Resonations #1 Long Life, Loose Fit, Low Energy
This is the first of what will be a series of occasional blogs about stuff that resonates with us – not necessarily always about buildings, but probably mostly about things that we think about when we are designing buildings. Hopefully it will build into a tranche of ideas that, together with our work portfolio, will give people who might want to work with us a picture of what John Kinsley Architects are about.
Alex Gordon PPRIBA’s famous maxim dates back to the oil crisis in the early 1970’s, but his elegant summary of what makes buildings sustainable is just as relevant nearly fifty years later.
Having lived or worked in several Georgian town houses over the years in both Liverpool and Edinburgh, they represent for me a fantastic example of Gordon’s ideals:-
With those town houses that we have still with us in the order of 200 years old, it is easy to see how they comply with this element of Gordon’s model. What is more interesting is to enquire why they have lasted so long. In part, this is because of their success in fulfilling the 2nd part of the maxim. But I would argue that it is the aesthetic success of the Georgian townhouse and its ensuing popularity that has been the principle factor in its longevity. Jonathan Chapman in his book Emotionally Durable Design talks about the notion of cherishability as applied to designed objects. Steve Mouzon, on his website www.originalgreen.org goes further in saying
‘Any serious conversation about sustainable buildings must begin with the issue of lovability. If a building cannot be loved, then it is likely to be demolished and carted off to the landfill in only a generation or two. All of the embodied energy of its materials is lost (if they are not recycled.) And all of the future energy savings are lost, too….Our ancestors once built for the ages, and the best of their buildings could last for a thousand years or more. Even the everyday buildings lining every street regularly lasted for centuries. And they lasted because they could be loved.’
Georgian town houses make great houses. They can be split into flats relatively straightforwardly. They work really well as offices. Their ease of adaption across these different uses has been invaluable to their longevity. In parts of our cities the tidal flow of recession and economic upswing can be charted through the conversion of Georgian town houses from insolvent offices to residential and thence back to office again.
To those of us that have shivered as students in Georgian flats this might not be quite so immediately apparent and for sure, levels of insulation in town houses aren’t quite up to twenty first century standards. But for modern offices stacked with IT where the issue is preventing summer overheating the tall Georgian ceilings offer a way of stratifying hot air above occupant level. Sash and case windows brilliantly enable both low level ventilation for incoming cool air as well as high level ventilation for stale outgoing air. The generous window size often means rooms can be naturally daylit more efficiently than large modern office floorplates. An energy audit undertaken by a former employer found that our wee office in a Georgian town house in Edinburgh used less energy per square metre of floorspace than all the company’s other (mainly newly constructed modern) offices in the rest of the UK.
So the Georgian town house has become something of a reference point when we design new buildings. If we can design buildings that people will continue to cherish in 200 years we will have done well.