Head of Sustainability, Helen Hough, joined Bryden Wood in November 2018. In addition to developing passive design solutions for our clients, she is also a tutor to 5th year MArch students at the Manchester School of Architecture. I caught up with her to find out why, for best effect, architects should be incorporating M&E and Sustainability strategies as part of their initial design.

IP: Tell us about your work with Manchester School of Architecture.

HH: I’m tutoring 5th year students who are doing their Part 2, MArch. It’s through one of the ateliers called PRAXXIS, which is focused on inclusivity in design. A lot of the briefs the students are given involve getting different parts of society to live and work together. At the moment, they are working on an existing building in Hulme that hasn’t been used in quite a few years. They’ve got to retain part of the facade and completely build a new building inside it. It needs to have a cafe and offices — it’s a mixed use type building aimed at supporting the community. I do group work with them and help them work out how to incorporate all the M&E services into their building, but also give them a focus on sustainable design. Mostly, it’s trying to get them to think about getting adequate daylight in, which is quite interesting with the facade they’ve got because they have to reuse it, so they don’t have many options to make the windows bigger. They’ve got to think of a more interesting way of doing it. I’ve given them some homework and this time they are going to be presenting their daylighting to me. They all have fully glazed facades on the south facing, so it’s trying to get them to think about the fact it’s going to overheat and they have to look at solar shading and passive design measures. The overarching premise is getting them to think from an architectural perspective about how they can influence the environmental design of the building. If they do it now whilst they’re still at uni, when they get into practice they can apply the principles more easily, which not only makes the M&E teams’ jobs better, but also, ultimately, delivers a better, more efficient, building to their client.

IP: In general, are architects as focused on this area as they could be?

HH: In general, no. It’s taught a lot more than it used to be and it’s very much dependent on which university you go to. In Manchester, for example, students now have to incorporate technical design elements such as, Structures, M&E and Sustainability into their projects, so the course is teaching them a more integrated approach, which is how it is in real life.

IP: What are the benefits of incorporating technical design into their project at an early stage?

HH: If we come along at a later date and try to apply a sustainable strategy or passive design measures to a building, it’s likely to impact on the architecture quite significantly. If, however, they incorporate it at the start, they can make it part of their building design and it can be a lot more effective and a lot more cost effective as well.

IP: How does the focus on sustainability manifest at Bryden Wood?

HH: Sustainability is a broad term and I think you can separate it up quite a lot. In terms of what we do here at Bryden Wood, we’re mostly focused on the environmental side of sustainability. We have a focus on building physics, with the aim of reducing energy costs for occupiers, as well as reducing carbon emissions. We’re also particularly committed to looking at the whole life of a building, so this also encompasses the embodied carbon within materials — from construction methods all the way through to how that material operates. It’s very much a cradle to grave approach. We tend to not necessarily go for environmental ratings, so we can offer BREEAM, but it doesn’t have to be applied to every project. It’s more about listening to the client, understanding what their drivers are, and then applying the best part of different ratings or standards in sustainable design so that the client actually gets what they need, rather than what a certificate says that they might want.

IP: What makes Bryden Wood unique when it comes to sustainable design?

HH: I think the unique thing is that we sit amongst both architects and engineers, so we are fundamentally set up to deliver an integrated approach. For us, we’re not looking at a building after it’s already been designed and then trying to apply things, or forcing the design. The advantage comes from working with the architect and the engineers. It’s the benefit of early stage involvement. The earlier we can get involved, the more impact we can make and the more energy and cost savings we can bring to a project.

IP: What is the future of sustainability?

HH: I think there’s a massive push at the moment for battery technology, as a very specific example. There’s been a general realisation that there’s not enough power in the world, so people are looking into the likes of local generation. I also feel there’s a big issue around the embodied carbon that goes into making a battery and how batteries are reused and recycled. As such, there’s going to be quite a distinct focus on looking at some of the new technologies and working out whether they are actually going to be suitable in another fifty years time.

I also think there will be a huge drive to reduce material quantity in buildings. As a result, there will be less carbon going into the building and the lifecycle impact of the building will be lower. I don’t believe this is necessarily achievable just by changing materials. You’ll also need to look at reducing the quantity of materials and their transportation distances, as well as other similar considerations.

IP: What one piece of advice would you give to an architecture student about how to deliver sustainable design?

HH: Listen to your sustainability team. They have so much knowledge they will be able to share with you. It’s not just for them to tell you what to do as such, but as an architect you will have the most impact on a building if you try to work as a team. Incorporating passive design in your projects will mean less M&E services will be required, which means you will benefit architecturally from things like higher ceiling height, larger areas needing smaller risers and smaller plant rooms. All in all, the technical spaces in a building become a lot smaller. This will also mean the capital cost should come down and certainly the running costs will decrease. Ultimately, you will have a happy client who won’t have to pay as much to run the building every year.

'Incorporating passive design in your projects will mean less M&E services will be required, which means you will benefit architecturally from things like higher ceiling height, larger areas needing smaller risers and smaller plant rooms.' - Helen Hough