A Simple Approach to Sustainable Architecture

Chapman Taylor’s in-house Sustainability Group was set up to improve awareness and knowledge of good sustainable design across our UK and international studios – with a focus on preserving and enhancing the environments in which our designs sit. To that end, it has published a new Environmental Design Guide, and Sustainability Group member Eleanor Maclure here summarises key points in the guide, outlining some of the key sustainability goals that should be met in any development.

Mui Dinh and Hon Thi Ecoparks in Vietnam

Making buildings environmentally sustainable and economically viable has always been a challenge for designers. However, client and public perception of the value of effective sustainable design has changed dramatically. Technological innovations and wider understanding of system efficiency have meant that there are fewer excuses for not meeting this challenge.

Fundamental to this approach is creating the right urban framework and mix of uses for economically, environmentally and socially sustainable places. As creative and sustainability-conscious designers, we have an underlying duty to maximise the potential of any scheme while striving to minimise its environmental impact.

For a project to be genuinely sustainable, it needs to be capable of functioning throughout its entire lifecycle. Our approach to sustainability relies on well-founded principles to create efficient buildings that function well for the end-user and allow the performance of sustainable features to be optimised.

Creating sustainable architecture relies on maintaining awareness of current research and guidance in order to make informed decisions and create viable solutions. Chapman Taylor’s internal Sustainability Group exists to promote sustainability within the practice, through knowledge sharing, education and engagement.

L-R: Trinity Leeds, Princesshay Exeter, Ashford Designer Outlet

To support and communicate this approach to both our staff and clients we have distilled key ideas about design for the built environment to create a new Environmental Design Guide, which promotes a simple approach to sustainable architecture. The guide outlines a best-practice approach, covering sustainability as a general theme, fundamental principles and factors for consideration. Each section is supported by statistics that underline the need for placing sustainability front and centre of the design and construction processes.

The principles set out in the guide can apply to any environment – the overriding theme is the importance of creating places, no matter what the sector or where the scheme is. Among the sectors we discuss in the guide are:

Urban Design

With global populations growing, and an ever-increasing shift towards urban living, creating sustainable urban environments is crucial to the future success, health and wellbeing of our communities. Important considerations in urban design include community engagement, safety, usability, ownership, locality and wellbeing. These can be addressed through considering the orientation of buildings, the scale and mix of blocks and uses and a respectful approach to the natural ecology and habitats on and around a site.

Location, focused amenities and shared facilities can help to support the social sustainability of a project, as well as a responsible approach to new development.


The way we buy things is changing. Online shopping has had a huge impact on our habits, and our high streets and retail environments are having to adapt. Being able to successfully integrate a mix of uses, including leisure, F&B and hospitality, is now vital to the sustainability and commercial viability of retail-led schemes. Responsible redevelopment and community cohesion are key to creating developments that complement the existing environment.

Consideration should also be given to social opportunities, lifecycle costs, the townscape and the requirements of retailers and developers. Various factors should be taken into account when assessing the suitability of streets versus covered and enclosed spaces, including energy consumption, solar gains, scale, daylight, ventilation, comfort, access and convenience. The aim of this guidance is to highlight the factors that contribute to creating the successful, sustainable retail developments of the future.


The residential developments of the future will need to adapt to our changing needs, be easy to manage and give residents control over their living environment. Sustainable residential design should aim to futureproof our homes and protect our planet while facilitating a good quality of life. Safety, simplicity, reliability, affordability and running costs all need to be considered when designing high-quality residential schemes.

The integrated sustainability measures should be intuitive, logical and easy to run to maximise efficiency and benefits. Passive design and attention to context and materials are areas where substantial gains can be made in sustainability and energy efficiency without introducing unnecessary complexity. Finding the right balance of outdoor space, private space and shared space is also vital to the success of a residential project, as is having a location with infrastructure, connectivity and local amenities. Creating housing with scale and massing which is appropriate to the context helps to integrate new developments into existing communities.


Changes in technology are transforming the way we work, and designing for sustainable workplaces can help to ensure that office environments can easily adapt to new working practices in the future. Building efficiency is the key theme of this part of the guide, and the structure of a development can have a substantial impact on this. Other issues for consideration include the impact of technology, flexibility, orientation and opportunities within the brief.

Access to natural light, atriums and transport links are among the measures which help to promote sustainability and wellbeing, while consideration should also be given to ventilation, occupancy, performance targets, workplace density, viability, net-to-gross ratios, BMS and user control. Office developments should also take into account commercial considerations, site analysis, water management, BCO guidance and current and future refurbishment potential.


Sources of renewable power can help us manage our future energy needs, and they can be easily availed of in many types of development. When introducing renewable energy generation into a design scheme, a number of key points need to be considered, including emissions, energy security, preservation, ecology, longevity and climate. Therefore, sustainable design requires a careful and context-appropriate choice of renewable energy systems, including wind power, biomass, solar PV or water heating, geothermal power, hydroelectric power and wave or tidal power schemes. However, a practical approach should be taken towards any renewable scheme. Choosing appropriate renewable energy sources for a scheme is key to the efficiency and viability of the system. Considerations should include economies of scale, payback time, green tariffs, lifecycle, local climate, reliability, complexity, usability, efficiency, infrastructure, location and cost.

L-R: MediaCityUK Manchester, The Mark Bucharest, NOI Techpark Bolzano

Addressing sustainability in the built environment is one of the key ways we can reduce our carbon emissions, waste and use of scarce resources. As good architects, we should be responsible for all aspects of our designs. We should make buildings which are comfortable and don’t require a lot of energy to heat and cool, that can be adapted and repurposed and that use appropriate materials, not scarce resources. You can take the word ‘sustainability’ out and it is still common sense to design in this way, so that buildings are less costly, easier and more efficient to run and maintain.

Sustainable design can be made unnecessarily complex – we believe that a simple approach to sustainable architecture will best help us to take the steps we need to preserve our planet now and for the future.

As creative and sustainability-conscious designers, Chapman Taylor's common sense approach is to maximise the efficiency of a scheme while striving to minimise its environmental impact. We seek to create developments which are commercially realistic yet environmentally responsible.

For more information, please contact:

Eleanor Maclure
Senior Graphic Designer (London)

Nick Thursby
Director (Bristol)

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