New London Architecture curated two lunchtime sessions at EcoBuild, bringing lively PechaKuchas on London’s air pollution and zero-carbon architecture.
If you missed them, here is a short summary of how they went:
Day 1: London’s air pollution – ideas for a healthier and greener city
London has the worst air pollution in the whole of the UK, and recent reports suggest that almost 7.9 million Londoners live in areas that exceed the limit by 50% or more. The average annual levels of PM2.5 in central London are almost double the guideline limits, putting the health of many Londoners at serious risk.
We invited experts from the built environment community to come up with some ideas to solve the capital’s air quality problem. What is the best approach to clean London’s air?
- Glenn Higgs, Associate Director at WSP, highlighted the importance of changing the way we move around, with transport as the number one source of pollution in London. We don’t have enough car-free days and we don’t just need cleaner electric cars, we need fewer cars. Behavioural change, alongside physical interventions, is key to achieve the Mayor’s ambitions of 80% of all journeys being made by public transport, cycling or walking by 2041.
- Julie Futcher, architect and consultant on applied urban climatology, shifted the discussion onto the urban climate and the way our buildings and streets impact temperature, wind and pollution. There is a dynamic relationship between the built form and the background climate on thermal comfort, the impact of daylight and ventilation, and the way green infrastructure and trees might affect or protect from pollution in different seasons.
- Hero Bennett, Sustainability Consultant at Max Fordham, stated that after transport, the second biggest source of pollution in London is gas combustion used for heating and hot water - NOx arisen from buildings. Despite greenery, such as green walls, playing a role in reducing air pollution the other important side to look at is to not produce the pollutant locally in the first place. Refurbishment and electrification are the two things we should focus on – this will help to reduce demand and remove combustion from London.
- Dr Catherine Scott, Research Fellow at the Institute of Climate and Atmospheric Science at the University of Leeds, talked specifically about the role of green infrastructure in reducing air pollution. There are 8.5 million trees in London now; these trees remove over 2,200 tonnes of pollution per year. However, we need to be careful where we place green infrastructure as pollution can be trapped under trees on a street if not placed correctly, having a counter-productive effect.
Day 2: Building a carbon neutral London – an architects’ response
The Mayor of London has set his ambitions to make London carbon neutral by 2050. What is the role of architects and those who design London in achieving carbon emissions targets? In the past 30 years the recognition of environmental challenges and, more recently, of climate change have become widely recognised, and new frameworks and policies have been put in place to address these issues. What have we been able to achieve so far, and how far do we still need to go?
Four architects presented how their work supports a view of a more sustainable future, highlighting the many steps that need to be done.
- Rab Bennetts, Founding Director at Bennetts Associates, presented a series of big challenges and how we could solve them. Low-carbon buildings should become the norm, however we would need better metrics to compare with other cities. We should start building a database of buildings types and propose solutions for each typology. Building should have a longer life-span, but above all stronger leadership and political will is key.
- Marion Baeli, Associate at PDP London, told us the importance of retrofitting, as most of the building stocks that exists today will still be in place for the next decade. In order to achieve climate targets we have to train architects on retrofitting, which is a big challenge given the scale of the task ahead.
- Michael Jones, Senior Partner at Foster + Partners, presented in detail the building that has been listed as the most sustainable in the world, the Bloomberg Building, recently completed in the City of London. From the façade with blades used for shading, to the ceiling, to the natural ventilation, the building is an example on how design combined with strong ethical commitment by the client can produce innovation and exemplar results for new building types.
Mike Taylor, Senior Partner at Hopkins, also presented an exemplar project, the WWF-UK’s Living Planet Centre. The design maximises on-site sustainable features and has been awarded the BREEAM Outstanding. The respect of nature was key for this project, with the existing trees being retained and a new wetland area created to provide a wildlife corridor, while enhancing the public realm onto the canal.