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.