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10.01.2008 :: partner

Team Green

by Olga Apostolova :: Comments (0) :: (Read 8955 times)

Ted Cullinan is the recepient of the 2008 Royal medal for architecture. We talk to Robin Nicholson, a senior member of Edward Cullinan Architects.
Robin Nicholson is a senior member of Edward Cullinan Architects, which he joined in 1979. Previously he had worked for Jim Stirling and taught at the Bartlett and PNL. He was a Vice-President of the RIBA (1992-1994), Chairman of CIC (1998-2000) and a founder member of the Movement for Innovation Board (1998-2001); he continues to help develop the Design Quality Indicator. Robin is a CABE Commissioner, where he chairs the Enabling Programme and leads on climate change. He is Chairman of the industry think-tank, The Edge (1996-). He was awarded a CBE for Services to Architecture in 1999.

Sustainability is becoming an important issue in all areas of life. At ECA do you always consider sustainable features in your designs or is this still very much dependent on project requirements?

Ted Cullinan built his own house in London as a south-facing passive solar house in 1964; he still lives in it and it was recently listed Grade II*. Over the past twenty years we have practised in as sustainable a way as we knew and our clients would allow – socially, economically and environmentally.

Socially we try to engage the users in the design process and, when suitable, the general public; Bristol Harbourside is one of the most comprehensive consultation exercises to ensure that such a large central project reflected the aspirations of the whole population.

Economically we have designed a number of buildings to provide employment, especially in areas of high unemployment – for example the Archaeolink Visitor Centre was designed to support a new tourist industry based on the largely unknown archaeology; and environmentally we are using a wide range of techniques within the now much tighter Building Regulations; for example we are using ground source cooling for the New Herbarium at Kew Gardens.

Ted Cullinan says about the Weald and Downland Museum building: "In the long term, this building will prove economical to run. It doesn't need painting, although one day we'll have to remove some of the moss from its south side; it needs virtually no artificial lighting during the day. It recycles rainwater.” In your experience how easy is it to persuade an investor to think about the “long term” gain putting behind the upfront cost?

We are at a moment of rapid change; it has been a real struggle because the first cost is usually higher but just recently there has been a surge of interest. A number of major investors now require naturally ventilated buildings with low CO2 emissions etc to retain their staff and to satisfy their own policies on Corporate Social Responsibility. The UK Government has put considerable pressure on the private House Builders to deliver much more sustainable housing working towards a target of all new housing being zero-carbon by 2016. Perhaps the biggest challenge is the existing housing stock which is responsible for 40% of our carbon emissions.

The low energy performance at Greenwich was one of the conditions of central Government funding as an exemplar school. What is needed is a culture of post-occupancy evaluation to ensure that we learn from what does and does not work and what needs tweaking.

How do you collaborate with environmental engineers to maintain your commitment to sustainable design?

We are fortunate to have worked with a series of excellent innovative environmental engineers; during the 1970’s and 1980’s we shared an office with Max Fordham whose ground-breaking practice spawned a number of others. We still work with them all but generally there is a real shortage of environmental engineers. We try to ensure that they are engaged in the design process from day one but our own design ideas have sustainability in the forefront of our minds right from the beginning. We invite many engineers to explain their thinking to us at weekly lunchtime discussions.

The re-development of the ECA offices in Islington is expected to exceed the London Mayor's new target of 20% of energy from renewable sources. How will this be achieved and what other sustainable design features do you envisage?

We are still exploring alternative options for the best way to do this and to ensure that we get real value for money. One of the main advantages is that we are adjacent to the canal so we will use the water for both heating in winter and cooling in summer with the help of a heat-pump. The water will either circulate in the ceiling or the floor and the engineers are planning for this to boost the thermal mass of the building.

We will of course have substantial insulation and high performance triple glazed windows. We will certainly heat our water with solar thermal and plan to use the south-facing roof to support photo-voltaic cells in due course.

How do young architects in the UK today learn the principles of sustainable design?

Sustainability has been a mandatory part of the RIBA curriculum for some time but some schools of architecture are more focussed on this than others. Other schools will have little option but to change their approach to project work if they are to satisfy their students. We attract excellent students and many are already interested and well-informed. Within the office we have an active Team Green to keep us up to the minute with exemplar schemes and new ideas.

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