09 July 2020

Another planning permission gained this week for our extension and retrofit project in Oxford. This semi is wider than the typical 1930s layouts. It led to an unusual opportunity to open up the middle and rear space of the house, to fit in a home working area next to this wonderful kitchen / dining space. The south-westerly rear introduces a lovely late afternoon / evening sun. The sun at this time of day can lead to overheating, so it’s important to shade, insulate and ventilate.

During the planning process, we engaged with the planning officer to discuss and negotiate whether the proposal could fall under permitted development (PD) or would require planning permission. Correct interpretation of the PD technical guidance can be a matter of debate, and sometimes isn’t straightforward. In the end it did require planning permission, but our engagement and negotiation meant that we pursued the application with confidence of a positive outcome.

A good working relationship with local planning officers is important. Talk to us if you’re looking to start a project and you’re unsure if it requires planning permission.

02 July 2020

Rammed earth is a low-impact construction technique, where earth is moistened and compacted (rammed) within temporary formwork, to create dense monolithic walls. This ancient technique has been around for millennia, most notably in the Great Wall of China and the Alhambra. Its main benefits are that it’s naturally and readily available, has a low embodied energy (especially if locally sourced), is hygroscopic, has a high thermal mass, and can be an airtight construction.

This particular wall is located at the Kolumba museum in Cologne by Peter Zumthor (we’ll do a separate post about this incredible building). The contents of the earth and the layers in which it was compacted are clearly visible, creating a natural and distinctive appearance. Our direct experience of rammed earth includes a practical workshop with Rowland Keable from Rammed Earth Consulting CIC, as well as helping to build a sculpture at Warneford Hospital for artist Katy Beinart.

We understand rammed earth, along with other forms of low-impact and sustainable construction techniques. Talk to us about the opportunities available for your architectural project.

25 June 2020

Why is solar orientation in buildings important? In the UK and the northern hemisphere, the majority of our solar gain comes from the south. Orientating buildings to take advantage of this, along with optimising glazing to the south elevation, can help to passively heat our homes to achieve a net energy gain. Excessive glazing leads to overheating, especially on east / west elevations when the sun enters the building at a low angle in the mornings / evenings respectively.

External shading is the best way to block out unwanted solar gain. Internal shading is often unhelpful, as the heat has already entered the building. Planting trees / foliage can create natural forms of external shading. Deciduous varieties in particular can be helpful, where leaves are present in the warmer months to provide shading, while shedding leaves in the colder months allows the sun to penetrate through. They can also create beautiful shadowy patterns on internal walls.

Passive solar design is one aspect of ecological building design that we specialise in. Talk to us about how we can help optimise your building project to make the most of natural resources.

18 June 2020

We’re thrilled to be starting a new project in collaboration with Cosy Homes Oxfordshire. The mid-terrace property in Oxford is in need of a complete refurbishment. Built in the 1900s, external walls are of a solid masonry construction, while the mock sash windows (not original) are old and poorly fitted. This has resulted in a building fabric that performs very poorly, both thermally and acoustically. Noise from the busy road and neighbouring properties are particular issues.

Our client decided that whilst completing these renovation works, it would make sense to carry out some low energy retrofit measures at the same time. Given the relationship with adjacent attached properties, the roof eaves detail, and being within a conservation area, internal wall insulation is the obvious measure to take. The old building fabric will likely result in the use of a natural and breathable insulation, while appropriate ventilation will also need to be carefully considered.

Talk to us if you’re considering a retrofit project alongside more substantial alterations to your home. Or to register your home for a ‘Whole House Plan’, get in touch with Cosy Homes Oxfordshire.

11 June 2020

We’re proud to announce that we’ve become a member of RetrofitWorks, a “transformational cooperative owned by practitioners and advocates, offering quality assured energy saving refurbishment”. RetrofitWorks are working on a number of live schemes across the country. This includes the BEIS funded Cosy Homes Oxfordshire, led by Low Carbon Hub and National Energy Foundation, helping to deliver energy efficient home retrofit in Oxfordshire.

The UK Government’s declaration of a climate emergency means that they have committed to net zero GHG emissions by 2050. The household sector is responsible for 20% of these GHG emissions, while 80% of homes standing in 2050 have already been built. Decarbonising our existing housing stock is therefore a major priority. A ‘fabric first’ approach is the most effective way to do this, which means improving insulation, airtightness, and ventilation as a first priority.

Talk to us if you’re thinking about a retrofit project alongside more substantial changes to your home. You can also register your home with Cosy Homes Oxfordshire to get a ‘Whole House Plan’.

04 June 2020

The KunstHausWien (Art Museum Vienna), Austria, by Friedensreich Hundertwasser. He is described as a “painter, architecture doctor, ecological activist and philosopher”, with a unique visual language. Hundertwasser believed in a human architecture existing in harmony with nature. His ecological vision challenged social norms, committing to diversity, the organic, the “unregulated irregularities”, through the use of spontaneous vegetation and the support of natural cycles.

“The straight line leads to the downfall of our civilisation”. The KunstHausWien epitomises his philosophy. An opponent of the straight line, even the ground floor of the museum undulates, while the street bollards outside curve at the ends in response to this. The façade is an eclectic mix of forms and vivid colours. Plant vines climb and spread organically, while mature trees sit effortlessly at rooftop level. The building certainly lives up to the desire to co-exist with nature.

Growing plants on buildings is something we have a strong interest in. It can be done in so many different ways. Talk to us if you’d like to create wonderful buildings using these principles.

28 May 2020

We gained planning permission last week for our two-storey rear / side extension and retrofit project in Oxford. The proposal moves the kitchen from a dark inner area to the rear of the house, where it overlooks the garden and connects to new living and dining spaces. The single-storey element ensures compliance with the 45-degree rule at first floor, while the roof of the two-storey element runs flush with the existing main roof to simplify geometry, reduce prominence, and save cost.

The planning officer originally asked us to reduce the scheme, on the grounds that it’s ‘overly prominent’. However, we argued our case based on the design justifications above. We also drew their attention to the numerous extensions on the street that are similar or more prominent, all of which were approved. In the end, we persuaded the officer and their team leader to change their minds and to approve the application.

We have a good working relationship with planning officers at Oxford City Council and surrounding local authorities, which helps us to open a dialogue when seeking planning permission. Talk to us if you are looking to start a project that requires planning permission.

21 May 2020

Our research on house eco-retrofit evaluated the performance of three case studies in Oxford. The research looked at both physical (hard) data and behavioural (soft) data. One aspect of the physical data came from the use of a thermal imaging camera to detect thermal bridging – the wasteful transfer of heat between inside and outside. During a thermographic survey in cold climates, the buildings should be heated to create a difference between inside and outside of at least 10°C.

Taking photos next to thermal images enables accurate comparison. These images show the true effectiveness of insulation. The above property is a 1950s semi with a bay window, which were traditionally formed of an uninsulated, thin timber construction. The grey circle highlights the severe heat loss from the radiator. The below property has been insulated externally, demonstrating the uniformity of lower surface temperature compared to the neighbour, which is uninsulated.

Through our research, we understand building physics and how to design with thermal performance and comfort in mind. Talk to us about your energy-efficient and ecological building projects.

14 May 2020

Another one of our research projects in East Oxford, ‘Rooftop Neighbourhood’. This residential development provides high-quality, low-energy housing, with a focus on connecting residents with the wider community. It’s split over three levels, basement, ground, and roof. Lightwells introduce natural daylight and cross ventilation to all three levels, while a modern take on window shutters helps to prevent overheating by stopping solar gain entering the buildings directly.

At rooftop level, a shared landscaped space encourages households to engage with each other through socialising and play, with sky bridges that connect housing blocks. At ground level, the public square becomes a node for urban activity, with connection to the local primary school on one side and shops to the other. The pedestrianised space opens up opportunities as an everyday playground, and a place for regular events such as the farmers’ market and street parties.

Housing for people is what we love to do. Engagement with the community is key. Talk to us about how we can help with your architectural project, whatever size it is.

07 May 2020

A site massing and design parameter sketch for one of our current new-build house projects in Oxford. The plot is unusually wide for the street, which is predominantly made up of older, narrower house types. To avoid appearing overly prominent, the proposal has been broken down into smaller masses that are comparable to those on the street. This introduced the concept of a central circulation core, serving living quarters to one side and ancillary to the other.

The central core opened up an opportunity to, upon entering the home, immediately capture views to the rear garden and meadow beyond. The stepping of the façades brings in more natural light, while to the rear it maximises exposure to the south west sun – great for sunset views in the evenings. Conforming to existing building lines on the street side, as well as rules for neighbours’ access to daylight and sunlight, ensures the proposal adheres to planning policy.

Sketches like this help to visualise the concept and justify design decisions. Talk to us if you need help defining your brief, assessing site parameters, and visualising the concept for your project.

30 April 2020

Nine Houses in Dietikon, Switzerland, by Peter Vetsch. One of his more famous pieces of work, this extraordinary series of private family dwellings has the appearance of growing out of the ground. When we first visited, we were surprised about its location on a normal residential street, bar the fantasy castle opposite of course – the personal residence of Peter Vetsch to satisfy his wife’s desires (they were kind enough to open the door to say hello and tell us the story).

According to Vetsch, the organic form represents the connection between humans and their first shelter. He believes that we should live within organic forms surrounded by nature. The dome shapes were achieved using a formed steel structure and mesh with a spray-on concrete. This was insulated, waterproofed, and covered with earth to provide a thick substrate for plants to thrive on. This is known as an intensive green roof, providing garden space at rooftop level.

We specialise in growing plants on buildings and are committed to creating wonderful homes using ecological design principles. Talk to us if you are looking to create a new or refurbished eco home.

23 April 2020

What do children do at home? This concept board begins to explore some of the activities that young children get involved in at home. Some activities are messy, some require a calm environment, others will benefit from the natural light and warmth from the sun. For example, does waking up to daylight help with starting the day in a fresh and positive way? Which internal wall and floor finishes are best for easily mopping up spillages that won’t mind getting wet all the time?

This understanding has become particularly relevant in current circumstances, where we’ve been confined to the four walls of our houses. We’re spending much more time here than we normally would, and our homes have become places where we do everything. We can use this time to work out what is and isn’t working for us, and how we might change things for the better. Truly understanding how you use every aspect of your home really helps to define a design brief.

Our role is to work closely with our clients to gain a deep understanding of their brief and together, come up with solutions to an existing need. Talk to us if you have a project you would like to explore together.

16 April 2020

Despite the lockdown, we’re proud to announce another project start, this time for an office and workshop building in the Oxfordshire countryside. We’re helping our client extend their premises to create additional work space and storage. Part of the brief is to create new roof openings to capture this amazing view, which will change through the seasons. This will help to improve employee wellbeing, as well as providing more generous head height, natural light, and ventilation.

When sat at a desk looking at a screen for long periods, it’s important to take regular eye breaks. According to the HSE (Health and Safety Executive), exercise routines including blinking, stretching and focusing eyes on distant objects (for example through a window and to a distant view) can be beneficial. Making sure daily work consists of a mix of screen-based and non-screen-based work can prevent fatigue – this is why workspace layout and design is so important.

We know the key things to consider when designing beautiful spaces that promote good health and wellbeing. Talk to us if you’d like to plan your next building project.

09 April 2020

Save Safe Structural Timber. ACAN (Architects Climate Action Network) is running a campaign, and supporting the Timber Trade Federation’s response, to save the safe use of structural timber in buildings. There is currently a consultation by the UK Government asking for a review of the ban on the use of combustible materials in and on the external walls of buildings. This would affect all new residential buildings in the country with a floor above 11 metres (approx. four storeys).

Following the tragedy of Grenfell, the Government is doing the right thing in making buildings safer. However, the proposals could prevent the use of timber as a primary structural material, while there is no evidence that structural walls pose the same fire risk as external cladding. Thus, the two should not be treated in the same way. Furthermore, according to the CCC, timber has 60% lower embodied carbon than concrete and can help in tackling the climate emergency.

We will be submitting our response to the consultation before the deadline of Monday 13th April at 23:45. If this is important to you, make sure you do too by following the links above.

02 April 2020

One of our research projects titled ‘Sow Housing’ in East Oxford, and one of the sources of inspiration for our practice name ‘Sow Space’. The mixed-use development is primarily residential, incorporating a seed shop and cooking school, using produce from plants grown on and within the building fabric. The concept is about sowing the seeds of local edible produce, while at the same time, sowing the seeds for a higher quality built environment, and a more just society.

The design of the development makes use of several different methods for growing vegetation on the building fabric. This includes rooftop allotments, terracotta pots as balustrades, green wall shelves, espalier fruit trees, and a herb spiral rooftop viewing point – bringing people together. Meanwhile at ground level, wider joints between paving blocks capture wild seeds and help with sustainable urban drainage (SUDS), more commonly seen in some continental European cities.

Ecological building design for people is our passion and expertise. It is crucial to the wellbeing of our society. Talk to us about how we can help with the research and / or design of your building project.

26 March 2020

We are delighted to be starting a new extension, conversion, and whole-house refurbishment project in north Oxford. Whilst we’re quite keen on the yellow in this room, the newly purchased house is in need of an update. It presents a perfect opportunity for our client to create a wonderful new home in this next chapter of their life. The long and lush, south-facing garden is longing to be opened up to, while the garage and loft will create invaluable additional space for living and homeworking.

It is common to design new expanses of glass towards south-facing aspects. To prevent overheating, it is important to provide adequate shading, insulation, and ventilation, as well as to specify glass appropriately. Garage and loft spaces were never originally designed to be inhabited. When converting, insulation, thermal breaks, vapour control, and ventilation must be carefully considered. Otherwise, cold spots can result in damp, mould growth, and poor indoor air quality.

Extending and retrofitting your home is a once in a lifetime opportunity and is a large financial investment. Talk to us if you would like to understand how to do it beautifully and with minimum risk.

19 March 2020

These are strange and unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused huge disruption across the world, with the UK now bracing itself for lockdown, having announced home-working and school closures. Supermarket shelves are empty, while the NHS is bursting at the seams – even more so than usual. One positive is that communities are coming together. The Oxford Hub is running a Street Champions community response, which we have put our names forward for.

In terms of Sow Space’s response to this, the safety of our team, clients, and those we work with is the top priority. We are dedicated to delivering our projects without compromising on the quality of our service. We are restricting any face-to-face meetings and attending site visits only where it is absolutely necessary in order to complete the work. We are set up well to work from home and have facilities for virtual online meetings with screen share capabilities.

We are still open to new enquiries and are happy to run these virtually. Talk to us about how this can be done. These are challenging times, but we are confident that together, we will get through this.

12 March 2020

During a building project, especially extension and refurbishment, there may be work that needs to be carried out on or near a party wall. The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 is designed to prevent and resolve disputes in relation to party walls. The building owner must give the adjoining owner(s) (as opposed to tenants) notice of the work they plan to do. The adjoining owner(s) can either agree or disagree with the proposal. Where they disagree, mechanisms exist to resolve disputes.

So, what is a party wall? The term ‘wall’ is misleading, as a party wall refers to any structure that separates buildings of different ownership. There are three types of party wall notice: new building on line of junction, party structure, and adjacent excavation and construction. The relevant notice(s) must be served according to what work is being carried out. Depending on the level of risk and what is agreed, a condition survey and / or party wall awards may be carried out.

Party wall matters are often avoided by architects and left to surveyors. We can advise on and / or carry out the above, and act as party wall surveyor if necessary. Talk to us about how we can help.

05 March 2020

Futurebuild (formerly ecobuild) – “The responsibility for tackling the climate emergency lies in all of our hands and we must collaborate in order to find solutions to secure our future.” We attended the 3-day event at ExCeL in London yesterday, seeing several talks and lots of new and innovative building products. One keynote that caught our attention was about the retrofit roadmap and how government policy can enable retrofit to thrive.

This slide explains that other European countries, in particular the Netherlands and Germany, are investing much more heavily in retrofit than the UK are. We need to zero-rate VAT for deep retrofits, create low-interest financing options for retrofitting housing on a mass scale rather than on an individual basis, and we must invest in renewables. Making all new buildings net zero is also a priority, as we must stop adding to our retrofit problem.

While the government needs to do much more, different forms of grant do exist, including the RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive). Talk to us about what’s available and most suitable for your retrofit project.

20 February 2020

Indoor house plants can provide many psychological benefits to occupants, with the potential to improve mood, reduce stress levels, and increase productivity within work environments. Planting within pots has the benefit of keeping soil and water contained, whilst being portable if the plants need a change of environment, or your room needs a new look. Wet and humid areas, such as bathrooms and shower rooms, can provide environments for some plants to thrive in.

People are often unaware of the particulate matter (PM) within their homes produced by cooking, heating and fires, as well as the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) emitted by chemicals in carpets, upholstery, paint, and cleaning products. Studies show that while plants can reduce VOCs within small sealed chambers, their ability to improve indoor air quality (IAQ) is limited, due to typical air exchange rates within buildings. Thus, good ventilation is the best way to improve IAQ.

Sick building syndrome exists and can be caused by a poor indoor environment and IAQ. We always design buildings with this in mind. Talk to us about how we can help improve your indoor environment.

13 February 2020

Wood burning stoves are becoming more popular, providing both warmth and visual delight. They help satisfy our deep human connection with fire, right in the heart(h) of the home. Wood burning stoves can do wonders in an older property, or an older part of a property that has been extended. The thermal mass of masonry walls retains heat for slow release over longer periods, while heat from the fire can reduce humidity and prevent mould growth on cold surfaces.

On the other hand, burning solid fuels in our homes is impacting air quality and is the largest contributor to our national particulate matter (PM) emissions. The Government’s Clean Air Strategy aims to reduce PM by 30% by 2020 and 46% by 2030. Part of the strategy is the creation of smoke control areas (SCA) to restrict burning or provide exemptions on stoves and fuel. Your local authority will tell you if you’re in an SCA, while Oxford City Council has an interactive map.

Burning dry wood and chimney sweeping will help maintain your stove and reduce emissions. Talk to us if you are thinking about installing a wood burning stove as part of wider improvements to your home.

06 February 2020

We are thrilled to be starting another new project in Oxford. Our client is looking to extend and refurbish their tired 1930s semi-detached house to provide open plan living spaces that flow better, with an improved visual and physical connection to the garden. The brief also includes a requirement for an additional shower room and dedicated laundry facilities, as well as a flexible space for a home office and guest bedroom.

When coming up with a design solution to this brief, it is important to consider the building’s orientation, where the light naturally enters the home, and where the existing drainage is located. This dictates that living quarters should be located to the rear to take advantage of openness to the garden and make use of the house’s full width. The ‘utilitarian’ functions are suited to the centre of the house, where natural light is less important, and drainage is within close proximity.

Flexibility is an important asset to have in the home. Talk to us about how we can assess the way you live to come up with creative ideas for how to improve your home.

30 January 2020

For building regulations approval, which is better, a ‘building notice‘ or a ‘full plans‘ application? As architects, we would suggest that a ‘building notice’ is only used on smaller projects, where the work is of a simple nature and you have a competent and experienced contractor on board. Otherwise, we would always suggest a ‘full plans’ application, which consists of a detailed set of drawings that is fully coordinated with a structural engineer and any other required consultants.

This package of information is submitted to and approved by building control. Providing the construction work is carried out in line with the approved drawings, it will meet the regulations, which can avoid any nasty and potentially expensive surprises. On completion, a building control final certificate is issued, which is crucial when it comes to selling the property.

The building regulations are constantly changing, particularly Part L and F as building design changes in response to our climate emergency. We have a wealth of experience in this field. Talk to us about how to gain building control approval for your building project.

23 January 2020

Permitted Development (PD) Rights – what constitutes PD for householders? There are different classes (A-H) that cover different types of work. We are often asked about extension work, which falls under Class A. The key things to consider are; area coverage of site curtilage; distance to boundary; height; eaves height; length; relation to the principal, side and rear elevations; materials; roof pitch. These considerations will differ depending on the house type and location.

Understanding if a proposal falls under PD can be quite complex. Reference should be made to the Government’s technical guidance. We would always recommend applying for a certificate of lawful development. This confirms if the proposal conforms with the PD guidance and thus if it is lawful. Having the certificate becomes particularly important when it comes to selling the property.

Restrictions can apply if your house is in a ‘designated area’, is listed or has had PD rights removed. If PD would not satisfy your brief requirements, then planning permission would be required. Talk to us about what would be the best planning route for your project.

16 January 2020

The Government has a consultation setting out their plans for the Future Homes Standard and proposed changes to the Building Regulations. The aim is to increase the energy efficiency of new homes. However, the changes have fundamental flaws, and may even lead to homes that are less insulated than those built under the 2013 Building Regs. This is a step backwards during a time of climate emergency, when we should be aiming to deliver net zero carbon homes.

The proposed changes dissuade designers from adopting a ‘fabric first’ approach, by allowing the use of low carbon technologies (e.g. air source heat pumps) to pass a carbon target. This negates the need for a well-insulated building fabric. Using ‘carbon’ as a metric, as opposed to ‘at the meter energy’, results in inefficient homes that appear to be performing well. In addition, local authorities are to be stripped of their powers to go above and beyond the new Part L.

LETI (London Energy Transformation Initiative) have analysed the consultation and propose a direct response. Join us in becoming a signatory to the LETI Key Messaging by visiting: www.leti.london/part-l

09 January 2020

“Housing fit for purpose” – we received this wonderful new book as a Christmas gift. It represents the way we should be doing things at the start of this new decade. Written by our friend and former tutor / supervisor Fionn Stevenson, the book provides a comprehensive review of how and why we should be evaluating building performance, crucially in relation to its occupants. It educates on housing design quality and the impact this can have on people and the environment.

Feedback through post-occupancy evaluation (POE) is essential – how else can we know how successful a building project was without receiving any feedback from the people that use it? This becomes increasingly important with the rise of low energy retrofit, where a pre and post retrofit POE can be carried out to gain a true picture of life before and after. It can bring up issues that may not have been considered at the design phase, which we can then learn from.

We understand the importance of feedback in building projects. Talk to us about how we can use our experience to help you deliver a successful new project or evaluate an existing one.

19 December 2019

The Oxford School of Architecture at Oxford Brookes University now offers an alternative to the traditional qualification route to becoming an architect. The Architect Degree Apprenticeship allows those who have completed Part 1 (undergraduate degree) to carry out part-time study whilst working in practice, with intermittent ‘intensive’ workshops throughout the academic year. It is a refreshing alternative that we certainly would have considered during our education.

Last week, we were invited as visiting lecturers during the week-long ‘intensive’ to offer tutorials to students and feedback on presentations. Their projects were based within the Kings Cross masterplan in London, with some highly innovative ideas for sustainable design solutions. Some made use of the existing canal network with temporary / evolving ‘buildings’, while others looked at the upcycling of materials, often challenging the definition of architecture itself.

We enjoyed our role in educating the next generation and hope to become a future partner of the scheme. Talk to us about how our innovative design and research can inform your projects.

12 December 2019

Another post about rooflights! And following on from our other rooflight post, we previously discussed the downside of condensation forming on the outside of triple-glazing, blocking out the views beyond. Well, on a frosty morning, the alternative can be a series of spectacular frosty patterns instead. On this occasion, the ice formed this inspiring leaf-like arrangement, in an organic and intricate way that nature seems to create so effortlessly.

For this to happen, the external surface of the glazing must be below 0 degrees. The internal surface of the glazing should be a maximum of 3 to 3.5 degrees below the indoor air temperature to maintain satisfactory thermal comfort, which it was in this case. Clearly, these rooflights are performing very well thermally, with minimal heat escaping to the outside. Meanwhile, it is the imperfections in or on the glass that allow the patterns to form in such a beautiful manner.

We understand building physics. Talk to us about how we can help you design your home or building in a way that maximises your thermal comfort within a beautiful and inspiring space.

05 December 2019

Home of 2030. What will it be like? The desire is for a supply of new, long-lasting, green homes that are “healthy, safe and attractive places to live, that benefit people and communities”. This is exactly what Sow Space does, so we attended a workshop this week to give our two pennies worth. The workshop is one of a series run by the Design Council, an independent charity that advises the government on design, to help inform the brief for a design and delivery competition.

There was a great turnout, with people from a wide range of backgrounds, which was key to gaining a diverse and well-represented view on what makes a good home. Splitting into groups, we brainstormed and presented our views at the end. Our group effort focused on creating communities, with a strong connection to nature, whilst reducing consumption. Flexibility of working and new technologies were also identified as important considerations.

Are you thinking about how to improve or create a new home? We are already working on many homes and communities and would welcome the opportunity to speak to you about yours. Contact us here.

28 November 2019

We were one of 350 attendees at the Architects Declare Event yesterday, held within the aptly named Grand Hall of the Grade II* Listed Battersea Arts Centre, wonderfully transformed as an ongoing project by architects Haworth Tompkins. The event kicked off with hugely inspiring and motivating talks by Jeremy Lent, author of “The Patterning Instinct”, followed by Oxford-based Kate Raworth, author of “Doughnut Economics”, which perfectly set the scene for the day.

We split into groups to discuss the 11 declaration points. Sow Space formed a group to discuss how to upgrade existing inefficient buildings, to put one of our areas of expertise to good use. The reflection that followed, along with a session where signatories voted for future action with their feet, brought about an abundance of positive energy to the room. We ended with the thought that it is courage we need, not hope, in facing the challenges of preventing climate catastrophe.

Visit the Architects Declare website to see the declaration we have signed up to. Talk to us about how we are striving to meet our commitments and you can help us too.

21 November 2019

A big thanks to those who attended our talk last week on low energy retrofit! This came about following strong interest from local residents in understanding what they could do to their homes to combat our climate crisis. For context, the UK Government has declared a climate emergency and committed to net zero GHG emissions by 2050. The household sector alone represents 20% of total GHG emissions, while 80% of homes that will be standing in 2050 have already been built.

Clearly, we need a major upgrade of our existing housing stock, not only for energy and cost saving reasons, but thermal comfort too. Topics covered included the challenges and cost of retrofit, Passivhaus / Enerphit as a benchmark, the importance of POE. A long discussion followed, where one conclusion highlighted that if you only have a small sum of money to spend on retrofit, work out what the most problematic areas are and address these first to maximise enjoyment of your home.

Contact us if you’re considering a retrofit project alongside more major changes to your home. Otherwise, you can talk to Cosy Homes Oxfordshire, or find more info at GreenSpec and Energy Saving Trust.

14 November 2019

Trees play a critical role in tackling catastrophic climate change. According to Friends of the Earth, just 13% of the UK’s total land area has tree cover compared to an EU average of 35%, while Oxfordshire stands at only 9%. There is a campaign and petition to double Oxfordshire’s tree cover by 2045, which we have signed here. We will also be helping to plant 300 trees at the Croft Road recreation ground on Saturday 23 November, marking the start of National Tree Week.

One of the main challenges in ‘greening’ our cities with trees and plants is the amount of traditional hard surfacing in the form of buildings, roads, pavements etc. As well as removing our emissions, plants create ‘green corridors’, which helps wildlife to navigate our built environment, while growing edibles helps to reduce the ecological footprint of occupants. With some innovative thinking and design, buildings can be part of the solution by harbouring plant life within the building fabric.

Talk to us about how we can incorporate plant life on your building projects to make our built environment part of the solution to our climate crisis.

07 November 2019

A quick concept sketch for one of our current new-build house projects shows a connection to the main driving force behind the scheme – a spectacular view of a lush green meadow. Deer are often found jumping playfully through the meadow, and with the deciduous trees in the distance with the sky and clouds above, this view creates an ever-changing landscape for the occupants to enjoy and feel inspired by all day and all year round.

Our primary focus was to capture and frame this view upon entering the property. A double-height entrance hall space, with glazed gable and minimal visual obstructions aims to achieve this. The entrance hall forms a spine down the centre of the house, splitting the living and ancillary quarters. A viewing platform / bridge at first floor level makes something as routine as moving between rooms, a completely joyful experience.

Get in touch with us if you have a project in mind and we can help you get the best out of your site, whether that’s starting from scratch, or adapting and improving what you already have.

31 October 2019

We attended an ARTE documentary viewing last week titled ‘Rewilding Europe’. It was held within the spectacular Victorian neo-Gothic setting of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, designed by Benjamin Woodward, of the Irish practice Deane and Woodward. The documentary discussed lessons learnt from the re-introduction of wolves to the Yellowstone National Park in the US, with the aim to control the rising elk population. The introduction of one species had a profound effect on an entire ecosystem.

Another interesting topic was how to define ‘wild’? One definition was: ‘the ability to be entirely self-sufficient’, or in other words, ‘sustainable’. We drew many parallels from this with the architectural world, where all aspects of design must be considered to arrive at a solution that is best for the whole. Like ‘wild animals’, how can buildings utilise the ecosystem they exist within to become sustainable? Which resources can be harnessed to help buildings become net zero carbon?

Talk to us about how we consider the holistic ecological impact and sustainability of a building project.

24 October 2019

The humble rooflight. A means to introduce natural daylight and ventilation into a space. A view out to the bold blue sky, the tops of trees, ordinarily out of sight. There are many things to consider when specifying a rooflight. We installed six of them on our Croft Road project, making those spaces much brighter than other rooms in the house, due to the increased exposure to the sky. This has helped to reduce reliance on artificial lighting, whilst creating new views into the distance that never before existed.

Internal black-out blinds in the loft help the occupants get a good night’s rest, while external shutters to the south block out the hot summer sun. Triple glazed units provide superior thermal performance, although one downside is the condensation that forms on the outside, blocking some of those spectacular views. Another thing they help to block out, often not considered when specifying, is the passage of sound. This is especially apparent on a roof that receives a lot of rain!

Take a look at our projects and let us know if we can help you to maximise natural light or create new views within your home.

17 October 2019

We are incredibly excited about our new project start in Oxford – the extension and low energy retrofit of a 1930s semi-detached house. Our client has the highly admirable aspiration to achieve the Passivhaus standard, or Enerphit for retrofit projects, which would reduce existing energy use by 90% through the use of super insulation, an airtight building fabric, minimal thermal bridging and a mechanical ventilation system with heat recovery (MVHR). In our client’s words:

“Everyone needs to massively reduce energy demands to have any hope of curbing climate disaster. Passivhaus / Enerphit needs to be promoted – it makes so much sense for families, and the community, and could make a serious reduction to national energy demand if widely used.”

This typical semi makes up a large proportion of the existing housing stock, following the 1930s and inter-war housing acts that were responsible for their existence. This project has the potential to be considered as a positive model for others to follow.

10 October 2019

Taking on one of our ‘Architects Declare’ responsibilities to help educate the next generation of architects about our climate emergency and what we can do to address it, we gave a lecture this week at Oxford Brookes University, to year 2 architecture students about low energy retrofit. The lecture was held in the Sir Kenneth Wheare Hall, an excellent multi-functional space, within the newly refurbished Clerici building by Berman Guedes Stretton Architects. The space was a joy to use and a vast improvement in teaching and learning facilities since our days studying there!

One aim of the course module is to bridge the gap between academia and industry. Our lecture explained what low energy retrofit is and why it’s so important, we discussed energy standards including Passivhaus / Enerphit, we presented one of our live retrofit projects with the challenges involved, and finally we talked about post-occupancy evaluation (POE) and how crucial it is to learn from what we’ve done in order to improve. The students were highly engaged, asking intelligent questions on the subject. We look forward to the next time.

03 October 2019

“The twin crises of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss are the most serious issues of our time. Buildings and construction play a major part, accounting for nearly 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions whilst also having a significant impact on our natural habitats.

For everyone working in the construction industry, meeting the needs of our society without breaching the earth’s ecological boundaries will demand a paradigm shift in our behaviour. Together with our clients, we will need to commission and design buildings, cities and infrastructures as indivisible components of a larger, constantly regenerating and self-sustaining system.”

We are proud to be a signatory to the open letter declaring a climate and biodiversity emergency, making a commitment to positive action in response. To see the full letter and to sign up, go to:


26 September 2019

We often pass this gem when exploring the delightful Welsh village and lily ponds of Bosherston in South Pembrokeshire. Named ‘Styll’ or ‘Style’, this well-preserved Grade II listed building was an 18th Century farmhouse that boasts a fully slate-tiled front façade and roof. The small slates were most likely sourced locally, given the historical prominence of Pembrokeshire and Welsh Ordovician slate. Each one is unique, creating a completely uneven, rustic pattern that puts it at odds with the smooth and regular modern-day tiled surfaces. We love its distinctiveness and its ability to generate an ever-changing texture of light and shadow, according to the time of day. This intricate tapestry would have taken great skill and care to complete. Its hand-crafted aesthetic truly reflects the personality of those who installed it.

19 September 2019

We attended an engaging workshop yesterday about the role of innovation for social enterprises, run by local business network Oxfordshire Greentech. It was held at the Old Fire Station / Corn Exchange, based in the gothic red-brick buildings on George Street, designed by prolific Oxford architect Harry Wilkinson Moore. Arts at the Old Fire Station are doing great things for the arts, creativity and above all inclusivity and breaking down social barriers. They have created an excellent venue and an invaluable resource for the public.

During the workshop, we engaged in some fascinating discussions, covering such topics as; defining sustainability, the Social Value Act, the Buy Social campaign, Earth Overshoot Day, eco-tourism. Speakers and attendees included some of Oxfordshire’s most inspirational individuals and organisations, who shared with us some like-minded motives and values, with lots of potential for collaboration. We discussed how to promote ourselves as innovative market leaders, putting a strong emphasis on value over cost. It made us feel incredibly proud and positive that change is happening, and right on our door step.

12 September 2019

We attended a series of short talks last week about wildlife conservation at the beautiful Bernard Sunley Lecture Theatre, St Catherine’s College, designed by Danish architect Arne Jacobsen. The species discussed included the Sehuencas water frog, in the form of Romeo the world’s loneliest frog, as well as the rediscovered Togo slippery frog, both of which featured as successful survivors of extinction. Clearly, big change is required to help our planet’s wildlife to survive human-made climate change, and big change is required to do our part in striving for a low carbon and low impact society. Our main takeaway from the talks was that, in order to incite change, a captivating story or narrative really helps to engage people.