10 December 2020

Window thermal performance and the terminology that comes with it can be confusing. Manufacturers may quote u-values for certain elements of the window, but it’s the whole window u-value we’re interested in, and even better, the installed window u-value. Generally, the glazing has a higher performance than the frame, so the less frame the better. We therefore need to know the area and length of frame / glazed edge (psi values) to understand the whole window u-value.

The British and European standard for calculation is for the whole window u-value, so this is what we should expect from manufacturers. However, the Passivhaus methodology also takes into account how the window is installed into the wall. This gives a more complete picture of a building’s fabric performance, and highlights the importance of robust window installation detailing, i.e. where in the wall a window should be installed and how thermal bridging can be minimised.

We have a good grasp of building fabric performance, which is key to designing for low energy and thermal comfort. Talk to us about your low energy retrofit, extension, or new build project.

03 December 2020

We’re very fortunate that the projects are coming thick and fast. Our latest new project involves tearing down this garage to make better use of the site. We love the bold colour of this door against the neutral coloured render, but the garage is no longer fit for purpose, with crumbling walls and an asbestos roof. It makes way for a two-storey side extension, to provide extra living accommodation at ground floor, and additional bedrooms / home office spaces at first floor.

The pandemic and resultant working from home boom has meant that home office spaces are now regularly at the top of the agenda. We have always encouraged flexible and adaptable use of space, and this has become key to the home working culture. Work space by day, living space by night, guest room by occasion, carefully planning the layout of a room means it can have multiple functions. Furniture and storage become particularly important in these circumstances.

Creative use of space is what architects are good at. We love space-planning and the challenges that come with it. Talk to us if you’re considering adding to or altering the space within your home.

26 November 2020

Bamboo has a long history in construction. As a building material, it has a high strength-to-weight ratio and grows at an astonishing rate, with some species growing 91cm per day. This makes it highly versatile with huge potential for sustainability and carbon sequestration. However, some natural forests in Asia have been cleared for bamboo plantations, to then be distributed around the world. This should be taken into account when considering its environmental impact.

We attended a practical workshop where we learnt about the principles of bamboo construction, putting them in to practice by building a small temporary structure. We were surprised at how easy bamboo is to handle and construct with, using basic tools such as hand saws, drills, and files. Reclaimed tyre inner tubes were used to secure the connections. The end result was incredible strength using very few pieces, which stood the test of several people hanging on it!

We have the passion to explore various forms of construction techniques, while considering its wider environmental impact. Talk to us about the opportunities available for your architectural project.

19 November 2020

Planning permission granted! Following a long drawn out process, we finally received consent to make external changes to this Victorian terrace in the St. Clement’s and Iffley Road conservation area (CA). The changes include replacing the uPVC casement windows with double-glazed timber sash, inserting rooflights, and installing two solar PV arrays. Together with a series of retrofit measures, these changes will improve the energy efficiency and thermal comfort of the property.

Normally, such changes would fall under permitted development (PD), as this particular CA is not subject to an article 4 direction. However, as this property was split out as a maisonette from the original, it’s not afforded the same PD rights. This put it under the scrutiny of the conservation officer, who wanted traditional weighted sash windows, whereas the house next door can freely install any windows they like. This highlights the serious flaws within the planning system.

Navigating the planning system can be a bit of a maze. Knowing which retrofit measures require planning permission and which can be done under PD is not always clear. Talk to us to learn more.

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.