and responding to issues, not only will you gain better community engagement in the project but it often makes for a far richer project.

Take a listen to the whole webinar here, it covers a lot more including an interesting Q&A session at the end which covers politics, dyslexia, collaboration, sustainability and even imposter syndrome.

The lecture can be seen here on YouTube. 

PASS lecture

The benefits of reusing and repurposing existing buildings

Recently I was invited to take part in the MESH energy webinar series where I talked about the benefits of upgrading and repurposing existing buildings. At a time where the conversation around the environment and climate change is happening across society as a whole, I am always surprised that the design sector is not discussing this issue in more detail and facing it head on with positive solutions.

We have been working on several varied projects that are reusing a current building. Just by looking at the statistics from Historic England, it is astonishing how damaging it is to build a new building when there is an alternative and environmentally better solution.

‘Compared to a refurbishing a traditional Victorian terrace, a new building of the same size produces up to 13 times more embodied carbon. This equates to around 16.4 tonnes of CO2 which is the equivalent of the emissions released by driving 60,000km’

The design approach to repurposing a building is quite different, each project will bring its own challenges and a successful refurbishment is able to turn these into opportunities. Within our ‘October Books’ project, which has repurposed an old high street bank into a community book store, it was not possible to remove the old walk in vault from the building so this was integrated into the interior design and is now used as the storage room with the old door kept in place as a feature behind the service counter.

Our St Margaret’s church project in Southsea, Portsmouth, is nearing completion of Phase 1 of their refurbishment, thermal upgrade, extension and repurpose to deliver a church that could meet the needs of its congregation. The building had no central heating installed, to retrofit this we decided the best solution was an air sourced heat pump and trench underfloor heating, laid in zones across the building. This solution gave us full flexibility across the floor space which was essential for this building. In keeping with the need for internal flexibility we have designed ‘mean-while’ solutions such as seating, screens and even a café on wheels, this allows the interior of the church to be configured and used as the community needs, with future proofing the design and also reducing the costs.

As we had to remove the old parquet flooring, to allow for the underfloor heating and a polished concrete floor, we were delighted that we were able to repurpose it and sell it on. Not only is this environmentally positive but it also raised much needed funds for the church building project.

In each project we believe the key to success has been achieved through two way communications, through deep listening we are able to really understand what people are saying which often unlocks the potential to a space.

The full webinar can be viewed here

‘If you help one person, you help humanity’ Ai Weiwei