04 March 2021

Cob building is a construction technique that’s been around since prehistoric times. It’s been used for centuries in the south-west of England, while more than 30 per cent of the world’s population are still living in buildings that are constructed out of earth. The main materials used are subsoil, straw, water, and occasionally lime. The beauty of cob is that, depending on location, the subsoil can be extracted from the site itself, making it a very low impact construction technique.

Cob has seen a revival in recent times, as we look to sustainable forms of construction to meet our climate and energy targets. Although it’s not suitable for every application, the benefit of its very thick walls (around 600mm) are good thermal mass and insulation, which help to reduce temperature fluctuations through the extremities. As with any form of construction, a ‘good boot and hat’ (foundation and roof overhang) will go a long way to keep walls dry and sound.

We understand cob construction, along with many other forms of low-impact and sustainable construction techniques. Talk to us about the possibilities for your architectural project.

25 February 2021

What a view! We’ve been appointed to carry out a feasibility study for a new dwelling overlooking this stunning scenery, over a meadow and on to the woods in the distance. Sunsets will certainly be very special moments. The client has aspirations for a net zero carbon building. A fabric-first approach will ensure a highly insulated and airtight fabric. Orientation will be carefully considered to optimise for passive solar gain and solar PVs, while making the most of those views.

The site has a number of semi-mature trees, which will partly dictate the building form and layout. Timber frame construction with timber cladding will not only ensure it remains discreet within its setting, but also result in a lightweight building to minimise foundations, as well as to lower embodied carbon. The site is close to, but not within, a conservation area. This has prompted us to carry out a planning pre-app to gauge the planners’ appetite for building in this location.

All new dwellings should be net zero to help reduce the ecological impact of our built environment and to avoid adding to our future retrofit problem. Talk to us about your low impact project.

18 February 2021

Originally native to the Iranian plateau, the pomegranate was distributed to Asia and other parts of the world through traders and warriors. It became a popular symbol in ancient Asian and Mediterranean art, representing both death and fertility in Ancient Greece and Rome, and appearing as a design motif in oriental rugs. Botanically a berry, the pomegranate is quite the unique fruit, with its hard outer layer (epicarp) and inner soft layer (mesocarp) containing lots of fleshy seeds.

Natural colours from the plant have played a historical role in art and architecture. Dye makers produced a red colour from its flowers, while tannin found within its rind, produces different colours in combination with different materials. For example, black when combined with iron and a mild yellow when exposed to air. Modern day research has shown that chemicals within the plant, such as polyphenols, might contribute towards preventing certain conditions and diseases.

Image credit: This beautiful depiction of the pomegranate fruit and seeds was painted by the very talented Shuchang. See her work here: instagram.com/shuchang92/

11 February 2021

Our first new project start of the year! We’re delighted to be helping another client realise their aspirations for an extension and low energy retrofit of this 1930s semi. This particular house type in East Oxford is very compact, so significant alterations will be made to the rear to give this client and their growing family more living and bedroom space. It’s a perfect opportunity to design the new build elements to a high standard of energy efficiency, using natural materials and finishes.

A view will be taken on how to improve the existing fabric of the house, considering wall, roof, and floor insulation, along with replacement windows. Careful consideration will have to be made at wall and window junctions, particularly in relation to the front porch and bay windows, to ensure there is a continuity of insulation and airtightness. Adequate ventilation will be equally important, which is often forgotten on retrofit projects, leading to poor indoor air quality and damp issues.

When considering low energy retrofit, it’s important to appoint an architect with experience of the above issues, otherwise more harm can be done than good. Talk to us about your retrofit project.

04 February 2021

Another planning permission secured for one of our extension projects in Oxford! This side extension will replace a conservatory that’s not fit for everyday use. Although small in size, the extension will transform the way this family uses their home, migrating the dining room from a dark central area of the house, to a light-filled space to the rear looking onto the garden. Mealtimes will be much more enjoyable, as the sun moves from the rear in the mornings, over the south-facing roofights.

The extension will be built to a high standard of energy efficiency, which will help balance the inefficiencies of solid wall construction in this Victorian house. The opening rooflights and bi-fold doors will much improve ventilation, while the client intends to utilise the tall vaulted ceiling space to hang clothes to dry and suspend potted plants. Timber cladding on the outside will create a warm, contemporary aesthetic, using a robust natural material that will slowly silver over time.

Our existing housing stock can often be dark, cold, and draughty. Talk to us if you’d like an architect that specialises in sustainable and ecological design to transform your home.

28 January 2021

We’re reviewing building materials for one of our Oxford house projects, which will consist of brick and a vertical timber cladding to the walls, and a series of zinc pitched roofs. Photos of materials never give a true representation, so it’s essential to review real samples. The greyer brick and zinc provide a more contemporary look, while the more buff brick and red zinc create a warmer feel. Timber on the other hand will change colour over time, silvering as it weathers and ages.

This palette shows three timber samples treated with varying degrees of a water-based silicate protector. This accelerates the ageing process to help timber reach its silver state more quickly and consistently. Likewise, it’s important to consider the type and application of brick. F2 freeze thaw durability and S2 active soluble salts content mean they are suitable for use as an on-edge capping, as well as below DPC where they’ll be exposed to moisture from the ground.

As architects, we choose materials with a long life expectancy and / or low-embodied energy to consider environmental impact, among many other aspects. Talk to us about the impact of your building project.

21 January 2021

Almost exactly one year ago, we joined in with the LETI (London Energy Transformation Initiative)-led response to the Government consultation over their plans for the Future Homes Standard and proposed changes to the Building Regulations. The proposed changes had fundamental flaws, allowing the use of low carbon technologies to pass a carbon target. Using ‘carbon’ as a metric, as opposed to ‘at the meter energy’ could have led to inefficient homes appearing to perform well.

In a U-turn, the Government will be retaining FEES (Fabric Energy Efficiency Standard) in Part L. This will encourage architects and designers to adopt a ‘fabric first’ approach, to make new homes highly energy efficient, which will be key to tackling our climate emergency. In addition, the government has formally scrapped a proposed block on local authorities setting their own energy efficiency standards for new homes in their local plans, at higher levels than Building Regulations.

While standards could be more stringent and timescales more ambitious, this is generally a positive step forward, especially in light of our recent partnership with the Oxford Zero Carbon Homes Initiative.

14 January 2021

What is BIM? BIM or Building Information Modelling is essentially a process, designed to create and manage information for construction projects. It facilitates the coordination of information within a design team, improving efficiency and minimising room for error. The output is a digital 3D model, where each and every component of the building is described in data. This forms an intelligent map of a building, where many elements of the documentation can be automated.

For us as architects, it does mean more legwork up front through inputting of information. However, it streamlines the process over the course of a project and encourages us to think about how something we design might be built. For clients and end-users, we’ve found that 3D images and in particular walk-throughs really help to visualise the final outcome. It’s especially helpful for irregular spaces, for example within a vaulted roof, which can be difficult to visualise in plan.

We use BIM on every project and would find it challenging to go back to the ‘traditional’ way of working! Talk to us if you have an architectural project that you’d like to explore with us.

07 January 2021

The Oxfordshire Zero Carbon Homes Initiative (OZCHI) was launched last month. Achieving zero carbon homes (embodied, operational, and connection to the natural world) across the board must be made a priority to help tackle our climate and biodiversity crisis. Making new build homes zero carbon is even more important, as we don’t want to add to our future retrofit problem. While new build should be an easy win, there are still many barriers to overcome.

This initiative will help to break down those barriers to make zero carbon homes a pragmatic reality. Sow Space wholeheartedly supports the initiative and is proud to be a partner, alongside Oxford Friends of the Earth, Greencore Construction, Bioregional, and Jessop and Cook Architects. As a first step, we need key stakeholders who are involved in housing or house-building in any capacity to complete our short survey here, and to share it far and wide.

To find out more about the OZCHI, or how to partner with or support the initiative, you can visit the Oxford Friends of the Earth website here or talk to us.

17 December 2020

Another new retrofit project! We love doing these. This client found us through a previous client – it’s always satisfying to be referred through a job well done. We’ll be looking to extend this 1950s semi, which is the best time to consider a low energy retrofit too. With the client’s fixed budget, we’ll be helping them look at different retrofit options and to prioritise what works for them. If it can’t all be done at once, we can look at careful phasing, to prevent work being undone in the future.

As with our last new job, we’ll be aiming to create flexible and adaptable spaces for home working. There’s an assumption that home working results in a net reduction in emissions due to reduced commuting travel. However, a CREDS study has shown a ‘rebound’ effect due to greater use of home appliances, heating, cooling, and lighting, as well as increased ‘non-work’ travel. This highlights how doubly important it is to retrofit our homes as home working becomes a new norm.

Making your home energy-efficient can make your office energy-efficient too. Talk to us if you’d like to create additional home working space and reduce energy consumption at the same time.