We can do better

Sustainability Report 2011

As a species we have been constructing buildings for a long time. We have had over eleven thousand years of practice of city dwelling and there are individual buildings that have been inhabited on a daily basis for two thousand years. Yet every single one of these buildings has consumed, and are still consuming, irreplaceable resources in the form of water, materials, or energy. If we think humans have built a building that is the best it can be in terms of environmental impact we are sorely mistaken. We can (and will) do better, no matter how well we have done in the past.

Buildings are inherently complex artifacts involving hundreds of thousands or millions of individual parts which of themselves are simple. When combing these parts together there is a vast network of interactions between these elements helping to mediate the complex relationship between the occupants within the buildings and the environment beyond. To put it simply, a building can never be perfect because the complexity of the system cannot be fully resolved. This complexity means that there is no silver bullet or singular idea that can be implemented to solve all of the environmental issues, it requires a balanced approach.

Our design philosophy and response to this challenge can be summarised as ‘we can do better’. In every part of the design and construction process, Atelier Ten look for opportunities for improvement and optimisation. Some of these are broad and large-scale interventions, but equally we drill down into the detail to make sure that we are reducing environmental impact at every level in a balanced manner. It is the agglomeration of each of these initiatives and interventions that start to make a building environmentally responsive and hopefully responsible.

We strive for continual improvement both within the design of individual projects and to the overall construction process, even if the horizon for implementation is beyond that of our working lives. As a result of challenging conventional thinking about servicing and resource consumption, we have installed one of the largest building integrated biomass CHP systems in the world. This CHP system converts a client’s waste stream into a supply for energy in the form of heating, cooling and power. In addition, it reduces material consumption by generating fertiliser as a waste product from the biomass CHP system.

Thinking about the long term, we have been involved in a public / private R&D partnership to look at the applicability of nano-scale materials in the future performance of buildings. At the same time we recognise that that the products developed at the fruition of this research are unlikely to be commercially available for over fifty years.

On every project, we believe there is always room for improvement no matter how well we achieve and exceed project goals. We don’t see this as a failing, but as a success knowing that we can go further. We relish the challenge of future change.

We don’t want to stop believing that we can improve a project, a process or a concept and by doing so, help to shape a more sustainable world.