barnsbury house interior design, office study with desk and bay window

What innovative approaches are sustainable architects adopting, amidst the challenges posed by the climate crisis?

Buildings contribute to nearly 40% of annual energy-related carbon emissions globally, surpassing 14 billion tonnes of CO2 annually. In the wake of the climate emergency architects across the world are looking to address how building design, construction processes and government policy can make the built environment more sustainable.

Discover Architecture for London’s retrofitted homes. If you would like to discuss your project please contact us.

Building design

Key to meeting sustainability targets, at both a global and local level, has been the revision of building design strategies to ensure that all structures are built or adapted to form a more sustainable built environment. This has included the development of new building materials, climate control strategies and the integration of emerging technologies into both new and existing buildings.

Architects should play a pivotal role in understanding what sustainable building design strategies suit their projects and clients. Like any other design consideration, a project’s sustainability strategy should match the requirements, budget and expectations of the client.

New strategies include the use of adaptive technologies such as smart sensors and IoT devices that allow building users to better monitor and control factors such as energy use and thermal comfort.

Sustainable architects lead the charge in creating environmentally conscious structures through the implementation of eco-friendly design principles. They prioritise energy efficiency, renewable materials, and green building techniques to minimise environmental impact. Through the use of sustainable materials and innovative technologies such as solar panels and green roofs, they enhance building resilience and advocate for sustainable practices in the construction industry, designing structures that harmonise with nature and improve occupants’ well-being.

Architecture for London’s Low Energy House, an Edwardian terrace in Muswell Hill, was extended and refurbished to create a comfortable, low energy home. The original structure of the house was revealed, its modest beauty celebrated.

Georgian interior london with traditional stone fireplace and scandinavian interior
Refurbished Georgian house interior

Construction processes

New construction processes are essential for creating sustainable architecture. Incorporating techniques and solutions such as adaptive reuse, sustainable materials, and energy-efficient systems can massively reduce the carbon footprint, and resource usage.

Adaptive reuse

Adaptive reuse of buildings involves repurposing existing structures for new functions while preserving their historical, architectural, and cultural significance. This sustainable form of design helps mitigate urban sprawl by utilising already-built infrastructure, reducing the need for new construction and minimising resource consumption. Adaptive reuse promotes sustainability by revitalising underutilised spaces, conserving materials, and minimising waste. By adapting existing buildings to meet contemporary needs, adaptive reuse represents a forward-thinking approach to sustainable urban development and architectural preservation.

Waste management

Waste management in construction bolsters sustainability by curbing environmental impact and optimising resource utilisation. Through reduction, reuse, and recycling of materials, it minimises landfill waste and mitigates pollution. This approach conserves resources, reduces carbon emissions, and cuts project costs by lowering disposal fees and material expenses. Overall, effective waste management in construction processes is integral to developing a greener built environment and promoting environmental responsibility.

Government policy

Both the Government and Mayor for London have enacted a number of policies and schemes which aim to encourage the development and construction of sustainable architecture within the city. With homes and workplaces in London contributing to 78% of city emissions there has been a clear focus on the development of sustainability strategies specific to London’s ageing housing stock. This has largely manifested in the push for adaptive reuse and retrofitting strategies within both residential and workplace projects.

Rear extension to a listed house in Bayswater designed by architecture for london with landscaped garden
Bayswater house

Why does London need sustainable architecture?

London is currently grappling with substantial environmental challenges. In 2023, it emerged as the ninth-largest global CO2 emitting city. Despite the implementation of numerous environmental policies since the second world war, the city continues to face a variety of environmental issues such as pervasive air pollution, inadequate waste management, flood risks, energy consumption concerns, and biodiversity loss. Whilst government schemes are slowly making a change on a wider scale, there is much that can be done from within the construction industry itself to make London a more sustainable city and to reach the UK’s mission to hit net zero by 2050.

London’s ageing housing stock presents a significant challenge as many of its residential buildings face issues related to structural integrity, energy inefficiency, and outdated amenities. With a considerable portion of the housing supply dating back to the Victorian and Edwardian eras, maintenance and modernisation are imperative. These ageing structures often lack proper insulation, heating systems, and sustainable features, contributing to higher energy consumption and environmental impact.

Renovation and retrofitting efforts are essential to address these issues, promoting energy efficiency, enhancing livability, and preserving architectural heritage. However, the scale of the challenge requires comprehensive strategies, including financial incentives, policy interventions, and community engagement, to ensure the sustainable revitalisation of London’s ageing housing stock while meeting the evolving needs of its residents.

Historically, building design strategy has largely followed a short-term here-and-now approach. Sustainable approaches to building design and architecture consider the environmental responsibility and resource efficiency of a building throughout its entire lifecycle. This encompasses aspects ranging from the initial design and construction phases to ongoing maintenance and renovation, extending to eventual demolition.

A Georgian house interior design in Bayswater, London with wallpaper and farrow and ball colours
Bayswater house

Sustainable architects

Increasingly, architects are embracing sustainability targets and gaining knowledge on minimising both the operational energy and embodied carbon in their buildings. To meet these targets architects are acquiring skills to optimise building efficiency. Incorporating Passivhaus principles, and prioritising design the re-use and retrofit of spaces over a traditional ‘construction from scratch’ approach.

Architecture for London offers sustainability guidance on a wide range of architectural project types. Hiring a sustainable architect during the early stages of a project can help ensure that sustainability principles are present throughout a building’s design, construction and inhabitation. Sustainability factors that are commonly considered include the sourcing of sustainable materials, integration of renewable energy sources and the creation of an environmental strategy that suits the scope and budget of the project.

At Georgian House, Architecture for London were appointed to refurbish a Grade II listed Victorian house in Bow. The house was in a dilapidated condition and required a full scale renovation. New double glazed windows, woodfibre insulation, MVHR, ASHP, underfloor heating and a rainwater collection system have been added making for a home that is both beautiful and sustainable.

Our 10 Step guide to building your eco-home features a detailed analysis of how British homes can be made more sustainable.

Costs of sustainable architecture

Historically, sustainability in building design has been viewed as a costly venture. However, as architects and the wider construction industry have adapted to new standards in environmental design, it is becoming more affordable to build sustainable buildings in a sustainable manner. Numerous case studies demonstrate that eco-friendly homes yield long-term savings that often outweigh initial expenses. Whilst implementing sustainable practices in the construction of a new home may potentially increase costs by 5% to 15%, it can prove to be a wise investment. Homeowners benefit from reduced energy bills, increased property value, and compliance with future building performance standards.

Stone House, a Grade II listed villa in Islington, was extended and refurbished to create a home with generous spaces for gathering and family life. The rear extension is designed as a stone pavilion. The agglomerate stone forms a plinth upon which limestone piers rise, forming the structure of the extension. The natural stone blocks were locally sourced and selected for their low embodied energy.

Discover Architecture for London’s retrofitted homes. If you would like to discuss your project please contact us.