Insights May 16, 2024

It’s STILL not easy being green

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At Collective Works, we consider ourselves to be a sustainable practice, aiming to create sustainable architecture that not only does less harm, but also some good – socially and environmentally.

In 2019, the Architects Declare manifesto addressed the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.  Collective Works, alongside many other practices, signed up to the declaration, and reflected on how ‘sustainable’ our architecture, and that of the wider construction industry really was. 

It's not easy being green

In 2020, we published a blog called ‘Its not easy being green’. Alasdair Ben Dixon, alongside Mina Hasman and Ian Taylor had presented Roadmap for Change at the RIBA Smart Practice Conference, which set out a clear set of values and actions for practices of any size to follow on their route to reducing the impact of the construction industry. 

Our fundamental design principal is to create buildings that are both responsible and beautiful. With the Roadmap for Change, we knew we were working to shared, collective goals.  We had the confidence to talk proudly about our standards, and that we are able, in our own small way, to make a difference. 

Just five years later, it no longer feels extraordinary to be a sustainable architecture practice. Our clients have similar values to us, and the conversation around sustainability has become more sophisticated. It still isn’t easy being green, but we have learned a lot, and, as Aristotle said “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know”.

In that short time, we have been through a pandemic, two major worldwide shifts in mindset – #metoo and #blacklivesmatter – two major new wars have broken out, and the effects of global warming are now being clearly felt with extreme weather events happening more frequency in all sections of our small planet. What we do know is that we are no longer looking only to slow climate change, we need to take a regenerative approach, promoting climate and social justice and creating a future that is a better than the one we have now. 

Regenerative Design

Alasdair Ben Dixon is a member of the Architects Declare Steering Committee.  They have recently partnered with Architecture Today to launch the inaugural Regenerative Architecture Index.

Regenerative architecture goes beyond sustainable design. It is an approach that is about being a good ancestor, co-evolving with nature and creating a just space. It is an ambitious mindset, that instead of ‘doing no harm’ it aims to aid in reversing the existing damage to our environment, and have a net positive impact on the natural environment. 

The Regenerative Design Index sets out to benchmark the progress practices are making in the move towards regenerative practice and projects. Listen to the Green Urbanist podcast where Alasdair and  Anna Lisa McSweeney of White Arkitekter talk to Isabel Allen editor of Architecture Today to introduce the index.  

Collective Works are moving towards becoming a Regenerative Practice. 

Low carbon architecture

One statistic that is often shared, is that the construction industry in the UK is responsible for 25% of the country’s embodied carbon emissions. Much of this is the result of new buildings, and the new materials that are used to build them.

Mid Terrace Dream - North London Retrofit

The majority of our work is working with existing buildings. Whether renovating individual homes, or repurposing underused or abandoned NHS buildings for new, more social purposes – like the Social Prescribing Centres in Ashfield and Victoria Central Hospital. If something good already exists, we want to incorporate it into our designs, not remove and replace it with something new. 

Where possible we retrofit as well as renovate – reducing the energy required to run the building and preparing it for a sustainable future. Our sustainable development is trending in the right direction. We recently completed our first deep retrofit, easily exceeding targets for RIBA Climate Challenge 2030.

Our designs are informed by Passivhaus principles. We want all the buildings we work with to be warm and comfortable, have clean air, and be efficient, meaning low energy costs for their occupants. 

Green design

We design with nature in mind – adding green roofs, designing for biophilia and to comply with, or exceed, Biodiversity net gain requirements.  We take advantage of increased opportunities to connect with nature, which, in schemes like Wellington Way, can also help mental health and create social connections. 

Natural materials for healthy buildings. 

Sustainable design and designing for healthy homes and workplaces have a lot in common with each other. We like to use natural and recycled materials in our interiors, low VOC paints, and include nature in our work. Biophilic design philosophy shows that people are less stressed when they spend time in nature, and that plants, or images of nature also have a similar effect. 

A Quiet Room materials board

Good Housekeeping

We signed up to Race to Zero, subsequently makinge a pledge to reduce the impact of the practice operations as well as the projects we work on. It’s something the whole practice is committed to, and we have a net zero competition incentive scheme for good ideas to reduce our impact which led us to change to ethical banking and monitor our own carbon footprints.

Ethical Practice

Ethical Practice Guide

Alasdair has co-authored the RIBA Ethical Practice Guide, which sets out the ethical duties of an architect. It delves into issues of equity, diversity and inclusion, social value, wellbeing and integrity.

 Alasdair as his coauthor Carys Rowlands have been delivering CPDs to architects and students. If you’d like to hear more about the book through a workshop or understand how an ethical approach will benefit your project just drop us a message. 

Being ‘green’, or a sustainable architecture practice, is rewarding. Collective Works will continue to be an ‘ethical’ practice, creating the kind of responsible and beautiful architecture that we, and our clients and collaborators, can be proud of.

Talk to us about how we can help you realise your project with a minimal or positive impact on the environment.



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