23 July 2020

Following on from last week’s reflective post, the past 12 months have been a mixture of highs and lows. Understandably, and this goes for the country as a whole, the most recent few months have been incredibly difficult due to COVID-19 and the consequences it has brought with it. The lockdown period was deadly silent for us. It’s been widely reported that architecture and construction have been some of the worst hit, with many practices large and small losing projects and staff.

While the easing of the lockdown has not come without scrutiny, the Government’s decision to do this has much to do with boosting the economy. Fortunately for us, since that has happened, we’ve seen a direct response with a record number of new enquiries as the industry regains confidence. We’re very lucky that some of these have turned into live projects, which we will be announcing soon. On this road to recovery, we look forward to new opportunities to build back better.

In light of all this, some of us will be taking a well-deserved break from our screens, so there’ll be no journal posts for a few weeks! We’re still here though, so do get in touch to discuss your project.

16 July 2020

Happy birthday Sow Space! It’s been one incredible year since we officially launched our architecture and research practice. We’ve enjoyed every moment so far, even the difficult ones. The last 12 months have seen us build up a portfolio of exciting low energy projects, educate the next generation of architects about how we can respond to the climate and biodiversity crisis, team up with like-minded groups and individuals, and survive a (still ongoing) pandemic.

Our key projects have included new-build eco-homes, extensions and conversions, and low energy retrofits using Passivhaus principles. In one form or another, they’ve all been in line with our core values of creating quality and comfortable places for people, while reducing environmental and ecological impact. Together with the talks we’ve given to enthusiastic locals, and our collaboration with Cosy Homes, we feel proud that we’re doing something to help improve our society.

Thank you to everyone who’s supported us on our journey. We can’t wait to see what the next 12 months will bring. In the meantime, we have lots more exciting news to announce! Coming soon…

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.