22 July 2021

Progress on one of our low energy retrofit projects in Oxford is coming along nicely! A number of factors meant that we specified internal wall insulation (IWI), in this case a wood fibre board, which has the rigidity to stay upright against the walls. Not only does wood fibre have a low embodied energy, it is vapour permeable, which is important for reducing the risk of condensation in solid brick walls. A lime-based parge coat seals and evens up the wobbly brickwork behind the boards.

As architects, we spend a lot of time on the computer / drawing board, so it’s particularly important for us to see the construction of our projects on site, and to get feedback from those building it. The use of lime-based products on these buildings is important, again, for vapour permeability. However, this does result in much longer drying times compared to cement-based alternatives. This needs to be factored in early on, as it will have an effect on a project’s programme.

We’re taking a bit of a summer break from our journal, so there’ll be no posts for the next few weeks. We’re still here though, so do get in touch to discuss your low impact architectural project.

15 July 2021

Happy birthday Sow Space! It’s been two years since we officially launched our architects’ practice and we’re still going strong. Despite having now operated for longer within the pandemic than outside of it, we’re super proud of our many achievements. In the last year, Mina has taken on her role as Senior Lecturer at Oxford Brookes, improving our links to academia and research. Paola has joined us to strengthen our offering in ultra-low energy and regenerative design.

We’ve also started a record number of new projects, some of which have now been completed, so we look forward to getting those photographed and added to the website soon. More importantly, the types of enquiries and projects we’ve taken on closer reflect the ethos of our practice. This means that we’re building a reputation for being experts in sustainable and ecological buildings, with a particular specialisation in low energy retrofit. People are beginning to take notice!

A big thank you to all those who’ve supported and followed us. We’re confident that we can keep growing and continue doing what we love. Lots more exciting news to follow…

08 July 2021

Broad Meadow is open! A part of Broad Street, Oxford city centre, has been transformed into a new outdoor space with wildflower meadows and lawns. It provides a much-needed oasis in what’s normally a car-dominated street. It offers a connection to nature and a boost in biodiversity – something the public realm of the city centre lacks. You can tell how much it’s valued by the number of people using it, even on a grey day. Well done to all those that made this happen.

Our team’s passion and research is about integrating nature within the built environment. Connecting people to the natural world improves their health and well-being, and raises their awareness of the importance of ecological systems. Broad Meadow is a temporary intervention, running until the end of September. Its benefits will be lost when it disappears, which will be a real shame. We’d love for it to be made permanent and to extend the full length of Broad Street.

A consultation is now open to get the views of the public, which you can find here. Talk to us if you’d like to work with architects that value nature and consider ecological impact in design.

01 July 2021

How about this grass paver system as an alternative surface to tarmac? We may need access for our vehicles to our houses, especially as home car charging becomes more common, yet vast areas of our residential grass verges are being replaced with tarmac driveways. “No mow May” really highlighted the value of our planted verges as they sprung to life with tall grass and wild flowers. We installed this system on one of our projects and there are many benefits to specifying it.

Our verges are often lined with mature trees. Unlike tarmac, the grass pavers allow for a shallow dig, which avoids disturbing established tree roots. The permeable nature of the system absorbs and slows down surface rainwater run-off during heavy downpours. Its softness helps reduce the urban heat island effect and promotes biodiversity with all sorts of things growing in this one. Visually it blends in with grass verges to the side and is barely visible when viewed from an angle.

Imagine what other surfaces we could green and think of how beautiful our streets would be! Talk to us if you’d like to work with an architect that thinks differently to the ‘business as usual’ approach.

17 June 2021

A new project start! We’ve been appointed to carry out a low energy retrofit on this pre-1900 brick and stone house in West Oxfordshire. We completed an initial appraisal to understand which measures are feasible, the percentage in energy reduction they would result in when compared to existing, estimated capital costs, and payback period. While payback is often the focus of feasibility, it’s the improvement of thermal comfort that wins in this, and many other cases.

Our client reports fridge-like internal temperatures in the depths of winter. To address this, we will look at a balanced approach in retrofit measures. These will include wood fibre IWI, loft insulation, replacement of all windows, and an array of solar PV to the south-facing roof. The existing gas boiler still works and will be retained with a view to replace in future with an ASHP. This is a low-impact strategy in seeing out the useful life of building elements as far as practicable.

When considering low energy retrofit, it’s important to appoint an architect with experience in a variety of building types and retrofit measures. Talk to us about your retrofit project.

10 June 2021

Another planning permission secured! We recently gained consent for our extension and deep retrofit project in East Oxford. This Edwardian terrace has beautifully decorative features in the form of patterned brickwork, stone window surrounds, and intricate roof detailing. To preserve this appearance on the streetscene, we opted to insulate internally to the front. The rear has received modern intervention, so it will be insulated externally, which brings better thermal performance.

Wood fibre insulation and lime plaster will be specified to maintain vapour permeability through the solid walls, and to reduce embodied carbon. The roof will be insulated, while we’ll explore replacing the floor with a new timber raft. An air source heat pump will replace the defective boiler and solar PVs will be mounted to the flat dormer roof and tilted for optimal exposure. Based on our assessment, there is potential for an 80% reduction in carbon emissions in operation.

If you’re considering a low energy retrofit, it’s important to understand the most appropriate measures for your particular building. We can help with this. Talk to us about your retrofit project.

02 June 2021

Zero Carbon Homes in Oxfordshire – let’s make it happen! Following a collection of responses to the Oxfordshire Zero Carbon Homes Initiative (OZCHI) online survey, we are now holding a webinar to focus on overcoming the obstacles and accelerating the adoption of zero carbon homes in Oxfordshire as standard. The principal obstacles that the survey identified included building regulations, the planning system, affordability, and the need for political will to take this forward.

The webinar will cover a number of key topics, including the local and national situation, current practice, the wider sustainability context, as well as analysis of the survey responses. Presentations from local and national experts will provide a broad range of perspectives and will show local examples of zero carbon housing. There will be interactive group discussion sessions, offering all those attending the opportunity to focus and to provide input on how we move forward.

We very much hope you will join us to discuss next steps. You can register for the event here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/zero-carbon-homes-in-oxfordshire-making-it-happen-tickets-153697371977

27 May 2021

We’re delighted to be starting another new project! This 1930s mid-terrace is an identical house type to our Croft Road project but is based in Wolvercote, north Oxford. Carrying out the measured survey was a surreal experience, as it felt like going back in time to our project pre-extension. Our client saw what we had achieved at Croft Road, and with the knowledge that these houses are very solidly built, purchased the property with aspirations to carry out a similar transformation.

The proposal will come in the form of a single-storey rear extension and loft conversion. The existing house has an east-west orientation, which means it receives sun in the mornings and evenings, but not much in between. The ground floor extension will be an opportunity to introduce south-facing sun via a series of rooflights. Meanwhile, the loft conversion will open up new views to the west, which hadn’t previously existed, out to the beautiful Port Meadow and sunsets beyond.

As architects, we love turning ordinary houses into extraordinary spaces. We will always suggest ways to prepare them responsibly for the future. Talk to us if you have a project in mind.

20 May 2021

Paola has been appointed to the Oxford Design Review Panel! The ODRP was established in 2014 and is delivered by a partnership between Oxford City Council and Design South East. “Design Review is an independent and impartial evaluation process conducted by a panel of built environment experts and is an essential part of the planning process, Design Review Panels promote high quality design to help create better buildings, streets and public spaces in the city.”

Paola’s vast experience in both practice and academia, her expertise in sustainability, and her good working knowledge of Oxford make her a strong member of the expert panel. Paola also provides Sow Space with a strong offering in design and technical proficiency, not only on the projects that she’s involved in, but also as a part of wider quality management within the practice. We have regular reviews on best practice, especially on the technical aspects of low energy retrofit.

Our team and collaborators bring a wide range of skills and experience to the practice. Talk to us if you have aspirations for an architectural project with a low energy and ecological impact.

13 May 2021

We’ve been awarded our first project outside of Oxford. And where is it? Cambridge! We don’t stray far from ancient university cities it seems. Despite being in another city, the site is a very familiar 1930s semi. We’ll be helping our client with a major extension project, extending on two storeys to the side and rear, while also converting the loft. The first task was to check if the existing extension can be retained to accommodate another storey, but alas the foundations aren’t suitable.

A new bike store and electric car charging point, with access to the drive and street, will be located at the front of the extension. Behind this naturally sit the utilitarian-type spaces, which will lead out on to an east-facing kitchen diner, opening onto the rear garden with access to morning and early afternoon sun. As a floor plan grows, central spaces inevitably become more enclosed and darker. The key will be to maintain access to daylight, whilst capturing views into the distance.

It’s those magical moments in the form of framed views and light filled spaces that can make a home feel truly special. Talk to us if you’d like a creative architect to help fulfil those aspirations.