12 November 2020

We have another new project for a Victorian terrace in East Oxford. Our client recently purchased this property, which has had some very odd extension and alteration work done to the rear. Rather than demolish whole sections of wall and support with steel structure, the previous owners created several small openings, which has resulted in a series of compartmentalised spaces with differing levels. Our client must now undo parts of these works to consolidate and rationalise the layout.

They would also like us to help them convert the loft into a habitable space. With a narrow plot and walls that are not perpendicular to one another, it will be a challenge to set out a staircase that enters the loft efficiently. Sat at the very top of the house, lofts tend to overheat easily too, which will become more of a problem generally as temperatures increase with climate change. As always, we will ensure that the loft is highly insulated, which helps to keep the heat out as well as in.

The lesson learnt is that when carrying out extension and retrofit work, plan in a way that prevents undoing work later, which can be costly economically and ecologically. Talk to us about phasing your project.

05 November 2020

Our existing older housing stock generally has limited glazing and thus relatively dark living spaces. Part of the reason is that windows and glazing are thermally inferior to solid wall and roof construction. However, advances in modern glazing (thermally broken frames and multi-pane glazing) are closing the gap. When we improve our homes, through extension and retrofit, we often add lots of glazing to help with passive solar gain and improving natural light and ventilation.

One of the benefits of this is that it creates an environment in which plants can thrive in, including edibles. According to the GFN, over a quarter of our ecological footprint is due to the food system. Growing edible plants in the home can help reduce our ecological footprint. Our research has shown that certain edibles are better grown in the home, such as tomatoes, salad leaves, herbs, and similar perishables. This is because they need more energy to package, refrigerate, and transport.

Greening our built environment is an important step in helping to tackle our climate and biodiversity crisis. This is one of our areas of expertise. Talk to us about how to achieve this on your project.

29 October 2020

It was a befitting scene, sat on the floor of a yurt in rural Oxfordshire with no electricity, only the light from a candle and the warmth of a woodburning stove. Yet with two bars of 4G, using Zoom on a smartphone, we joined the first Architects Declare regional meeting for the south / south east. Entitled “small things, big impact – learning from each other”, the focus was on the small changes we can make to collectively have a bigger impact on our climate and biodiversity crisis.

It was great to see a mixed turnout, both geographically and with a healthy handful of non-architects, promoting a multi-disciplinary approach. A range of short talks from regional practices provided useful input on this meeting topic. The team at Charlie Luxton Design showed good progress in quantifying project-related embodied carbon, and the challenge in meeting RIBA 2030 targets, while highlighting the further step required to achieve this during construction.

Well done and many thanks to Jacqueline Wheeler of Haworth Tompkins and Tam Landells of Ratliff Landells for co-hosting. We very much look forward to the next meeting.

22 October 2020

Another week, another new project start. This time for an extension and whole-house retrofit to an Edwardian terrace in East Oxford. The design of the extension and reconfiguration will optimise space, natural light, and preservation of historic features. An assessment of the most appropriate retrofit measures will be made, along with their likely costs. We’ll look to use natural materials for their low embodied energy and to maintain vapour permeability to the solid wall construction.

Our client told us they approached Sow Space for our expertise in low energy retrofit, having found very few architects in Oxford with this specialisation. We’ve been appointed for our POE services, where data will be collected in the form of thermography and temperature / RH monitoring, alongside occupant interviews / questionnaires. This will be done in collaboration with a research partner to help inform the design and further knowledge in this important area of research.

This hard-to-heat house type is found in abundance across Oxford and nationally. It can benefit from the Government’s Green Homes Grant scheme. Talk to us if you have a similar project in mind.

15 October 2020

Following an earlier post about the rammed earth wall at Kolumba, we promised a separate post about this incredible building by Peter Zumthor. Located in Cologne, a city that was completely destroyed during WWII, the building sits on the site of the former St. Kolumba church. When the church was lost, a small chapel was built by Gottfried Böhm in remembrance of the tragic bombing. Zumthor’s museum creates an architectural continuum, retelling the story of the place.

It does this by preserving and highlighting the destroyed fragments of the site, using a grey brick to unite them. A timber walkway weaves through the fragments, which include the remains of the former church, as well as old stone from Roman and medieval times. The mass of the new building is pinned up on slender columns to create a feeling of lightness, while the high-level wall perforations introduce a glow of dappled light that creates somewhat of a religious experience.

Visiting inspirational buildings, experiencing them first-hand, and learning from them helps us to replicate elements of their success. Talk to us about creating inspiring spaces with a low ecological impact.

08 October 2020

We’re looking forward to starting another new project in Oxford – an extension to a Victorian semi to create a new sun room / dining space. The orientation of the building and site mean that the new space will gain lovely new sunrise views during breakfast time, while openings to the south-facing roof will still capture early to mid-afternoon sun. The current dining room sits in the middle of the house, which is dark and disconnected from the kitchen and rear garden space.

The new extension replaces an existing conservatory. Although conservatories might seem like an affordable option for creating more space, they are often uninsulated and highly glazed, which itself is a poor insulator. This means they are only useable in the mid-seasons, but otherwise reach extreme conditions in the summer and winter. The proposal is likely to be built using timber frame and cladding, which would have low embodied energy and would be quick to construct.

Our old housing stock was not designed for current standards of living. Talk to us if you’d like an inspiring architect-designed home, whether it’s a new build, extension and / or retrofit.

01 October 2020

We are incredibly lucky to have Paola Sassi, an internationally-renowned specialist in sustainable buildings and environmental design, join Sow Space as a consultant. Her vast experience in ultra-low energy and closed loop buildings, both new build and retrofit, will provide important input on all design aspects of our projects. Her reputation in the field will help us to attract higher profile projects that are in line with our core principles of creating better spaces through ecological design.

Paola has been working with Simon on our retrofit collaboration with Cosy Homes, developing technical details and the building performance specification. She will also be working on a (soon to be announced) deep retrofit of a Victorian terrace in east Oxford. Paola’s proficiency in performance monitoring and post-occupancy evaluation will help us to better understand the way our clients use their buildings, which will influence design strategy and provide lessons for the future.

Paola’s affiliation with Sow Space increases the breadth and depth of what we can offer as a practice. Talk to us if you have a low impact project that requires our expertise.

24 September 2020

It’s World Green Building Week! It’s the World Green Building Council’s (WGBC) annual campaign to drive us all to focus on how we can deliver green buildings and to act now. According to WGBC, buildings are responsible for 39% of global energy-related carbon emissions, so it’s critical that we all work together to achieve our net zero building goals. WGBC’s Call to Action Statement calls for 2030 and 2050 targets to ultimately achieve net zero embodied and operational carbon.

We are acting now by talking to clients, peers, students (anybody who will listen) about the importance of our roles as architects, procurers, and members of society. We are focusing our work on low impact projects, based on ecological design principles, with an emphasis on low energy retrofit. Each one of us can act now by carrying out a low energy retrofit to our own homes. Remember that the Government’s Green Homes Grant will be available from end of September.

There’s not a better time to retrofit your home. The Green Homes Grant will only take you so far, so talk to us about how to make the most of it, and how to do it properly using a holistic approach. Image credit: IGBC

17 September 2020

We’re over the moon with our planning appeal win for our new build house project in Oxford. Many thanks to Michael Crofton Briggs for leading the appeal. Despite receiving pre-app advice on this project and designing in accordance with it, we were left frustrated with the council’s reasons for refusal. These focused on the “varying sized gables failing to integrate into the character and appearance of the streetscene”, therefore “failing to comply” with a number of policies.

To share some words from the inspector’s report, which perfectly sum up our design approach: “…the proportions of the gables used are a response to the unusual width of the site whilst reflecting that the development remains a single dwelling…this is an example of how the proposal would have a distinctive but complementary character informed by the unique characteristics of the site”. This shows that the council can get it wrong, and we should stick to our principles.

On with technical design. We’ll be inviting contractors to competitively tender in the new year, with a view to start construction in the spring. Talk to us if you’d be interested in this project, or any other new project.

10 September 2020

It’s been a while since we announced a new project, so here we are with another extension and retrofit to a 1930s semi in Oxford. We’ve grown quite accustomed to these, and it’s no surprise given their abundance on our suburban streets. In Oxford, there are several types, each with their own variation. This one is fairly typical with the gabled bay to the front, but what makes it unique is the mature fruit-bearing grape vine to the rear, which we’ll find a new home for in the proposed design.

We’re excited about our client’s ambition for an inspiring design with lots of natural light. In their words, “we want to hire an architect to be able to come up with something different to the standard extension, something a bit special, and to create a bright and inspiring place for us to connect with our garden all year round”. Located on a hill with a south-facing garden, we look forward to the challenging change of levels, and making the most of the site conditions and orientation.

We’ve got several more exciting projects in the pipeline that we hope to announce soon. We’re getting booked up fast so do get in touch if you’d like to discuss how we can help you create an inspiring new home.