Day 2 Housing Seminar

Low and Zero Carbon Housing – Retrofitting and New Building Design

Today’s session began with a summary of yesterday’s key questions and ‘guidelines to action’ presented by session facilitator Galen Fulford:


Participants will continue to hold these keys as points of awareness throughout the seminar until it comes time to prepare our call to action document.

Sandy.jpgThis morning’s quick succession of speakers began with Professor Sandy Halliday, Director of Gaia Research, presenting her topic We Need to Talk about Development. Sandy introduced a development model that integrates economic, social and environmental objectives. She briefly compared the old idealism of the 1970’s with the modern realism of today. She feels that policies and targets are shifting, we’re turning a corner, and we can do more.

“Sustainable design is a process not an act. We need to encourage developers to develop the ethos ‘Process Not Product’.” To Sandy, it all comes down to choice. This seems to be the refrain of most speakers thus far. Her plea was that we minimise the losers and maximise appropriate development. We need to design efficient, equitable, non-toxic, healthy housing that is supportive of community. This, Sandy affirms, is sustainable development!

Graham.jpgThe next speaker, Findhorn’s Graham Meltzer, focused on the social dimensions in his presentation, Cohousing as a Carbon Reduction Strategy. Graham suggested that if people don’t choose to collaborate through cohousing, they will end up being forced to due to the adverse effects of peak oil and climate change. Graham’s experience of cohousing is that it provides a rich community life of social, cultural, recreational and ecological activity. Its contribution to carbon reduction is through efficient land use and shared facilities with residents living in smaller units, growing their own food and managing their own waste; their aspirations are social and they are involved in environmental action.

Graham notes that carbon reduction strategies are as much social as they are technical and that the cohousing model produces evidence of behavioural change. It can be a catalyst for social change in entire neighbourhoods and create the community cohesion to support the changes in lifestyle required in a low carbon world.

Jeremy.jpgArchitect Dr. Jeremy Harrall, presented Earth-sheltering: Beyond Zero Carbon. Jerry introduced earth-sheltered as probably the only building type to possess the characteristics that would enable carbon-negative performance, reversing carbon emissions by ‘sporting the latest fashion accessory – the green jacket,’ as Jerry put it. ‘On a net annual basis these buildings absorb CO2, reversing the usual pattern.’ Using performance data from a selection of earth-sheltered buildings, Jerry highlighted the anomalies of the Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) as applied to earth-sheltered zero-heated homes. In reality, this type of building performed between 200% and 700% better than suggested by SAP, which is designed for buildings with mechanical heating systems.


John Talbott, Developer of The Field of Dreams, presented The Ecovillage at Findhorn from a Developer’s Perspective.

John was the developer of The Field of Dreams which we toured yesterday and he now lives in Australia.

John demonstrated the growth of the settlement from the desolate, uninspiring land of tin boxes (caravans) of the late 1960’s and 70’s to the ecovillage we see today. The development was encouraged by the local authorities and born of an aspiration of the community at that time to live more in harmony with nature.

In the afternoon participants broke into three smaller groups for a design exercise focused on new building, retrofitting, and a combination of the two. The three groups were each given a design brief and asked to develop a design and present the results to the group. The results will be available soon.


The final speaker of the day was Professor David Strong, Chief Executive, Inbuilt Ltd Consulting and Founding Member, UKGBC. His topic: It’s More than Zero Carbon – Delivering Genuine Sustainability in the Built Environment. David began with the Gaia Hypothesis: “All living organisms and the inorganic material of the planet are part of a dynamic system that regulates the conditions to support life.” This hypothesis teaches us to consider the whole system, not just parts. Everything is interconnected and focusing on one element or issue can have dire and unforeseen consequences. David feels the danger of zero carbon is that if focused on in isolation we ignore the whole system and that there is also no clarity of what we mean by zero carbon.


The question is, in David’s mind, are we looking through the wrong end of the telescope? Is zero carbon an illusion? David cautioned us to ‘beware the law of unintended consequences,’ e.g., summertime overheating, flood resilience, transport, security, acoustic performance, indoor air quality/health problems. Is the zero carbon agenda acting as a huge distraction from the vital challenges associated with, for example, reducing carbon emissions from the existing housing stock, securing investment/planning for large scale renewables? In terms of pounds invested per tonne of carbon saved, both of these options will provide a much greater/faster return than making new homes zero carbon. We need to get to grips with our existing stock.

David encourages us to take the lessons from the past – vernacular architecture – and from nature – biomimicry. It’s not a quick fix – it requires great care, both during the construction process and in the operation of the building. So the challenge needs whole systems thinking and collaborative, multi-disciplinary, integrated team work.

Join us tomorrow for the final day of the seminar as we integrate our thinking and turn to the task of formalising our call to action.

– Mattie Porte –
June 17, 2008

Photographers: May East and Eian Smith

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