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22 (117) 2015
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Real Estate & Construction

International architecture firm AHR champions Zero Carbon

by Judit Kimpian, director of sustainable architecture and research at AHR, and chair of the Architects Council of Europe Sustainability Group
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‘Nearly Zero Carbon’ is great for architecture

Recent years have seen a plethora of legislation and incentives introduced to improve the energy performance of buildings. It is hardly surprising that built-environment professionals find it challenging to keep track of compliance requirements. At EU level, two Directives driving national regulations are the EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) and Energy Efficiency Directive (EED). Recent updates to these require the EU to implement a 40% binding reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by 2030, and for nation states to increase energy efficiency by at least 27%.

So how is the construction industry going to deliver this? 

The 2010 recast of the EPBD required that member states ensure that by 31 December 2020, all new buildings are nearly-zero energy buildings (nZEB) and after 31 December 2018 all new buildings occupied and owned by public authorities are nZEBs. The exact definition of ‘nearly zero’ is up to member states. It’s set out by the EPBD as a building with a ‘very high energy performance’ whose very low energy demand should be covered to a significant extent from renewable energy sources. 

However, despite the increasingly strict energy efficiency targets, a growing body of evidence points to a sizeable gap between expected and achieved energy performance of new buildings and refurbishments. The UK Green Construction Board’s latest report states that up to £5 billion is invested in new buildings each year and these buildings on average consume two to three times more energy than intended. In the UK, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) have a joint benchmarking platform called CarbonBuzz, created with the technical leadership of AHR. CarbonBuzz has demonstrated a one-and-half to two-fold difference between calculated and achieved energy use in the education and office sectors, using crowd-sourced data. Built environment professionals across the EU are rightly asking whether the next recast of the EPBD should target operational outcomes more effectively.

One of the fundamental features of current EU legislation is the lack of a feedback mechanism between as designed and actual performance at both building and stock level. It is currently not required during the design stage to assess construction and operational risks, nor is it required to report the actual operational energy use of a building. Yet these factors have a significant bearing on operational building performance, and can be addressed if planned for from the start of a project. 

Influential organisations are taking note. The Architects Council of Europe (ACE) has declared ‘open and harmonised building performance data’ to be a key campaigning priority and has responded accordingly to the recent EPBD consultation. The World Green Building Council now requires the reporting of operational energy use as part of its prestigious sustainability awards. The European Commission is also studying how low impact buildings, certified according to existing schemes, perform in reality.  


AHR, building on its expertise gained from the CarbonBuzz project and over 15 building performance evaluations carried out over the past five years, has trail-blazed a new approach. 

A way forward 
AHR, working closely with engineering firm Max Fordham, has designed the recently completed offices and civic centre for Bath and North East Somerset Council in Keynsham, which had set out to target operational energy use from the start. 

The process not only delivered innovative architecture but helped eliminate many of the usual problems encountered on other projects arising from the value engineering of critical elements or poor commissioning. Building features relating to the long-term resilience of the building were retained, such as the passive ventilation, floor-to-floor heights, the vent voids, the thermal mass, the window specification, etc. 

If the project performs to expectations after Year One, it will exceed building regulations requirements and operate over and above nZEB targets. It would also demonstrate that setting the right key performance indicators and opting for measurement, verification and disclosure could achieve better-than-nZEB performance in use, and significantly reduce regulatory burden.

The building has just won the British Council of Office’s 2015 Best of the Best award testifying that going beyond compliance and targeting actual performance, is great for architecture.

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AHR
Founded on over 180 years of tradition the AHR brand re-emerged‎ in 2014 following a demerger with Aedas as one of the largest and most recognised architectural practices in Europe operating globally. AHR celebrates it's 10 years in Poland this year, and provides it's Clients with cutting edge design services in the fields of commercial office, hospitality, retail and residential. A strong masterplanning and interiors section supports the architects in the practice to provide a full scope of design support on real estate projects in Poland and throughout the region. The office now numbering around 50 professional staff was founded in 2005 by Martin Hyams and Michal Kus - who as founding partners are today supported by management board directors Krzysztof Gryczynski, Piotr Kalbarczyk and Grzegorz Pietrzak. For additional information visit: www.ahr-global.com

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