Alan Shingler: "Zero-carbon credentials did not compromise the quality of architecture"

25th July 2017

Sheppard Robson partner Alan Shingler was asked by The Architectural Review to give his thoughts on zero-carbon buildings. The interview can be found below:   

AR: How did your Lighthouse project propose an environmentally friendly zero-carbon home for the UK?

Alan Shingler: The starting point was to ensure that the zero-carbon credentials did not compromise the quality of the architecture or the experience of using the home. Rather than seeing zero carbon as an aesthetic, we were guided by creating adaptable, flexible spaces that are designed for modern living, intuitively integrating sustainability.

AR: Which architectural  material and other methods did you harness in your design?

Alan Shingler: We harnessed a passive design strategy that creates a high-performance structure which is also shaped around the occupants’ expectations for light and airy living. This approach led, for example, to a ratio of glazing-to-wall in the Lighthouse of 18 per cent as opposed to 25-30 per cent in traditional houses. While this reduction in glazing increased the insulation values, we also had to think carefully about the optimal internal conditions. This drove our decision to locate the living space on to the first floor enabling us to maximise daylight and volume, with a top-lit double-height living space.

AR: What advice would you have to contest participants on designing a zero-carbon home for tropical climates?

Alan Shingler: My advice to the contestants would be to concentrate very carefully on the fundamentals of microclimate and location. These environmental conditions will guide the design and help achieve a holistic response to creating a zero-carbon solution. A tropical climate should generate a very different architectural approach to the one we took for a temperate UK climate. Contestants should consider sourcing indigenous materials. For the Lighthouse, we used locally sourced English Sweet Chesnut cladding, which works to define the architectural identity of the building but also reduces transport energy expenditure; with a general approach to materials that minimised embodied energy and maximise recycled content and reuse. This tailoring for a temperate climate drove us to innovate. For example, we designed a rooflight to flood daylight into the space below while also working as a wind catcher to provide passive cooling and ventilation. When open in the summer or mid-season, this catches the cool air and forces it down into the heart of the house, encouraging the displacement of hot air through stack effect. When closed in winter, the space still benefits from improved daylight. This is just one of the strategies we deployed to help passively control the internal environment for different seasons.

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