AECB Conference, Article by Laura Mark – a Great Success Again

This article by Laura Mark appeared in the Autumn 2013, Volume 23, No. 2, Green Building Magazine


AECB Conference – a Great Success again

Last month’s AECB conference took us to the Yorkshire city of Bradford, held in the university’s Norcroft Centre. Although it was rumoured that numbers had dropped due to ‘going up North’, this didn’t make a huge difference on the ground. There was still plenty of friendly chatter between members, discussing everything from Passivhaus to the vegetable patches of the student accommodation that we were staying in.

The conference kicked off with the announcement of a branding update for the organisation. The AECB has moved away from its blue logo, replacing it with green, reinforcing their ‘core ethos and ethics’. The strapline ‘building knowledge’ has been added. This perfectly describes the conference and what it is all about – a chance to share knowledge with fellow AECB members.

Hattie Hartman, AJ sustainability editor began the talks, with a presentation on mainstreaming green design. This took us through sustainable buildings in the media and the importance of teaming environmental features with good architectural design – something which is key to coverage at The AJ.

As ever the conference’s workshop sessions varied tremendously in topics, including sustainable water strategies, healthy buildings, Passivhaus, vernacular architecture, airtightness, and tours of the university’s own buildings. From the conference’s twenty-something sessions it’s always difficult to choose which to attend – and this year made no exception.

I began with a talk by David Gale of Gale and Snowden Architects – an introduction to building biology and ecology. His lecture gave a scary but eye opening look into the factors that are making our buildings unhealthy.

In the second seminar I attended Cath Hassell, of ECH2O, joined by Nick Grant, lead a spirited discussion on the AECB’s water standards, talking us through a past Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) review looking at BRE’s water calculations versus the standards.

‘With a public consultation due for March 2013, we are still waiting, and water standards within the code for sustainable homes are still based on nonsense’, said Hassell.

It seems to be that water standards used in building regulations, the code for sustainable homes, and BREEAM need to change. But so much money has already been spent on their development, that no-one quite seems willing to let them go just yet. I’ll eagerly await the government’s red-tape smashing housing standards review to see what impact this has on water standards.

One of the more unusual talks for the AECB conference was probably one which I enjoyed the most. Clare Nash, who runs her own architecture practice Clare Nash Architecture, in Northamptonshire, gave a talk entitled ‘Can vernacular technologies be used to inform modern sustainable housing design?’. This looked at traditional building techniques in the context of developing sustainable housing models.

The UK is currently in the midst of a housing crisis. We need more than 300,000 extra homes to be built each year if we are to meet housing demand. Yet few of these will be built with sustainability in mind, despite rising climate change issues.

‘Notable UK housing schemes winning awards today respect local vernacular, even using it for inspiration in their designs. They have a strong focus on solar orientation, mass walling and they integrate landscape and community space’ said Nash, as she showed us images of the Stirling Prize winning Accordia development in Cambridge – arguably one of the best housing schemes of recent years.

Nash added that vernacular buildings often resulted from ‘forced sustainability’ – where people had to build with what was available rather than consciously aiming to build sustainability. With peak oil, climate change, scarce resources, perhaps we are returning to a time when sustainability is again becoming ‘forced’.

Nash had travelled around the world to gather case studies of cultures which had learnt from their vernacular architecture and used it to inform modern sustainable design. This made for an interesting and insightful talk.

This was the fourth AECB conference I have attended, and as ever it was filled with interesting talks and insight into the best in sustainable building. The conference has an ethos of friendly collaboration, and knowledge-sharing permeated the event. This open environment for sharing ideas and best practice should be followed by more. Let’s hope this continues for many more years to come.

Laura Mark is technical reporter at The Architects Journal