Saturday, 14 July 2007

Traditional buildings 'more eco-friendly'

Charles Clover, Environment Editor
Last Updated: 6:01pm BST 13/07/2007
Traditional buildings with solid walls are more eco-friendly because they need less cooling in summer and less heating in winter than modern glass and steel structures, according to a study.

The computer-modelled buidlings, Heavyweight (top) and Glazed (bottom)
The study found that traditional buildings with solid walls cost 15-20 per cent less to heat or cool than modern designs with lots of glazing.It was commissioned by Robert Adam Architects, a firm of traditional architects, from a leading environmental engineering firm, Atelier 10, which has worked for Foster and Partners, which builds large buildings in glass and steel.The architect who commissioned it says it has implications for
the three million new homes promised by Gordon Brown.Researchers looked at two computer-modelled buildings of identical size, layout and orientation, the heavyweight building with a glazed area of less than 40 per cent of the fa├žade, the glazed building with glass facades to the South and North.
They found differences when the building was an office or residential - with residential made of heavyweight materials the most energy efficient.
Gains from extra daylight in the office building were offset because the users tended to close the blinds on bright days and put the lights on.
Both buildings improved their energy efficiency with triple glazing but the gains from very high performance glass filled with argon did not entirely iron out the differences in energy efficiency between the glass walled building and traditional methods of construction.

Robert Adam, the architect who commissioned the study, said: "Actually the architectural establishment do know this but they don't want it said - that traditional buildings are more sustainable. Environmental engineers know this too but they tend to work for architects. This is the great secret that no one wants to reveal.
"Glass and steel is a default position for the architectural profession but it is fundamentally unsustainable."
Glass and steel office blocks currently being built all over London "should have solid walls likely the early New York skyscrapers," he said.
Mr Adam argues that Modernist buildings have long been associated with glass and steel and these materials have become a "default mode" for all modern office buildings which was difficult to shift, even though truly modern buildings were "sustainable" buildings.
He is planning to build a skyscraper in Basingstoke with solid walls but local architects are trying to stop it because they want glass and steel.
Mr Adam said that pre-fabricated, industrially constructed buildings - such as some of the proposed designs for the £50,000 houses called for by John Prescott when he was in charge of planning - were likely to have far shorter lives than traditional buildings that make up most of our towns and cities.
In fact, the volume housebuilders usually built houses with solid walls, as that was what they market expected. "If you find a house with glass walls it is generally a house an architect has built for himself."
Mr Adam added: "The Government should "forget about tricks and gimmicks and build traditional houses and do it well.
"We know they work and we know people like them. But it will go to the architectural profession and get lots of tricks and gimmicks."
The Government has said it wants to see more architects being involved in the design of domestic housing and more economies of scale by manufacturing components off site.
Two housebuilders commented favourably on the report.
Graeme Simpson of Millgate Homes said: "At last, evidence that the kind of buildings we as developers know are most popular are also sustainable.
"This will stop planners telling us to be different to be modern. Nowadays, being modern is being sustainable and being sustainable is using traditional construction."
Ed Ware of, Edward Ware Homes, said: "This is the agenda for a sustainable future: simple buildings with windows and solid walls."
However, James Pickard, of James Pickard Architects, said the conclusions were "selective and over-simplistic."
"Traditional building is slow and inefficient. Government statistics show that 24 per cent of all UK waste comes from the construction and demolition of buildings. That is a shockingly high level of waste. The European Commission has done a survey of top industrial national looking at the efficiency of our construction industries and Britain came bottom with 25 per cent, less than Norway and Belgium.
"We're paying more for our buildings and homes than we need to and the reason given was lack of skills in the workforce and low levels of off-site manufacturing. We are still building by hand like the Romans did 2,000 years ago.
"Sustainability is now massively important. We have to deliver homes and buildings in a different way."