Sunday 10 October 2004

  Careers and competitions

Coming up next time (10 November):
Regulations round-up - what's going on with Part L and the EPBD
Pick of the papers - recent research reports
Regulars - books reviews, jobs and competitions

Thanks to:

The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) for access to the 2004 CIBSE National Conference.
SPONGE, for kind support and an invitation to visit 30 St Mary Axe.

Choose a sustainable career

It's nice to start off the new academic year with a few rousing conference speeches. I'm not talking about the "grey men in suits" doing the party politicals, but the brightest and best of the UK's building services industry, who met last week to share their knowledge and enthusiasm for a career whose time has surely come.

Opening CIBSE's 2004 National Conference, president Graham Manly reported that UK carbon emissions were 11 percent higher in 2003 than in 2002, while keynote speaker Sir David King, the government's Chief Scientific Advisor and head of the Office of Science and Technology, gave us the latest shocking news that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas) now stand at 379 parts per million (ppm) and rising fast. Citing recent evidence from 3-km long ice cores taken in the Antarctic, which shows that carbon dioxide concentrations are typically 270 ppm during a "classic warm period", Sir David confirmed that the science of climate change is well understood, despite the efforts of a few noisy sceptics, and he called for bold and urgent action.

Sir David had clearly come to the right place. The good news is that the presentations and posters which followed (of which, more below) highlighted the actions that enlightened businesses and designers are already taking. Nevertheless, there is still much work to be done. Throughout the conference, education was cited as an essential part of that work, and we hope that Get Sust! will be seen as a useful resource and source of inspiration for students and young practitioners who, after all, are in pole position to have a positive impact on all our futures.

And on that topic... We've heard much about the construction industry's "skills shortages" in the national press, but Simon Bartley of SummitSkills (the "sector skills council") made the interesting point that the industry's poor image is not solely to blame. Demographic changes mean that there will be fewer 16-year-olds over the next decade, but to make matters worse, fewer of them will be entering the workforce because more will be staying on at school. There will be fewer 18-year-olds too, but there will be more graduates looking for work.

What can be done to encourage more people to enter this industry? Well, playing the "environment" card is one option. CIBSE laid on an extra session at the start of its conference this year, specially for "young engineers". Kate Crawford and Chani Leahong, who were on the winning team of CIBSE's Carbon 60 Challenge (see Get Sust! no. 5), gave a lively and enlightening presentation that showed the incredible variety of projects that building services engineers take part in - from a sustainable modular housing project in Manchester, to a mammoth temple in India that is pushing the boundaries of sustainability, with its design life expectancy of one-thousand years. Elsewhere around the conference, post-graduate students were commended for their research skills (see below). All enjoy the daily challenges their work poses, but equally gain the satisfaction that each project is one small step in the right direction for the global environment.

This issue of Get Sust! covers a handful of stories from the CIBSE conference in more depth, plus picks up one or two snippets that you may have missed during the summer vacation. We also take a peak inside London's landmark, the Swiss Re tower, courtesy of SPONGE. Hope you enjoy it.

Look out for Get Sust! no. 7 on 10 November, when we'll be returning to the regular format of news, reviews and events. In the meantime, keep the news and comments flowing in. Send items and requests for information to

Learn more:

The keynote speeches and a number of other presentations to the CIBSE conference were webcast live, and will be available to "view again" from CIBSE's website later this week, where you will also be able to download many of the presentations.

© Melanie Thompson 2004

How green is the Gherkin?

Next week (Saturday 16 October), Channel 4 will broadcast the Stirling Prize award ceremony. Thanks to an invitation from SPONGE, Get Sust! was able get a sneak preview of one high-profile finalist - 30 St Mary Axe, aka the Gherkin - which has been hailed for its environmental credentials.

Be in no doubt; this is an impressive-looking building. At forty storeys, you can see it from the M25, but as I left the Tube station at Aldgate, the glinting glass facade had vanished from view behind so many conventional city office blocks. Approaching on foot from the West, through the City's ancient and narrow passages, I couldn't help but grin with delight when I arrived at the sunny piazza that forms the base of this 21st-century landmark (which, incidentally, the designers prefer to call "a pine cone"). But can a glass-clad skyscraper ever really be green? The client (Swiss Re) and the architect (Foster and Partners) think it's worth a try.

Sarah Fox, New Buildings Director at Swiss Re explained the company's philosophy and aspirations for its flagship building, and how it works closely with staff to minimise the usual waste associated with office work - for example, having waste monitors and "switch off" monitors; separating paper waste from other waste; and being mindful about the ethics of companies it works with. Then Rob Harrison, project architect of Foster and Partners, took us through the design aspects of the building, using software simulations to explain the building's environmental strategy.

At capacity, this building could have 4000 occupants (at 10 m2 per person). Each office space can accommodate up to 30 staff, and is 16.5m wide and up to 15m wide (on a mid-level storey). The double-skin facade - double-glazed outer layer; blinds; inner glass skin - offers 0.8W/m2K thermal insulation. Total energy consumption is predicted to be 150kWh/m2.

The design team has given some thought to "whole life" issues. For example, the structural elements should last for 120 years, and waste materials from the previous building on the site were used as back-fill under the basement slabs. Mr Harrison also cited: lighting controls linked to daylight levels; presence detectors in unoccupied areas such as toilets; encouraging occupants to use public transport (there are only 18 parking spaces in the basement); and "ethical" sourcing of some materials (e.g. FSC-certified timber for internal cladding; granite from South Africa instead of Zimbabwe). These "sustainability" measures are what we have come to expect, so what makes this building so special?

Well, imagine that the building is made of a pile of CDs held in place by a pole. (The pole represents the building's core, where services are located.) Now take out six triangular bites at regular intervals around each CD, rather like taking slices from a cake. Then twist the pile of CDs so that the bites are no longer directly above each other but spiral upwards at a 5-degree offset. These "bites" are in fact lightwells, which bring daylight deep into the plan. But they are also the building's lungs. Motorised windows on the outer skin of the facade open into these wells, where outside air is warmed passively before it travels through the occupied spaces and is discharged into vents where heat is reclaimed before the air is flushed back into the main facade where it helps to cool the blinds (a process that is reversed in winter). The computer simulations made it look quite simple...

Our heads buzzing with facts and figures, the 30-strong SPONGE party rode the elevators to the 39th floor and ascended a short staircase to the private lounge/bar that is the crowning glory of the tower.

Dressed in stylish black, this bar must surely be London's most impressive venue. You can see for miles across the capital. But personally, I preferred to look up. Apart from glass and the network of triangular struts that frame the glazing, there was nothing between us and the sky. I wondered how it would feel to be up here during a storm; and looked around for signs of the rotating solar-tracking device that I'd read about, which would surely be needed on sunny days.

But the shading device wasn't there; and as the SPONGE party descended to one of the unoccupied floors, we began to wonder just how green a glass skyscraper can really be.

Standing in an unoccupied office space we could see that the passage of fresh air was not quite as simple as it had seemed from the computer simulations. We had already heard that the lightwells do not stretch right up the building, but are interrupted at every sixth storey because fire compartmentalisation had had to be incorporated. We were also told that there could be a 30-degree temperature difference between the bottom and top of the lightwells.

Now, while one side of the triangular lightwell is the double-glazed outer facade, the second side is glazed, and the third is a balcony onto the lightwell. What if tenants decide that they prefer to have the third side glazed too - perhaps to prevent noise travelling from upper or lower floors within the six-storey section? Then they would still have the daylight, but would need to rely on the air-conditioning which, in any case, will be needed for a significant proportion of the year. (The designers expect that the building can operate in "mixed-mode" for 40% of the year.) On the other hand, the building management system can control air-conditioning separately in each zone, so one tenant's decision ought not to adversely affect another's.

Over the next few weeks there will be even more column inches devoted to it. But what they won't tell you is whether the building lives up to its ambitious aims. The "good practice" energy consumption benchmark for a prestigious office is 348kWh/m2, so a predicted energy use of 150kWh/m2 will be a tough target for this glass giant, considering that an equally feted 48-storey tower at Four Times Square in New York is aiming for 40 percent less than the local building code.

And what of the solar shading for the bar area? Rob Harrison says that the shade was designed, but it couldn't be installed within the contract period. Moveable screens around the perimeter of the restaurant will be fitted soon, but the main shading device is now "on hold" to see if it is really needed.

30 St Mary Axe is certainly a grand design, but will it be a delightful place to work? We will have to wait and see. Swiss Re says it will monitor the building's performance, and that it will review people's feelings about the need for shading in the restaurant. Let's hope that the data is published, so that we can all learn the lessons of this great glass landmark.

Learn more:

See also
Read "Gherkin, Interior" by Martin Spring, Building magazine, 30 April 2004, pp48-53.
Energy benchmarks for office buildings can be found in "Energy use in offices" (ECG019), published by the Carbon Trust's Acton Energy programme.
  A slightly longer version of this article has been published on the SPONGE website at

© Melanie Thompson 2004

Courses must try harder

A survey conducted by SPONGE has found that many construction-related academic courses fall short of expectations when it comes to teaching about sustainability.

SPONGE is a registered charity that raises awareness of sustainability issues among its network of young construction professionals. The survey, which has been in development since October 2003, set out to assess its members' perceptions of the construction industry. The results, released in June, show that only 40 percent of respondents were happy with the attention their courses paid to sustainability, and only one of the professional institutions - the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) - was cited as a valuable source of information, behind the Building Research Establishment (BRE), but just ahead of CIRIA, the Construction Industry Research and Information

Learn more:

View the original survey form, and read the results at

© Melanie Thompson 2004

Commendation for modelling

Yingchun Ji, a PhD student at De Montfort University's Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development was commended for his poster presentation at the 2004 CIBSE national conference, which demonstrated how software techniques can cut the cost of modelling air flows for natural ventilation schemes.

Yingchun Ji used computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to predict the way air flows around a naturally ventilated building. He then compared his findings with those obtained using more traditional techniques.

Although CFD is growing in popularity, there is still a need to refine the technique, which will both improve the quality of the results and cut the cost to users.

Yingchun Ji's CFD modelling results compared well with established methods, and the tests were less time-consuming to perform. They also provided more detailed information about the overall performance of the test model. The next step is to compare the CFD predictions with the performance of a "real" building, which would have more complex airflows.

Learn more:

Read Yingchun Ji's paper "Numerical studies on natural ventilation flows in an enclosure with both buoyancy and wind effects", and other papers from the 2004 CIBSE National Conference at, where they will be posted later this week.

© Melanie Thompson 2004

Enter the labyrinth

No... it's not the latest game for your X-box; and it's not the working title for a new Indiana Jones movie; it's a cooling system that a team from Atelier Ten has successfully created in locations as diverse as Melbourne, Australia and Doncaster, UK.

Patrick Bellew, Director of Atelier Ten, explained to the CIBSE conference how his team created a de-coupled heat store in the form of an underground labyrinth, which is used to cool a highly glazed atrium at Federation Square, an ultra-modern arts and media complex in Melbourne. The labyrinth in this case was located in an existing "space" between the surface and underground train tracks.

But at the Earth Centre near Doncaster, a 12.5-km concrete maze-like structure was specially constructed below the visitor centre. Here fresh air is taken in at high level, and pumped down to the labyrinth below the floor of the Planet Earth Gallery where the exposed thermal mass of concrete tempers the air, which is then drawn up into the visitors' space. As the air rises, it carries away heat gains from the ceiling lights before being extracted at high level. The fans that drive the system are powered by a 500-m2 photovoltaic array. This ingenious system results in a total power demand for the gallery of just 35 kWh/m2 per year.

Mr Bellew also described a simpler system that works on the same principle, and which is particularly suited for office buildings. So far, there are around 70 buildings in Germany that use "earth ducts" (underground pipes that "store" cool air), and Atelier Ten is currently involved in the first phase of a development in Luton that will exploit this "free" cooling.

Learn more:

Further details of Atelier Ten's work, including photos and diagrams, can be found at

© Melanie Thompson 2004

Harvesting the wind

There is enormous potential for harvesting energy from the wind in the UK, but wherever turbines are proposed, planning problems follow, and in any case this is a technology more suited to rural, open locations. But now researchers from Coventry University's School of Science and Environment are proposing a more acceptable solution - buildings-integrated turbines for built-up areas.

Ioannis Spanos told the CIBSE conference how his team had studied wind flows in urban locations to help them design a horizontal turbine that can sit on top of an office building, providing electricity to the building, or directly to the Grid.

He explained that wind profiles around urban buildings have large variations in speed and direction. Under these conditions, a traditional horizontal wind turbine will turn at a rapidly changing speed, and keeps changing its orientation when the wind direction varies. This not only reduces the energy output of the turbine, but increases the load on the turbine, leading to more frequent failures.

Using their knowledge of wind profiles, and CFD simulations, the team proposed that the best sort of rotor would be placed on the edge of a building, could receive airflows from a number of directions, and would work over a wide range of air speeds. They then tested out their theory using a "hybrid" rotor that has an aerofoil on the edge of the wing to smooth out air flows and therefore increase efficiency.

The "hybrid S-D" turbine they have designed can sit on the edge of an office roof, where it is no more obtrusive than an advertisement hoarding, but where the air velocity is at its highest. The turbine has a typical cut-in speed of 2m/sec, compared with an average wind speed in UK cities of 4m/sec. The designers say it could be installed at low cost, on many UK buildings.

Learn more:

See pictures of the turbine, and read the details of its design in the CIBSE Conference paper "A hybrid wind rotor for simple integration into building design" by I Spanos and L Duckers, available shortly at

© Melanie Thompson 2004

Time for a phase change?

Ann Stevenson of Arcadis brought some shiny foil bags filled with jelly to this year's CIBSE conference - at least that's what it looked like. In fact, the substance inside the aluminium packets was a salt-paraffin-water foam that is non-toxic, non-flammable, and has a melting point of around 22-degrees Celsius. Could this material revolutionise air-conditioning?

This "phase change material" - PCM for short - is an example of "active thermal mass". That is, it can be used to store and release heat. It's not a new concept, but it has taken considerable time to come up with the recipe for a PCM that works over a temperature range appropriate for buildings applications.

Ms Stevenson explained that the material has been trialled in an office building in Holland, where it has helped to maintain a comfortable temperature for the past 12 months. Here, the PCM was installed above a false ceiling, with an air-gap around the perimeter, and in such a way that air can circulate above and below the material. Small low-pressure air-handling units (AHUs) are deployed to ensure sufficient flow, and lighting can be installed in the ceiling as usual. When the room temperature rises, the PCM absorbs the heat. The PCM packets have a cooling capacity of 50W/m2.

As it is fully recyclable, has low service and maintenance costs, very low running costs and low energy demand, this novel material could be a green alternative to air-conditioning. And of course, it can be incorporated in existing buildings, because it doesn't need chillers, boilers or pipework. However, Ms Stevenson acknowledged that electrical re-heaters might be needed, for example, to warm up the units after a shut-down period such as Christmas holidays. But the power to supply the AHUs or any re-heaters could come from photovoltaics or a micro-turbine.

Learn more:

See Ann Stevenson's presentation to the CIBSE Conference, available shortly at
  Contact Ann Stevenson. E-mail:

© Melanie Thompson 2004

Hear all about it - plans for a "sustainable" community

"Ashford's Future": Radio 4, Mondays at 11am, presented by Kevin McCloud

"Ashford's Future" is the name of the company charged with creating a new, sustainable community by redeveloping the Georgian town of Ashford in Kent. Kevin McCloud, of Channel Four's Grand Designs series, has gone behind the scenes to try to get an insight into the process. The first of this three-part documentary series focused on homes, 30,000 of which are needed in this area in the next 30 years.

Martin Bacon, MD of Ashford's Future, and Joanna Averley of CABE, explained the ambitions of the regeneration project, and the many hurdles it faces - not least the need to eliminate the carbuncles erected in the 1960s and 70s.

But down at ground level, Mr McCloud visited the run-down Stanhope estate, which planners have ear-marked for demolition, and found that local people would prefer to have the area cleaned up, with better lighting and more facilities. Meanwhile, on the edge of the town, a development of "eco-homes" has run into trouble. The developer has run out of cash, and prospective occupants have run out of patience.

Clearly there are many lessons to be learned; not least that a community is far more than a collection of buildings.

Hear what happened next on Monday 11 October and Monday 18 October at 11am on Radio 4; or "listen again" via your PC by going to
Sustainability is clearly a hot topic on Radio 4 this month. Hear a lively and informative discussion about off-site manufacturing, featuring the Peabody Trust, in "Shoptalk", broadcast at 4pm on Tuesday 5 October. Check it out at the "listen again" website mentioned above.

© Melanie Thompson 2004

Part L seminar

BRE is hosting a seminar on 14 October to discuss proposed changes to Part L of the Building Regulations and implementation of the EU's Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD). The aim of the event is to explain the proposals, which could have far-reaching consequences, so that interested parties can formulate their responses to the proposals in time for the 22 October deadline.

This seminar is jointly organised by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) - the government department responsible for the Building Regulations - and the Directive Implementation Advisory Group (DIAG).

Further details are at
  Cost of attendance: 195 GBP.

Cityscape: The Green Building Conference

This event, on 12 and 13 October in London's Brick Lane, aims to prove that green buildings are comfortable, affordable and attractive. The conference programme lists a number of high-profile speakers, and the theme for discussion is urban regeneration. In particular, there will be presentations on regeneration of inner city Birmingham, London and the Thames Gateway, and the capital's Olympic bid.

For more information, and to book, visit
  Cost of attendance: 265 GBP for a one-day pass (discounts for RIBA members and local authorities).

2004 Ecohouse Competition

Teams of students from around the world entered this year's Ecohouse Design Awards. The winners were selected on 23 September, and first prize of £750 goes to Wang Yao, in China.

@ the Olympics 2012

The Corus Undergraduate Architecture Awards 2005 have set an unusual challenge - to design a venue where people can experience a multitude of sporting events at the same time. The primary material for the design must be steel, and the design needs to be suitable for any of the five proposed venues, including London.

Closing date for entries Friday 26 November 2004.
Download further details from (choose "live competitions" from the list on the right).