Workshop Five - sustainable design

This blog post is written by Emily Robinson, who is currently working as the Architecture Centre's Programme Assistant.

In celebration of Big Green Week, our fifth Shape My City installment tackled the topic of 'Sustainable Design'. We were lucky enough to be joined this week by Shankari (Shanks) Raj-Edgar, the founder of a Bristol based architecture and digital media consultancy Nudge Group, who hold the green agenda as a central principle of their working practice, meaning our guest had a great deal of relevant experience to share.

The group assembled in the Architecture Centre gallery space, surrounded by our Living City exhibition and model. The warm up exercise explored insulation (a less glamorous, but vitally important element of sustainable building design). Using cross section cards from the Architecture Centre's Making Buildings STEM resource, the group had to rate a range of buildings from portacabins through to strawbale buildings and earthships.

Shanks then shared her career path with the group.This included her undergraduate degree at The Bartlett (University College London), her masters degree in Sheffield University, her Love Easton community project, her teaching at UWE, and her current employment as the founder of an architectural consultancy, that among other things, organises Shambala Festival! She provided a fresh perspective on studying architecture, explaining the varied and constantly evolving career landscape studying architecture can offer. Jessica Booth, a regular volunteer at our sessions was held up as a prime example, having studied an undergraduate architecture degree course, she opted to take an environmental/ digital marketing route after graduating, rather than becoming a qualified architect.

The city shapers then had to tackle their design brief. Inspired by the Snug Homes project being developed by Bristol self build group Ecomotive, this month's task was to create a compact and sustainable living space for 1/2 people.
The teams were asked to produce:
* a scale plan (bird’s eye view) drawing of the internal layout of their 'snug home'
*a sketch of the front ‘elevation’ of their 'snug home' showing shape, material, construction and exterior cladding.

The brief made the group aware of the fact that city space is increasingly limited and expensive. With inspiration sheets at hand, the group began discussing their ideas. With a huge variation of design options and materials to consider (tree houses, ecopods, shipping containers, converted buses, prefabricated modules, chemically treated inflammable strawbales, cladding, recycled materials and soloar name but a few) the possibilities were endless!

The brief stated that the designs could be no bigger than 6m x 3m x 4m. The precision required from the task made for a distinctly hushed few minutes. As one city-shaper noted 'this task has required the most concentration to date!'.

As the design time drew to a close, the groups prepared their presentations.

One group engineered their design around a series of interlocking hexagons, reflecting the bio-mimicry of a bee hive, the idea being that by joining the housing ‘units’ together when your family grew, you could maximise space and available land. 

Another group created a system of pre-built grids, which would be available in many cities across the UK. Home owners would then own a compact housing unit, that could be transported and just slot/dock in to another grid framework in another place, allowing for flexibility and a reduction in moving costs!

The groups also had to consider the detailed layout of a compact interior space and how it needed to be: versatile, adaptable and flexible, with innovative examples of movable and multipurpose furniture and walls. The design process had drawn attention to fact that sustainable living in a compact living space, requires a change in lifestyle - owning less of your own 'stuff' and potentially sharing amenities such as a laundry, bike storage, gardens and even showers - these were interesting challenges to reflect on during Big Green Week.

The two hours soon sped by, and with their eyes opened once again to the diversity of built environment career options, and a heightened awareness of the positive impact of smaller homes on an individual's carbon footprint, the next generation of green building designers vacated the 'snug' confines of our gallery space.