As part of Oxford Green Week, we hosted an Ask the Expert discussion at Makespace Oxford last night talking all things green architecture. We were joined by a panel of experts, on hand to advise any current or prospective green builders on the road ahead.

Alex Towler and Andy Edwards from Transition by Design were joined by Audrey Versteegen from the Kindling Housing Cooperative, Umendra Singh from Natural Building Technologies, Kim Swallowe from Cherwell Council’s BUILD! Project and Babinder Samra, who has recently completed Oxford’s first EnerPHit standard retrofit.

Conversation kicked off with the ‘wicked’ problem of how to balance cost with performance with wider eco-credentials of materials and practices. Umendra, Alex and Babinder highlighted the ‘performance gap’ and the difficulty in obtaining the final percentage of environmental performance in buildings. Andy Edwards highlighted the importance of a vision and how any project, an individual house or a community-led development should work hard to agree a clear goal including what ‘green’ means to them.

Conversation moved to the challenges faced by green building projects with Umendra, an expert in natural materials for building raising the importance of communication between partners on site. A green building material can only reach its full potential for environmental impact if designed, installed and used correctly and that takes communication. Audrey, who has recently completed a low-impact extension with six cooperative members using consensus decision making agreed that communication is key. The kindling renovation also demonstrates the importance of recognising the skills you have within your group. With six pairs of hands, Kindling were able to spend more time sourcing reused materials, completing some of the work themselves and delivering a green build project at minimal cost.

We were joined by several prospective green builders who were tackling how to integrate new technologies into old buildings. Kim, who’s project aims to encourage and support self-builders was encouraging to new starters, “it’s about picking what’s right for your building and using the materials which will still be there in 200 years”. The word ‘stewardship’ was mentioned and the difference between what you ‘could’ do and what you ‘should’ do with Babinder and Umendra agreeing that ‘green’ should not be seen as a restriction but rather an enabler. They both highlighted newer technologies like mechanical ventilation alongside also the benefits of more traditional and breathable materials such as lime. Alex added that green “doesn’t have to be ugly” and environmentally-sound shouldn’t compromise beautiful design.

There were common fears such as not knowing where to start or who to trust but in general the mood was positive. Andy raised the point that with the new Community Housing Fund, the Renewable Heat Incentives and the ongoing movement towards recognising ‘homes are for people, not for profit’ that it’s a good time to build. “It’s all about finding the right solution.”

If you’ve got a green building project that you would like to discuss with our architecture team, please do get in touch.