Biodiveristy – Hindrance or Opportunity?

Yesterday evening we attended an eye opening masterclass about Biodiversity considerations within developments, with Dr Steve Holloway, the principle Ecology Consultant from SLR.

Age old prejudices between developers and ecologists were disbanded as it became clear that both sides were seeking a pragmatic solution. Every developer in the room had run into difficulties with Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) over biodiversity matters in the past. All of which seemed to largely be attributed to the local councils being without the specialists to provide site specific information and solutions. If the LPAs can be provided with the correct evidence, put into local and national perspective, and the proposal provides a proportionate and directed response to that, the council can have no objection.

The revealing undercurrent of the discussion was the need for a good Architect, who is able to combine the best ecological solution with the most profitable and constructive development strategy. This will allow site specific surveys from an Ecological Consultant to be balanced with an understanding of the developers market and brief.   A talented architect can address the biodiversity issues in a targeted way, allowing intervention to enhance or offset the ecological needs in a sensible way.

Living Space Design with McCarthy & Stone

Top Tips for getting planning permission on a challenging, biodiverse site –

1. Get some site specific Biodiversity Surveys

2. Get in contact with an Ecology Consultant to put that survey data into proper perspective. Yes, all bat species are under an umbrella of protection… but not every species is rare. The Ecology Consultant can provide the evidence the council need to put the current wildlife data, and the impact the new proposal would have on these, into proportion.

3. Don’t just provide Biodiversity Enhancements for the sake of it, work with the Ecology Consultant to define the areas and species on site which are worth maintaining and will flourish in future improving. This could well save you throwing away money or valuable land to a wildflower meadow which may never even see a butterfly.

4. Think more widely about the areas surrounding the site. Is there a remarkable area next to your site, which you can improve further? This offsetting of ecological value will mean less restriction to your development plans on site.

5. Consider the boundary edges of site or connecting pathways through site can be more help to the local wildlife than a designated expansive area.

6. Include a long term plan. Show the LPAs your scheme goes above and beyond by including a maintenance plan.

7. Know your literature. The  S41 List will be a great place to start, revealing all habitats and 943 species of principal importance. But for actual legislation you will need to look elsewhere. Get hold of a copy of the British Standard 42020, and prove that you are compliant with the codes.

8. Present your evidence well. If you have carefully considered what interventions will be most beneficial for the site, show evidence of it, and show it clearly.

Alex Baker, Architectural Designer, Living Space Architects

Designing for a Lifetime

“Let’s face it – we do not need special architecture for old people, we need the right architecture for all ages. The problem with designing environments specifically for older people is that nobody wants to move into them: they are the last resort, not the first choice. ”

Matthias Hollwich with Matthew Hoff man , AD Designing for the Third Age

Very much like the UK the US is on the brink of demographic transformation, with the bulging generation of baby boomers about to reach retirement.

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The nursing home at BOOM with an accessible clubbing wall, yes you did read that!

We are interested in the views of HWKN a New York based architects practice who suggest that attitudes and approaches to ageing have to change and that old age needs to be ‘acknowledged as a state of human existence’ that fully ‘deserves preparation, anticipation and excitement’

Today’s nursing homes could be described as ‘homey’ environments, a type of model that is now becoming unacceptable to the new older generation, sometimes described as the ‘baby boomers’.  Having questioned various aspects of society on the 1960s they are not prepared to age gracefully by being placed in unappealing and often lonely homes for the elderly.  For a lot of people including my own parents this is the last place they would want to end up.

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New homes at BOOM in Palm Springs

HWKN are designers and instigators of a bold New Community being built in America called BOOM. BOOM is geared towards creating stunningly designed communities, spearheading a new way to engage with architecture at a later age by prototyping a self-determined, hyper-social, and satisfying future.

This ground breaking development is designed with a very specific part of the market in mind.  The development is lesbian and gay friendly, although it is by no means solely designed for this section of society and is proving popular with all open minded boomers who want to live a full and active life at retirement.Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 17.58.50

 

Designing for Later Living

This is the first in a series of blog posts looking at the theme of design for later living, or how we could be designing for an increasing ageing population.

Over the last 10 years, like many young architectural practices we found ourselves cutting out teeth within the private residential sector.  As we have moved on to larger and more commercial projects we have found that our knowledge of this sector has given a huge amount of valuable research that can be translated into larger projects.

We have had the opportunity to develop detailed briefs for over 400 private clients within the residential sector and over 70% of these have been older clients.  This has bee a fantastic resource for a larger retirement projects and proved fruitful when we became finalists in the McCarthy & Stone re-imagining ageing competition last year.  We have subsequently written articles for the architectural press and provided research for clients such as Pegasus Life and other later living developers.

We have spent time analysing themes and trends within this sector and are now getting the opportunity to translate these into projects on site including our work with J&M homes in Tavistock where we are helping them create a development of 14 later living apartments and houses.

The next 5 posts will look at the themes we have been looking at and the research we have gone on to complete.  Themes include how to encourage active ageing within design, trends within relocation, looking to other countries such as the Middle East who are ahead of the UK in their approach to design for this sector and if retirement villages are the right solution for housing our ageing population.

What’s in a name – Living Space

Why Living Space Architects
The name relates to our own desire as architects to create spaces that are alive with energy and activity. It is after-all the activity and events that happen in spaces that make them special and our architecture is a backdrop to this, an enabler if you like. I think a lot of people think we chose the name Living Spacearchitects because we specialise in residential architecture, in fact we don’t specialise in this area at all although naturally as a young practice we do a lot of residential work.

As a student I was fascinated by writings by Architects like Tschumi – event cities etc. Tschumi said architecture is not simply about space and form, but also about event, action, and what happens in space. I designed an ice factory in the back streets of west end London with an ice wall that crashed to the ground every day nada yearly ice festival. It was the idea of history, memory, and event making a place special through its architecture and buildings being a dynamic part of this not just bystanders. Obviously as a student you were expected to make a scale model of said ice factory along with real ice, which I then decided to hang from the ceiling. Questions like how much does a sq m of ice really weigh and what is the load bearing capacity of the studio ceiling had to be asked as well as what happens when it melts on the floor.

Living space follows on from this with its practice, creating spaces not just as a backdrop but as places where people can interact and where things happen, ideas are created, friendships are formed and strengthened and life lived to the full. This may be a dining room extension or a more complex design for a performing arts centre, but the essence of a dynamic, living form of space remains and enriches our design process to create forms that resonate with our clients and the building users.

All in a name – Employing an architectural designer to work on your project may not be what you expect

Undertaking a building project, whatever its scale, can be a daunting experience. As the chair of the Exeter branch of the Royal Institute of British Architects I am often involved in dinner party discussions where I hear the story of someone’s bad experience with an architect. “But were they really an architect?” I ask; “I’m not sure they reply – I think so but I’m not totally sure”.

I met someone who had employed a designer they assumed was an architect to design their loft extension. When it was almost finished they went up to take a look and realised there wasn’t enough space for the double bed because the ceiling was sloping too much. Their designer hadn’t drawn plans showing furniture in the rooms, so they weren’t aware of the problem until it was too late. Another friend used a designer who again they thought was an architect to design and run their renovation project on site with his recommended builder. There was no contract and the project seemed to go on forever, the bills started increasing and without an agreed contract sum they felt that they didn’t have much choice but to continue paying until the project was finished.

The fact of the matter is that to call yourself an ‘architectural designer’ you don’t need any qualifications or experience, whereas the title ‘architect’ is protected by law and can only be used by people registered with the Architects Registration board (ARB) having gone through the relevant training. Unfortunately there is nothing to stop anyone setting themselves up as an ‘architectural designer’ with little or no experience. No wonder there is often confusion when it comes to choosing someone to work with you on your building project.

That said you don’t always need an architect to draw up a set of simple planning drawings and there are also a lot of good architectural technicians that will give you value for money (although perhaps not the design flair), but again make sure they are registered with the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technicians (CIAT) to ensure you are getting the professional service you should expect.

Chartered architects are also members of the RIBA in addition to the ARB, which gives you additional piece of mind that they are adhering to a strict code of conduct and keeping up to date with the latest legislation and technical innovations.

To help you make the right decision about which professional to choose to design your building project and make sure you get value for money, we’ve set out the top questions to ask when you need to employ a design professional to help you with your project:

Things to ask your Architect or Designer:

Are you registered with the ARB, RIBA or CIAT?

Do you have Professional Indemnity Insurance (PI)?
All RIBA and CIAT registered professionals must have this in place and it means that if something does go wrong you have piece of mind. Some architectural designers may not hold this insurance, which means you will have to foot the bill for any mistakes they make even if it isn’t your builders fault.

Can I speak to some of your previous clients?
A good architect will have a long list of happy clients and they will be only too pleased to pass you their details so that you can have a chat about their experience.

What do you specialise in?
If a firm mostly designs schools or office buildings they may not be the right practice for your new house or extension (or it may get passed to the office junior). The best practices for residential projects are those that have a good track record of this type of project, and these are often the smaller practices.

Lastly don’t forget that you need to get on with your architect; everyone is different and you could be working with them for some time, so you need to make sure you click. Your architect should be able to explain things to you in a way that you understand and feel comfortable with. We don’t all wear black polar necks and wear silly glasses (well only some of us) and often a more sensitive approach can be helpful at the early stages of a project when you are trying to work out your brief.

To give you added reassurance make sure you use an RIBA chartered architect and you will be employing someone who has undertaken 7 years of training – no other building professional is trained to such a level of expertise.

If you need help choosing an architect you can contact the RIBA client services team who will match you with 3-4 local architects who specialise in the type of work you want to do, no matter how small your project.

For further information call the RIBA on 020 7307 3700
Or visit them at www.architecture.com/useanarchitect

Kirsty Curnow Bayley is the chair of the Exeter Branch of the RIBA and is a Director of Living Space Architects in Southernhay.

Living Space Architects were set up 8 years ago specialising in residential and domestic projects and can be contacted on 01392 267 213 or at www.livingspacearchitects.com

Will Self Build become more popular in Exeter and the Southwest?

We were excited to hear that MPs on the Communities and Local Government Committee share a similar enthusiasm for self-build homes as housing minister Grant Shapps. In their report on ‘financing of new housing supply’, they call on the government to establish a fund to incentivise local authorities to support pilot ‘volume self-build’ schemes by allocating sites and taking a flexible approach to planning.

The committee says that it sees no reason why the first pilots could not be up and running in two years’ time and has asked the government to report back.

The MPs have been to see large-scale self-build in action in Almere in the Netherlands where the local authority played an enabling role and adopted a relaxed approach to regulating design and construction (building regulations were still enforced) that has produced innovative designs.

So impressed were the MPs that they suggest that a similar, high-profile scheme in England could help to kick-start a new enthusiasm for self-build over here. They also call on the government to work with mortgage lenders to overcome barriers to lending to self builders, identified as one of the main obstacles facing the bespoke housing sector.  With Self Builds in Devon a fairly common occurance we would like to see Exeter City Council back a Self Build Scheme here in the South West.

Last month Shapps hosted a workshop at No 10 Downing Street to highlight new support measures for self-builders, including the launch of the Self Build Portal|, and pledged to double the volume of self-build homes.

The government is already promoting its plans to release surplus public sector land specifically for self-build and has said it will establish a £30 million revolving fund for multi-unit self build projects, as called for by the National Self Build Association.

Having seen some of the Self Build Schemes in the Netherlands first hand we are excited at the prospect of similar schemes taking shape here in the UK, we believe the demand is high for people who would like to build there own home but don’t have the finances to buy a plot.  Indeed plots of land for self builders in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset are rare, and those with planning permission sell for very high prices.

With any luck we will start to see some progress within the next few years.

What is the Green Deal?

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The Energy Bill includes provision for a new “Green Deal” which the Government believe will revolutionise the energy efficiency of British properties.  Put simply, the Government is establishing a framework to enable private firms to offer consumers energy efficiency improvements to their homes, community spaces and businesses at no upfront cost, and recoup payments through a charge in instalments on the energy bill. 

At the heart of the Government’s proposals is the “Green Deal plan”, an innovative financing mechanism which allows consumers to pay back through their energy bills. This means consumers can see the Green Deal charge alongside the reductions in energy use which generate savings on their bill. It also means that if they move out and cease to be the bill-payer at that property, the financial obligation doesn’t move with them but moves to the next bill payer: the charge is only paid whilst the benefits are enjoyed. In this way, the Green Deal differs from existing lending – it is not a conventional loan since the bill-payer is not liable for the full capital cost of the measures, only the charges due whilst they are the bill-payer.

This is a market mechanism, funded by private capital, which the Government believe will deliver far more to consumers than any sort of top-down Government programme.

The role of the Green Deal provider is to offer a Green Deal plan to customers, which enables them to finance work recommended by an accredited adviser and undertaken by an accredited installer. These functions might be done in-house by the provider, or shared amongst other organisations, but the customer’s contractual relationship is with provider.

The Government’s proposals are centred on the Green Deal plan but are also more ambitious.  For example, they are looking at how best to use the accredited, objective advice which is required in advance of the plan to give consumers a wider range of information about steps they can take to improve the sustainability of their homes, such as water efficiency.

There are a number of important consumer protections which will be embedded into the Green Deal which are detailed in the document.  These include the following prerequisites for all Green Deal plans:

1. The expected financial savings must be equal to or greater than the costs attached to the energy bill, known as “the golden rule” of the Green Deal.

2. The measures must be approved and the claimed bill savings must be those accredited through this process.

3. The measures installed must have been recommended for that property by an accredited, objective adviser who has carried out an assessment.

4. The measures must be installed by an accredited installer.

5. For householders, the Green Deal provider must give appropriate advice within the terms of the Consumer Credit Act and take account of the individual circumstances of the applicant.

6. The Green Deal provider must have consent from the relevant parties, including the express consent of the current energy bill-payer.

7. The presence of a Green Deal must be properly disclosed to subsequent billpayers (e.g. new owners or tenants) alongside energy performance information.

8. Energy suppliers must collect the Green Deal charge and pass it on within the existing regulatory safeguards for collecting energy bill payments – including protections for vulnerable consumers.

To qualify for the Green Deal, expected savings in typical properties consuming a normal amount of energy must be equal to or greater than the cost of the measure. However, actual cash savings cannot be guaranteed by government since no-one except individuals and businesses themselves can control how much energy they actually consume in their own property. Whilst the consumer has ultimate responsibility for reducing consumption after the Green Deal measures have been installed, we will give energy users advice on how to change behaviour to maximise the benefits of better insulated, less wasteful properties.

Not every household will be able to save on their energy bills by taking up a Green Deal plan, so there will be additional help for those who need it most. Lower income and vulnerable households may not save money through energy efficiency because many do not have the heating turned on long enough to heat their homes sufficiently, so increased efficiency may mean they will enjoy warmer homes rather than cash savings. Likewise, homes which can only be made energy efficient through major measures which are currently more expensive will need additional support to bring down costs enough to meet the golden rule. Alongside the Green Deal, the Government is planning to replace the existing energy company obligations. The new Energy Company Obligation (ECO) will focus energy companies on improving the ability of the vulnerable and those on lower incomes to heat their homes affordably, and on improving solid wall properties, which have not benefited much from previous schemes.

The Government  are designing the Green Deal with the aim of making it available for businesses as well as households – enabling smaller businesses to access funding for energy efficiency improvements, and larger businesses to meet their obligations under existing schemes at lower cost, such as Climate Change Agreements or the Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme. The complexity of energy use in the business sector means that there will be a number of differences in the Green Deal for this sector, though the key principles set out here will apply to both businesses and households.

 

For further information visit the website for the department of Energy and Climate Change at www.decc.gov.uk

Contemporary Architecture in St Leonards

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This blog post is about the contemporary architecture near where I live in St Leonards.  I should be clear that none of the buildings shown were designed by Living Space Architects, although I must admit I wish I had designed some of them myself as they are beautiful.  Where I can I have credited the architect who designed the buildings, but if you know a bit more please do let me know and I will add a further credit.

All photographs were taken by me from the street.

This Sunday was a beautiful sunny day and I was lucky enough to have an hour or two to wander around St Leonard’s in Exeter taking photos.  St Leonards has quite a bit of contemporary architecture – something that attracted us to the area when we moved to Exeter.  People are often surprised that contemporary buildings are given planning permission in Conservation Areas, but to me the contrast between a beautiful Georgian or Victorian building and a piece of good quality contemporary architecture makes places vibrant and interesting.  

Contemporary house on St Leonards Rd Exeter

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A good example of a simple contemporary house that works extremely well in its context can be found on St Leonard’s Rd. The simple lines of the white render and Zinc roof work well set against the neighbouring, more traditional white rendered houses.

Contemporary House on Wonford Rd, Exeter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This gorgeous house by the architect David Sheppard takes that concept further; at first glance it is a white rendered box, but as you move closer and past the building you notice the clever use of white-washed larch cladding and exceptional detailing of elements such as windows and doors.

An important aspect of the design of these modern buildings is scale, by ensuring that the buildings reflect the scale of the surrounding street scape the architects have enabled them to sit effortlessly and gracefully amongst their older neighbours without causing a fuss.

Contemporary House Matford Rd Exeter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My final choice is a house by Harrison Sutton Architects on Matford Lane in St Leonard’s. The house is situated next to the Old Rectory, a lovely old stone building that stands up to the Rd. The new house stands proudly alongside with its curved stair tower animating the front facade.  The result when viewed alongside the neighbouring Victorian buildings is a successful link between the white rendered semis and the older rectory.

 

New Year – New Home?

With the news full of uncertainty in the financial markets many of us are choosing to stay put rather than sell our houses and move, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make the most of what we have and there are plenty of projects within all budgets that could make a real difference to your home without having to up sticks and move.  By making changes and improvements to your home not only can it make your property feel like new but it will also add value once the market improves again.

Adding and Extension

Adding extra floor area is a guaranteed way of making your home feel like new.

Not only is finance more difficult to find but moving home costs a fair bit of money too with stamp duty on a £500,000 home amounting to £20,000.  It’s these factors that have made staying where you are and extending a really good option.

“It’s true that it can be more difficult to make a big profit now on any work that you do to your home, but you will more than likely get back what you spend” says Kirsty Curnow Bayley at Living Space Architects. “In some cases, especially with homes at the top end of the market you can create a good extension for the same price as moving”.

Rear and Side Extensions

 

This is the most popular type of extension, often opening up to the garden at the rear of the property with the kitchen diner leading onto the garden.  Families are looking for space where they can all be together that connects better with the garden and this will definitely add value to your home.  Expect to pay in the region of £1500- £2000 per square metre including fit out.  Consider employing an architect for the project, although it will add around 10-15% to your project the extra spend is definitely worth while; architects are space planning experts and will make sure you get value for your money.  They will also help you negotiate the planning maze and can manage building contractors to help ensure a project is on time and within budget.

Loft Conversions

A loft conversion will cost in the region of £40,000 and is a great way to get another bedroom and can be a good option if your family is expanding but you don’t want to move.  You may not need planning permission for a loft conversion although it is important to check that your house still has it’s permitted development rights before you start work.  Always contact your local planning authority to check or speak to an architect who will be able  confirm how big your extension can be to comply.

Basement

Adding a basement is one of the best options if your priority is to gain extra space as you can effectivly gain a whole extra floor.  You can draw in extra light by adding a lightwell and extending into your back garden.  Compared to an extension at ground level a basement is a more expensive option with costs of up to £3000 per square metre and can be disruptive.  Make sure you employ a good architect before you start to make sure your basement is as light and airy as possible.

Sun room

 

The traditional upvc conservatory extension is a bit of a quick fix solution and many people regret not having considered other options.

Again a small conservatory may not need planning permission and it is worth checking before you start.

When planning your sun room think about its orientation – south facing sun rooms are great but you do need to consider how to avoid overheating.  You can create a sun room with a solid roof and rooflights to help control temperatures whilst still letting in light.  Large roof overhangs can provide solar shading and some protection from summer showers.

Sliding folding doors are now extremely popular but large slim framed aluminium sliding doors are becoming more popluar as they give the best visual connection with the garden and look a lot more stylish.

Time to retreat to Dartmoor

From time to time we all feel the need to escape, to get away from the pressures and information overload that is now so much our modern lives with a chance to relax and recharge.  For many the answer is a summer holiday somewhere hot, but there is an alternative on offer right on our doorstep.

 Bala Brook Retreat Centre near South Brent offers visitors the opportunity for quiet reflection, and with little mobile phone reception, it really is possible to escape from the barrage of media advertising, endless stream of emails.

On arriving at the centre you are struck by a sense of peaceful calm and tranquillity, not surprising for a site that is dedicated to the practice of meditation and contemplation. Tucked into the valley on the edge of Dartmoor, ‘Bala’ is the name of the Brook that pours down the edge of the property into the Avon, in Celtic it just means stream of water but the Sanskrit term ‘bala’ refers to the power that helps us generate spiritual energy.

Previously the home of the Golden Buddah Centre Bala is now owned by the Spanda Trust who also own Harbour House in the Centre of Kingsbridge. The Trust is a charitable foundation dedicated to preservation of nature, human healing and education by Yoga, meditation and appreciation of nature – something that sits well with the Retreats location within Dartmoor National Park.

The centre has proved extremely popular and visitors range from groups of Buddhist monks to artists and city workers wanting a break.  Although the Centre was extremely popular the existing accommodation wasn’t designed to work as a retreat – originally built as a family home and extended bit by bit over the years, it was difficult to manage and impractical to use, feedback from visitors suggested that changes should be made.

Living Space Architects who are based in Exeter were appointed to work with the Trust to create an annex to the centre to replace the existing stable block, which was being used as extra bedrooms when the centre was busy.

The new building has a real sense of place sitting well in the landscape amongst the mature oak trees, with its timber cladding a reclaimed slate roof. The new art studio, which is also used for yoga is glazed around 3 sides with well insulated glazing panels,  and allows guests to paint or meditate looking out onto the brook and beautiful wild flower garden.

 “We created a new building with a stunning studio space and moved the manager’s office out of the existing house allowing guests privacy and quiet (some of the retreats are silent for their duration).  It also provides additional space when the centre is busy.” said Kirsty Curnow Bayley, architect for the new building.

The timber frame is packed full with insulation and solar panels have been installed on the roof, which along with a wood burning stove provide the heating required.  It was always the intention of the Trust to keep the energy usage of the building to a minimum, and the position of the building near to the Brook means that in the future power could also be produced using a small scale hydro-electric generator.

One of the most important parts of the brief was to create a flexible building, which could change over time if required. The structural system with large timber trusses allows partition walls to be moved in the future if the needs and space requirements of the centre change.

“Buildings need to be adaptable to meet future needs and requirements.  Constructing new buildings uses a huge amount of energy and it seems only right that we should consider how they can be more easily ‘recycled’ and not just demolished and re-built” says Kirsty

A back gate leads out through the woods along the brook and onto the wide open Moor.  An exhilarating walk Northwards brings walkers to Princetown in the centre of Dartmoor. Or another walk westwards leads to the famous ancient oaks at Piles Wood alongside the exquisite river Erme.

So if you crave an escape from the stresses and strains of the day or are looking for a way of feeding the soul, Bala Brook Retreat Centre offers both within the wonderful surroundings of the Dartmoor landscape.