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Bringing down the house

Updated Friday, 17th September 2010

Second-year Architecture students from The University of Nottingham talk about their work on the Nottingham House project - an example of how housing design and construction may look in the future This interview was recorded at the ecobuild 2010 event in London, UK

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Joe:  Hello my name’s Joe Yates.  I’m a second year Architects student at the University of Nottingham and I’m part of the Nottingham House Team who’s produced everything you see in here and yeah, I was involved in the construction right from the beginning, which has been going on since mid January, and yeah we’ve just brought a house down to Eco Build to exhibit it to the world, so.

Interviewer:  Thank you, if I could just ask who you two are?

Bhavik:  Yeah, my name’s Bhavik Morar.  I’m involved with the construction, a second year Architect like Joe.  Like I said involved since the start of this year and it’s been one hell of an experience.

Becky:  Same again, I’m a second year Architects student.  My name’s Becky Ford.  And yeah, with the Nottingham House, been constructing it and it’s been brilliant, yeah, great fun.  Getting a hands-on experience.

Interviewer:  Do you see sustainability’s at the core of the work you’re doing with this house, can you say whether you’ve been kind of forced towards environment and sustainability as an issue, or is it something that’s always been part of who you are?

Becky:  For me, it’s been part of who I am.  I think, I first visited Centre for Alternative Technology when I was 11, and since then I’ve been hooked, and it literally is something I live and breath within my work as well as within my, it’s my social life and everything.  So for me it came naturally.  But obviously with the code for sustainable homes becoming compulsory for residential dwellings, it’s what we’re taught anyway.  Because when we graduate in five years’ time if you’re going to become fully qualified it will be compulsory for us to all have this knowledge anyway, so.

Interviewer:  What’s the beginning of the story for you two guys around environment and sustainability?  Did it come through doing the studying or?

Bhavik:  When applying for this university, well applying for University of Nottingham, it was something that I was aware the University was very strong and very, they were very affluent in their research project with regards to sustainability, so I knew that was coming when I applied for the University of Nottingham.  It’s just been, but it’s been built upon since we’ve started here and I had a vague knowledge about these things before we started and now it’s just, it’s come to hands-on experience.

Joe:  Yeah, yeah.  It sounds obvious saying it but you’ve got to be aware of environmental sort of impact of buildings and stuff.  You know, it is the future. Houses will not be allowed to be built in the future if they’re not sustainable and energy efficient.  And that goes for any buildings as well.  And at the University of Nottingham, as part of the architectural course, one of our modules is environmental design.  So that’s highlighted, you know, certain issues with us and taken us through various processes and things on how to assess the impact that your building might have on the environment.

Interviewer:  Can you tell us a bit about this, if you were going to tell a diary of the building rather than of yourself what are the features that the building would want to speak to us about?

Joe:  It’s designed to have zero carbon emissions, meeting passive house standards.

Bhavik:  Showing how eco, an eco friendly living and an eco friendly house doesn’t have to be weird or exotic or, can just be a normal terrace house with a change of social attitudes.  That’s all it would take to have this being mass produced tomorrow I think.

Joe:  And it’s designed in a way so that it could be in the future mass produced, this very design.  You know, the competition that we’re going for, the solar decathlon, sort of critically assesses the performance of your house with energy consumption and emissions and everything.  A lot of the houses you’ll see there will be very much pavilion type sort of displays, where they’re just implementing sort of new technologies and everything.  This house has been designed to do that but also be a working house as well.  It could be sort of put out into the market and function as a working family home.

Interviewer:  Do you want to add anything?

Becky:  Yeah, all I was going to add to it is if you look at the house as it is, as a way of showing that it really is genuinely for a terraced application is the two side walls have no windows, and that is literally purely for the terrace application. Obviously if you’re thinking about solar lighting and solar heat you wouldn’t necessarily do that, but we’ve taken that as a kind of disadvantage, but to really emphasise that it is possible, and we’re showing them today that it is.

Interviewer:  Now if you were to look one year, five years and ten years out in terms of your own lives, can you anticipate how you’re going to be working with architecture and sustainability?  Have you got any feeling for where you’ll be going with these issues yourselves?

Becky:  Personally I would keep in with the environmental stuff, definitely.  I personally want to go into the more charitable community development work, as with the architectural knowledge but applying it to socially deprived areas, much more that rather than the public/private kind of money monopoly kind of side of things.  But that is just because of my personal wants, so yeah.

Interviewer:  Okay.  You are allowed to say you’re going into money monopoly.  Guys, do you have ideas about what you’ll be doing?

Joe:  Yeah.

Bhavik:  Well.  Okay, well in five, I’m quite, I’ve always been quite interested in how, well this is enhanced my interest about in how public scale buildings, like large public scale buildings and entire residential complexes can be made with this same technology.  So, I mean this is working of large scale buildings, not necessarily like skyscrapers or something like that, but large scale buildings has always been one of my interest in architecture, and I can’t wait until I put this stuff into practice.

Interviewer:  Right, Joe?

Joe:  Yeah.  Well just, you know, the ideals of this project here are transferable to any kind of building really.  So then the future, no matter what it is I’m doing, I will as I said have to be considering, you know, the work and findings that we’ve done here, and yeah, will be doing so.  It’s a key element of design of the future, so.

Interviewer:  Moving away from the personal, if you look at your profession, if you look at the construction industry that you’re likely to be working in, what do you anticipate being the kind of, the big landmark moments across the next five to ten years?  Things that will really shape the profession that you’re moving into?  Have you got any instincts about that?

Joe:  Yeah.  As far as like individual, you know, specific landmarks, I’m not sure, it’s an ongoing process.  There’s a code for sustainable homes isn’t there and various like government legislation.  Which, you know, are ever sort of changing their specifications on how houses need to sort of function and work.  And, you know, there’s different specifications, you know, how that when, have to reach a certain level before they can be built.  So, yeah, there’s things like that which we’ll just gradually, you know, keep pushing and pushing and pushing the elements of design until the houses are at such a satisfactory level that, you know, it will be beneficial for the environment on the whole.

Interviewer:  Do you want to add anything?

Bhavik:  Yeah.  Obviously, with a seven year course, students like ourselves are learning these things now so that when we graduate, when this is compulsory, we know exactly what we’re doing and we can make the biggest difference.  And it’s, but that’s, I think when that, the 2016 target from the government, when that becomes compulsory that will be the biggest landmark generally.  I’ve read a statistic that for the next thirty years, every architect’s going to be involved with retrofitting buildings, making them sustainable, and that’s something that’s quite interesting.  A lot of the technology here is based around that, and it’s something that again I can’t wait to get into.

Becky:  I can’t really add any more.  It is just the code for sustainable homes is the main thing, as seen in this exhibition today, that’s the main

Interviewer:  Obviously, with this project, you’ve got a nice clean new build proposition.  What about that, quote, that challenge of retrofitting? I mean if you look at the replacement rates for British housing that looks like the big task.  What kind of role can architects play at playing driving that on?

Bhavik:  There’s already an entire consultancy industry based around the idea of, there’s an exhibition just there about how we can retrofit existing cold walls and make them insulative, give them a very good U-Value, which is the key, one of the key technological things that we aim to do.  And that’s what the entire industry will be based round how we can take existing buildings, not necessarily, we don’t want to demolish them because that doesn’t help with the locked carbon that’s already in these buildings but how we can enhance them and just make, improve them.

Interviewer:  I’ve got just one last question, it’s deceptively easy.  It’s about whether you would position yourself, at which end of the sliding scale between optimism and pessimism looking at 2020?

Becky:  For me, personally, I tend to be more optimistic.  But I’m a hesitant optimist, I suppose.  I would love it and I would really love it that in 2020 that it really has progressed sustainably as far as it needs to be in terms of climate change and all of those other things that buildings dramatically affect, I really am optimistic but I am hesitant as well.  Yeah, I’m slightly reserved as well.

Bhavik:  Well it’s interesting that you said 2020 because just to bring out the 2016 code once again, just the idea that, well, hopefully, obviously, I don’t think we’re going to meet the 2016 target, but by 2020, in a decade’s time, I’m hoping that this will all be revolutionary and it’ll, well no it won't be revolutionary it will be just standard or I’m hoping that will be the done thing and that social attitudes will change and that this will be easier to do.

Interviewer:  Joe, do you want to add a closing word?

Joe:  Yeah.  As far as being sort of optimistic or pessimistic, I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily either, just sort of realistic.  You know, measures are being taken to ensure that housing and new builds do improve and the retrofitting takes place to, you know, lower carbon emissions and to help overall, sort of less harmful impact on the environment and, you know, we’re well on our way to doing that.  So by 2020 things will have improved and yeah, no, it will be better than it is now.





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