Staff arrive at Architype’s sustainable offices in Herefordshire.

The use of buildings is responsible for a large portion of UK CO2 emissions, and further emissions are ‘embodied’ in building materials and the construction process.

Architype is an architectural practice that has always taken a different approach. Its main focus is to design buildings using techniques and materials which simply and significantly reduce energy demand and carbon emissions, and also reduce embodied energy and carbon, by design.

Context

The use of energy in buildings is responsible for around 45% of the UK’s CO2 emissions. Additional energy is used, and CO2 emitted, during the manufacture of the building materials and their construction on site, and is thus ‘embodied’ in the building. Building regulations in the UK, specify theoretically calculated target reductions in CO2 and energy consumption. However, there are construction materials and techniques that can reduce a building’s energy demand well below these levels, and also reduce embodied energy and CO2.

Architype is an architectural practice that aims to design sustainable buildings that really deliver on the promise of reduced CO2 emissions and environmental impact. This is achieved through designing buildings to require minimal heating, cooling and lighting; using building materials with low embodied energy; supplying energy from renewable sources; and consulting the future occupants extensively to ensure the building will meet their needs.

St Luke’s School, Wolverhampton, designed by Architype.

How the business works

Concern for the environment and for creating sustainable buildings has been the focus of Architype since it was founded in 1984. The Architype ethos is apparent in its approach to consultation, which is the process through which the architect and client come to an agreement on the design for a building. Architype puts more time into consultation than many other architecture practices, and makes it an open process, rather than dictating to the client. By giving clients time and opportunity to discuss the options for the building design, Architype tries to ensure that the client will be satisfied with the end result. This also means that the client will use the building in the way it was intended, so delivering the best environmental performance possible.

An example of this is in designing schools, when Architype consults not only with the staff but also with the pupils. Hands-on activities like model-making are used to capture information on how the building will be used. Involving clients is also a valuable way of raising awareness of sustainability and energy use, as well as developing the best building for their needs.

Architype also likes to involve the building construction company at an early stage, so that any specialist technologies and construction techniques can be discussed and potential problems avoided. Its ideal is a partnership between client, architect and constructor, rather than a hierarchy.

Interior of St Luke’s School, Wolverhampton, designed by Architype.

Technology and use

The technologies and techniques used by Architype can be separated into several areas:

Design for passive regulation

The most significant use of energy in buildings is for heating, but cooling using airconditioning is becoming increasingly common. Demand for both heating and cooling can be minimised by careful design of a building, as can the need for artificial lighting. The demand for heat is minimised primarily through increased insulation. It is also possible to increase the heating from the sun, known as passive solar gain. This is achieved by orienting the building such that some large windows face south, allowing the winter sunlight to penetrate the building and heat it. Finally, the building fabric is designed to reduce thermal bridging and is air-tight to eliminate draughts, with controlled ventilation available through specially designed vents.

As well as being warm in the winter, a building needs to be cool in the summer, preferably without the use of air conditioning. The first step is to control solar gain – while this is desirable in the winter, it must not be excessive in the summer. The second step is to arrange the ventilation of the building to keep it cool through passive means.

UK school built to high standards of energy efficiency, constructed using wood.

The measures taken to increase solar gain in the winter also maximise the amount of daylight entering the building. Strategically placed north-facing windows can admit additional daylight without causing excess solar gain in summer.

Design to minimise embodied energy

The embodied energy in a building is the energy used to produce the construction materials, transport them to the site and assemble them. This is energy saved at the time of building, rather than in the future.

Architype uses a range of building materials that minimise embodied energy while also delivering the required low operational energy use. Timber is often used for the structural frame, walls and roof of a building, and for external cladding, and is sourced as locally as possible. Not only does timber have low embodied energy compared to concrete and steel, but using it in a building ‘locks up’ the carbon absorbed by the tree while it was growing. Timber is a reliable construction material, and gives buildings a natural appearance.

Using low-carbon energy sources

The first priority of Architype is to reduce energy demand through good design and materials. However, even the most efficient buildings need energy to run them, and Architype looks to low-carbon energy sources to deliver this. Biomass boilers are the most common heating option due to their cost-effectiveness, and are often used with underfloor heating to increase the efficiency. Other technologies used include solar water heaters to provide hot water, and solar photovoltaics to generate electricity. Because Architype buildings have been designed for efficiency, the renewable energy systems can provide a greater percentage of the energy demand.

Architype reduces energy demand through good design and materials. 

How the work is financed

Most of Architype’s contracts are won through competitive tender, with the client making a selection according to a range of criteria including cost. Architype competes commercially with more traditional architects.

Buildings designed by Architype include schools, colleges, offices, community buildings, visitor centres, housing projects and student accommodation. Much of this work is currently in the public sector and community.

Training, support and quality control

Support for the occupants of a building actually begins before construction is started, at the consultation stage, when Architype makes every effort to understand the needs of the client and ensure that the building design meets those needs. Quality control is an integral part of Architype’s work, and an architect will regularly be on site to inspect construction as it progresses. Once the building is complete, all of its systems are commissioned, checking for correct operation. After commissioning, the building is handed over to the client. Architype will always provide a detailed user manual for the building manager. There is also on-site training for the building manager, and this is sometimes recorded to make an instructional video for future reference. Buildings have a warranty that covers any defects arising in the first year.

Another training aspect in Architype’s work arises from partnerships with construction companies. By working on Architype projects, the staff of these companies are exposed to new building materials and techniques. Architype has often arranged specialist training for builders to ensure they are able to complete work to a high standard. Architype also takes students on work experience, with typically six students working with the practice at any time.

Architype's office, built to high standards of energy efficiency, constructed largely using woodand and based on an existing barn.

Benefits

In the past five years almost 29,000 m2 of buildings designed by Architype have been completed. These directly benefit over 3,000 regular building users, and several thousand more people pass through visitor centres each year. In addition, a further 34,000 m2 of Architype-designed buildings are currently in progress and due to be completed within two years – these will benefit a similar number of people in addition.

Environmental benefits

Using design calculations, it is estimated that all Architype-designed buildings from 2004 to 2009 are saving about 1 GWh/year of energy compared to 2006 building regulations (the most recent in force). This is a significant 29% saving. In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, the buildings are saving about 300 tonnes/year CO2, or 36% of emissions. The percentage savings are higher for CO2 than for energy, due to the use of biomass and other renewable energy sources.

Recycled and natural materials are used where ever possible throughout Architype’s buildings, reducing pollution due to the production of the materials they may have replaced. For instance, where timber has replaced metal and concrete, it has also avoided the environmental impact of mining.

Using water efficiently is another area in which Architype pays careful attention in the design of its buildings. Its calculations show that on most sites reducing water consumption by careful design of systems and specification of fittings is more energy- and water-efficient than collecting and recycling rainwater.

Social benefits

The obvious benefits to building occupants are that their building should be well-suited to their needs, well-lit by daylight, at a comfortable temperature all year round and properly ventilated. This is particularly important for schools and offices, where a pleasant, comfortable environment can help people concentrate and be more productive.

Inside Architype's office, built to high standards of energy efficiency.

Economic and employment benefits

The buildings that Architype designs are competitive on cost grounds with more traditional types of building. However, reduced energy demands make them much cheaper to run. On a wider scale, the work of Architype promotes the use of sustainable construction materials and techniques, so supporting the creation of jobs in industries that will be crucial for achieving national targets for reductions in CO2 emissions over the next fifty years. The Architype office at Upper Twyford receives many visitors who are interested in sustainable construction.

Potential for growth and replication

General interest in sustainable architecture has been increasing in recent years, as people become aware of the changes that are needed to avoid significant climate change and improve energy security. As the pressure grows to reduce energy use and CO2 emissions, Architype’s message and public advocacy for sustainable architecture is ever more important. Architype has always pushed the boundaries of energy efficiency and is now advocating the adoption of German ‘passivhaus’ standards to drive down energy consumption by 80 to 90% compared to current UK regulations.

Where appropriate Architype will partner with other architects or construction companies to take on large projects, and through this promote a low-energy design approach to more traditional businesses.