Two years ago I had the pleasure of working on what is now officially credited the UK’s greenest building. The Enterprise Centre of University of East Anglia set out from its inception to be a research piece of construction to test low energy technologies and materials. The building is an education / conference space with office start-up facilities. It set out to be ‘Carbon Exemplar’ meaning that even in 20 years time, this was still to be the lowest energy building.
Every material used by architect studio Architype in the construction was carbon assessed for its production as well as the distance travelled. Hence the local Thetford Forest trees were structurally tested for their properties. Much could have been sourced in this way but one of the first lessons learnt was that timber production in the UK is not geared up for direct orders. We have access to the material but scale of production means the majority of our timber is sourced from Scandinavia.
The iconic cladding of straw was a direct inputting of modern standardised construction techniques to a local craft. Not only is the façade and insulation all locally grown, the production of this building has re-invigorated the local craftsmanship and skills.
My part was to design a lighting scheme that was a fraction of the energy consumption yet deliver a functioning workplace education institute. In any building lighting uses 1/3 of the energy once a building is completed, the others being heating and facilities. Yet this project was designed to have no heating, an example of how radically standard systems within all projects were being fundamentally questioned, but an example that would have made standard lighting now 60% of the overall energy consumption.
The heating was eliminated by the use of a patented Austrian system called Passivhaus. Without going in to too much detail this system relies on a combination of:
- Daylight orientation of the building to bring in solar IR during the winter months and block in the summer
- Holistically sealing all possible heat leaks through all material junctions in the building and maintaining a single point air flow with local heat adjustment
- The high degree of insulation actually means that the occupants are providing the heating (we’re each equivalent to 100watts!)
So in order to look at lighting we knew we had to offer a saving of approximately 70% to be in keeping with the principles of the project. Modern technologies are offering dramatic reductions in energy but nothing beats turning the lights off, or even better, don’t even install the lights.
So we researched what offices and education institutions looked like in 1910 and 1920 and found startling images that all lighting at this time was local to desks - lamps were expensive in this period so that were used very sparingly. The rest of the spaces were daylit. We discovered that many of our modern building forms from the 1950s negate daylight and natural cycles as fluorescents and electricity production dramatically cheapened to the point that we now take lighting attached to ceilings a basic standard.
The end result is a building that has minimised any systems at all in the ceiling, all services are locally and naturally attuned to when and where people are.
Yes the building gets dark in areas in the evening but our two years of surveys of the staff all uniformly indicate that they all greatly appreciate working in an environment where the seasonal and daily natural changes are fully part of their workplace.
Our next challenge in green building is to get our evidence and occupancy surveys applied to the large office developments across our cities - these do not need the blanket lighting and air systems constantly burning carbon when the building’s empty. But this project also tells us directly of how we live within our own homes, the next time you re-decorate or upgrade your kitchen, ask where the materials are from, why are you placing lamps all over your ceiling - you don’t need them - and before you install any heating, do you know where the heat is leaking out in the first place?
Colin Anthony Ball is an award winning lighting designer working at firm BDP
Pictures courtesy of BDP/Dennis Gilbert