Archive for March, 2008

Ecobuild 2008 notes

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

Despite booking my tickets late, the session on reducing carbon emissions in existing housing was one of the few that still had some places. A few days later, when the proceedings were kicked off by Alan Simpson MP, there were still some empty chairs. Perhaps, I twittered, refurbishment work just isn’t glamorous enough.

If that’s the case, then we’re all in much bigger trouble than we’ve been led to believe. The stats on carbon emissions from existing properties make the concern about new buildings seem positively futile.

Here’s a few notes from some of the presentations I found most useful at Earls Court a few weeks ago.

Sustainable cities – what we would do if we were serious
Alan Simpson MP, Chair, Parliamentary Warm Homes Group

Simpson proved to be a rare breed of politician; seemingly walking the walk as well as talking the talk, giving an excellent overview of the key issues and speaking knowledgeably about his own efforts to improve matters. Admitting that the current government simply wasn’t doing enough, he cutely announced himself as ‘…inline early for the next manifesto…’ rather than out of line with current policy. The remainder of his speech was largely informed by his admiration for German sustainability policies; citing inter-city competition for improvement, preferential rates on energy sold back to the grid and the resulting community empowerment that has grown to an extent that it is shielded from party politics. Even a regime change wouldn’t be enough to derail it.

Carbon trading? A mythical market with mythical benefits that only benefits the financial services industry. He pointed us to for a comparison. Expanding on the topic to look at food production and consumption cultures he talked about Cuba’s enforced self-sufficiency – if they can do it why can’t we?

Further anecdotes about Germany brought us to a summary that proclaimed the need for greater sharing of ideas between countries, which he eloquently summed up by quoting Edward Thompson’s description of ‘…cargo’s of intellectual contraband…’.

Refurbishment according to building type
Dr Paul Ruyssevelt, Director, ESD

A rousing opening polemic delivered by a seasoned politician is a tough act to follow when you’re armed only with Powerpoint. Enter Ruyssevelt with the reassuring news that there is some good work being done in the refurb field already, despite the fact that Yvette Cooper suggests we should think about it for another 10 years before taking any action. (By which time the Pandas will almost certainly be dead – Ed.)

The importance of carbon emission reductions on existing stock was quickly demonstrated with the following graphs (taken from his slides, a version of which is available online here: The Built Environment is just that – BUILT!)

First, this one shows the reductions possible if we just spend the next 40 years just fiddling with new build:

ecobuild graph 1

Next, we see the number of existing properties per year that we need to refurbish to reach the hoped for 60% reduction by 2050.

ecobuild graph 2

And here’s the rate per year we have to hit if we mooch about doing nothing with existing houses for the next 10 years as Yvette Cooper suggests.

ecobuild graph 3

While we wait there are three main initiatives tackling housing refurb: Decent Homes, Warm Front and the Energy Efficient Committment. The level of change from these being perhaps best explained by highlighting that Decent Homes calls for only 50mm of insulation – a provision that Ruyssevelt prefers to call indecent.

Once again the Germans are doing it better with examples such as the KFW Housing Modernisation Grant. An example of a scheme benefitting from this is Freyastrasse in Mannheim:

ecobuild image 1

Having spent time looking for comparable precedents for my ecoterrace project, I was delighted to learn about the next few references.

Ruyssevelt encouraged us to get in touch with John Doggart from the Sustainable Energy Academy if we had a project that might be suited to his Old Home, Super Home project.

A network of exemplar energy efficient old dwellings, which are local and publicly accessible within 15 minutes to nearly everyone in the country. Making them accessible to the public helps homeowners and local authorities to get hands-on knowledge and be inspired to transform their own housing; we plan to have 1000 exemplars within 5 years, equivalent to one per Tesco.

I’ll certainly be offering Also, May this year will see the launch of the Existing Homes Alliance, which will be seeking to build up a database of best practice refurb examples. Ruyssevelt’s very informative talk finished with a slide that reassured me that our project could prove to valuable to the rest of the industry. Of the innovative refurb schemes he was aware of, how many were being monitored to assess their performance?

ecobuild image 2


That dramatic action needs to be taken quickly to reduce carbon could hardly be argued, but as we listened to the discussion panel at the end of the session talk about the housing market and sustainable investment it seemed to me that something was missing from all the debates we’d heard. Spending the money on technologies like efficient boilers, solar panels and high levels of insulation may make for good carbon emission reductions, but does not result in an attractive, enjoyable place to live. Housing market renewal is equally dependent on the quality of the living environment delivering long term financial sustainability, than whether we get complete carbon emission neutrality.

In the midst of all the maths, graphs and scare stories I want to hear about housing that keeps its place in the market and continues to be desirable to buyers because of its design quality. Where’s the discussion about how to make our houses into better pieces of architecture?

cross-posted at

Eolus control room

Saturday, March 8th, 2008

In the control room of the real life / second life interface…
posted by Eversion Orman on EOLUS using a blogHUD : [blogHUD permalink]

Importing energy data into Second Life environments: Eolus

basic turbine

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

Found on a dusty shelf…

Scrapyard Windpower Realities: Building Windmills with Recycled Parts by Hugh Piggott (1992)

Complete with diagrams:


And Basic computer program to help you design the blades:


ruralZED comments

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

My lazily blogged image of Bill Dunster’s ruralZED from the floor at Ecobuild has produced some useful comments from one of his colleagues, bringing news about crucial elements of the design that deliver the thermal mass and also mention of upcoming timelapse photos of the 3 day construction…

hogthrobb says:

Hi Eversion,

thanks for posting this, I work for the architects behind it. Yours is the only picture so far posted on flickr.

Did you enjoy the house?

eversion says:I did enjoy the house, but only from the outside as I was pressed for time and there was quite a queue.

I’m a big fan of passive solar techniques and have been pursuing the same approach in my own work too. The construction approach here is very satisfying and the joinery reminds me of Walter Segal’s work. I heard Bill Dunster talk very convincingly against lightweight construction at a conference a couple of years back, so was slightly surprised to see timber frame being embraced so wholeheartedly. I guess the mass here is to be found in the super insulated walls.

Final comment is that I was also delighted to find that it wasn’t quite so frumpy (a well known architectural term!) as the PR had seemed… the axonometric of the CFSH stages doesn’t do it justice.

p.s – I met with Phil Clark from Building magazine over lunch that day and he was telling me all about the video interview he did with Bill. I’ve just noticed that he has posted it on his blog:

hogthrobb says:Yes we still dont believe in light weight construction but the building has specially designed eco concrete wall panels and terracotta ceilling blocks so plenty of thermal mass. Sorry you couldnt get in – we had crowd loadings to consider and the health and safety for the exhibition were straight out of the SS hand book. It was good for us though as we had a queue for 3 days which always attracts interest.

I have seen the interview its pretty good – we will have a timelapse up at sometime this week which is worth a look.

page 123

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

John Hill over at Archidose has tagged me with this refreshingly simple meme.

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

John’s Gibson quoting choice talks of ‘…the hopes of maintaining any semblance of longterm autonomy over our fates…’ and the book nearest me seems to fit nicely into the theme of controlling fate as well as the very title of this blog.

Latest meme

Like the double action of the human heart, the heartbeat of the universe implies duality, a cosmic pulse, an alternation of in-breathing and out-breathing, of manifestation and rest. To the Buddhist good and evil are relative and not absolute terms. The cause of evil is man’s inordinate desires for self.

from Buddhism by Christmas Humphries, first published 1951

I like the phrase manifestation and rest. It’s been duly noted for future use as a spatial/temporal description.

I hereby tag:

Avril Korman
Fred Scharmen
Owen Hatherley
Rod Mclaren
Ralf Zeigermann