Sustainable architecture: snug homes

This blog post was written by the Architecture Centre’s Creative Intern, Lottie Morris

On the 22nd October the Shape My City group met for their fifth session. This month’s focus was on sustainable architecture and the group welcomed Shankari Raj-Edgar, architect, founder of Nudge Group, tutor at UWE and Cardiff University, consultant and researcher.

To warm up, the group did a short activity - the task was to think about insulation and buildings and sort different cards into the ‘best’ – lots of insulation and ‘worst’ – very little insulation. The group thought straw bales, earth ships and cob houses belonged on the good side, whilst portacabins, made of chipboard, 1980s houses and Victorian houses went on the bad side, hence why some people retrofit their homes to become more sustainable. Concrete was in the middle as, whilst it does have good thermal massing, the process of making it is not that environmentally friendly.

It was then time to hear all about Shank’s advice and practice. She started by talking about Nudge Group’s objectives: how they always strive to make the delivery of a project very holistic. Nudge Group do in depth research to really understand a brief and see how the project can have an impact on the community, make a positive contribution to people’s lives and be environmentally friendly. Nudge reduces construction waste on site, and by using locally sourced materials, local labour and fittings, they put money back into the local economy. They are passionate about health and wellbeing, Shanks believes that if things are designed well people will be happy.

She went on to speak about how we can all help in the mission to live more sustainably, recycling, healthy eating, adjusting travel habits can all help. She says it is important to think about the future and how we can make a behavioural change in the city.

Talking about how she got to where she is now, Shanks shared how she studied architecture & the built environment at UCL, then a worked for a year in Sri Lanka before doing a Masters in Sheffield. She felt architecture was a natural choice after having done work experience in an aeronautical firm and a graphic design firm; she felt architecture sat in the middle - a nice combination of art and science. She explained how architecture encompasses a lot of different things, so it's important to have life experience and accept your strengths and weaknesses. Some people may enjoy drawing the specific stage of the design processor on CAD, whereas others might look prefer to look the whole picture. 

Shanks explained that she enjoys the people side of architecture, meeting lots of people and thinking about the client’s needs. Going on to describe the downsides, Shanks said you can’t do architecture part time, as job you have to dedicate your life to it, and it is hard to get back into if you leave.

Shanks’ one piece of advice for the Shape My City-ers was do what you’re passionate about and do it now! If you give it your all and enjoy what you’re doing, you are more likely to succeed - very sound adviceechoed by some of our other Shape My City professional mentors.

With new knowledge, and now knowing the importance of environmentally friendly, sustainable architecture, the challenge for the Shape My City participants was to create a compact home/living space for1/2 people – a snug home (inspired by the Ecomotive Snug Home project on display on the Architecture Centre gallery). Amy explained that more affordable houses are urgently needed, and in the future there maybe be less land available, so smaller homes (which generally have a smaller carbon footprint) will be required.. The 'snug' home had to be no bigger than 6m (length) x 3m (width) x 4m (height). It was a tricky brief, as the groups had to consider: internal layout, adaptable/moveable furniture, lifestyles of inhabitants, sustainable building materials, renewable energy generation and how multiple snug homes could fit together in a modluar way.

The groups came up with some really good ideas, paying extra attention to detail. Team one came up with lots of adaptable furniture, including a sofa bed and desk with integrated storage, with windows located at the ends of the snug homes, they came up with a clever interlocking system which would save space and keep the housing modules warmer.
·         Team two had put their stairs outside, to save space inside, as well as meaning people would spend more time outside, thus being healthier. They also included sliding doors to save space and a window wall to get maximum sunlight were also features.

·         Team three didn’t have any open areas; they closed off the bottom and top floor to keep things warmer. Thier design also contained a roof with a garden space and sky lights. The homes could be made constructed back to back.

·         Team four thought about which part of the houses could have a lower height, as well as designing a bed that turned into desk, foldable chairs, lots of south facing windows and wet room (with no bath - to save space).

·         Team five thought about converted shipping containers on top of high rise buildings, with cupboards on the celling and plumping all in one area.

There was a great mix of ideas, and all brilliant ways of saving space and energy in the future. Ideas like this could really help the future of sustainable cities, the teams did well, the design brief was specific and the homes that were designed were innovative and practical. Another great session!

Useful links:

University of the West of England (School of Architecture and Built Environment)
Cardiff University (Welsh School of Architecture)
Sheffield University (School of Architecture)
University College London (Bartlett School of Architecture)