Hattie Hartman, Sustainability Editor at the Architects' Journal, shares insights from her new book Energy, People, Buildings.
Interview with Hattie Hartman
Hattie is an architect and sustainability editor at the Architects' Journal, but by her own admission didn't have a conventional route into the profession. She attended university in the 1970s wanting to change the world and thinking that working in politics or studying law was the way to go about it. However, a course on renaissance architectural history, and some inspirational teachers, changed her thinking and set her off on a path into architecture and journalism.
Architecture is fundamentally about people
Hattie admits it is incredibly challenging to design a really good building and says that ultimately it is about understanding how buildings really work, to make them comfortable and good for the people occupying them.
She says that sustainable architecture has typically had a reputation for “doing with less”, but it doesn't have to be about doing without, rather doing things differently in a lean way. Hedonistic sustainability is one such idea that promotes sustainability which actively improves the quality of life and human enjoyment.
The book is based on the collection of feedback
Judit Kimpian approached Hattie to collaborate with her on their book, Energy | People | Buildings – Making Sustainable Architecture Work, before also inviting Sofie Pelsmakers to work with them. It is a RIBA Publishing book that Hattie says is aimed at design professionals, engineers, students, and people that operate buildings.
Hattie says that Judit knows everything that there is that can and does go wrong with how buildings operate, based on Innovate UK building performance studies that she worked on, and this work formed the basis for the book.
An important takeaway from the book is that feedback isn't something that you just do at the end. It has to be built into the whole process right from the beginning.
“When you keep track of all the things that are going to impact a building's performance from the beginning, and you have buy-in, not only from the whole design team and the client, but from the contractor, and the real critical point is you write that into the procurement. You can actually track these things and make sure that buildings perform, and you can troubleshoot, and you can find problems and solve them quickly before they become huge, expensive things to sort out or lawsuits.
Cost of monitoring is not a barrier if planned for from the outset
If left to the end then it can incur additional time and expenditure to find and collate the data, but when it's been planned from the outset it can be a minute cost in terms of the overall budget for the building. An example Hattie gives is if the energy meters are part of the contractor's responsibility, then the right meters will be installed and any problems will be sorted out immediately. This scenario is preferable to the alternative which could be the wrong meters being installed, they're not properly commissioned and you can't get the right data from them.
Architype are leading the way at making building performance standard practice
Architype has spent several years developing their work processes, training their staff, carrying out research projects, and working with a PhD student to bring the expertise in-house. This investment and dedication mean clients are now approaching them, asking for a building that will perform.
A case study from the book is the Enterprise Centre in East Anglia, which Ben himself has visited and describes being asked for details when signing-in on arrival about how far he had travelled, what vehicle he was driving etc, in order to be added to the data about the carbon footprint of the building. Hattie credits the Enterprise Centre for being a visionary client and explains that none of this is hard, it just needs to be made a priority.
The operational performance gap needs to be reduced
Hattie points to ACAN's recent report about the role of embodied carbon in buildings as being an excellent resource in explaining what needs to be done to regulate that, which is an important part of getting to net-zero. And she says equally important is the operational performance gap which still needs a lot of improvement. Their book sets out a demystifying process of how to get to grips with the operational emissions of buildings,
Integrated design is crucial
Hattie stresses the importance of getting all the expertise around the table right at the start, before anything has even been sketched, to think about the passive design and the fabric of the building. Even for a small project like a house extension, having that expertise can reduce the embodied carbon by perhaps opting for timber solutions over steel or concrete. That expertise can also be continually revisiting and challenging the design decisions along the way.
You can't know where you are unless you have targets
The book has a section about targets, and while Hattie agrees that targets will change and perhaps become out of date, it is important to have them and be measuring to get an idea for how you're doing.
Technology in buildings needs to be tested and understood
There are benefits to keeping things simple and, with added technology, there can be more things to go wrong. For example, Architype used to use lots of actuators on windows, but now try to keep them to a strict minimum. The more that can be done manually the better!
There is a learning curve for everyone!
One of Hattie's podcast guests is Sarah Wigglesworth, an architect committed to sustainable design for many years and who built her straw bale house 20 years ago. At that time sustainable design was more about a “loose fit” and the building wasn't designed with airtightness or thermal bridges in mind. When it came to retrofitting she worked with an environmental consultancy and spent many months measuring and collating data to come up with a prioritised checklist of things that they could do to improve the building.
With so many buildings in the country that need retrofitting, it shows that if you don't measure then you don't know what the priorities are.
Feedback is important for future improvements
Hattie says that quite often architects don't want to know how well their buildings are performing (or under-performing!) or indeed make their clients aware because there can be a question of liability. She was pleased however to have case studies in the book where people were willing to share what hadn't gone to plan and where things could have been done differently. She says this is the only way to be able to make future improvements.
The podcast and book aim to make a technical subject accessible
Hattie hosts the Architects' Journal's new Climate Champions Podcast. And while she says she's pretty sure that it's mostly people who are already interested in the subject that are listening, she's hopeful that the influence of people like Greta Thunberg and groups such as Architects Declare and the Architects Climate Action Network are helping to spread the message further and drive a real thirst for change.
Find out more
Check out the Climate Champions podcast
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