Q&A with Chapman Taylor Sustainability Group Head, Nick Thursby

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. Bristol Director, and Sustainability Group head, Nick Thursby talks to us about the group’s role and the future direction.

What is the role of the Sustainability Group within Chapman Taylor?

The Sustainability Group was initially set up to inform employees of developments in environmental design best practice, using short green guides to keep directors informed. The group also focused on internal aspects of our design studios as well as the buildings that we designed.  

We were then tasked with initiating an environmental management system to achieve ISO 14001 accreditation. Not many architectural firms had this in place at the time, so we had to develop our own approach to achieving this. We have continued that process and have tried to constantly improve.

In more recent years, the group focused on environmental improvements to residential schemes, which led to us looking at modular systems of construction. It’s easier to have greater control over residential schemes than retail ones, where we are providing just shell and core, as ultimately these are influenced by the required fit-out and uses needed by the tenants themselves.

Our aims continue to evolve as circumstances do, particularly now that sustainable design has become a much more common consideration in building design. 

MediaCityUK was the first development in the world to obtain BREEAM Sustainable Community status.

Tell us about methods you have used to implement sustainability practices?

As part of the ISO 14001 accreditation, we implemented an environmental checklist that identified aspects of building design which could be incorporated to improve the environmental impact of a development. This is something that is constantly evolving, and we are now investigating alternative methods.

In the past, it was challenging to demonstrate to clients the benefits of low-impact buildings. However, many clients now want to achieve a level of sustainability accreditation, be that BREEAM, LEED or one of the other environmental certification systems.

We try and focus on implementing the aspects which are possible and have the greatest effect, even if it isn’t all achievable. We also recognise that a building might be BREEAM Excellent without being a truly sustainably excellent building. There is an argument to be made that simply going beyond certain building regulations are a better means of implementing sustainability principles than chasing credits.

One of our challenges is to work with the entire client team from development and management through to maintenance. The development team might not see anything of the running cost savings from incorporating sustainable elements, only the upfront costs, and it is therefore valuable to make them aware.

BREEAM Excellent Trinity Leeds comprises buildings linked by a series of naturally ventilated, arcaded streets and public spaces.

How do you communicate the group’s aims within Chapman Taylor?

As well as the normal means of simply talking to people, we have guidance sheets, we hold seminars with both internal and external speakers and we influence the in-house CPD programme to include sustainable design elements.

We have also implemented a ‘Green Flash’ system where news items, updates and other relevant pieces of information are sent around the company’s studios via our intranet platform. In any large organisation, you can’t tell people something important often enough, and the Green Flashes help us to get those key messages across quickly and effectively, with a link to more details.

Our environmental checklist for every RIBA stage helps to guide designers in the right direction, while recognising that every job is different. Communication is key – teams on different projects try to support each other by exchanging knowledge and ideas in order to maximise the opportunity for achieving as sustainable a design as possible.

East Kidwai Nagar sustainability credentials were showcased at the COP21 climate change conference in Paris in December 2015.

Why is your work important?

As good architects, we should be responsible in all aspects of our designs. We shouldn’t be using scarce resources, we should make buildings which are comfortable and don’t require a lot of energy to heat and cool all the time and we should be using appropriate materials. You can take the word ‘sustainability’ out and it still makes good common sense to design in this way. Maybe ‘sustainability’ is now an outdated term and we should be calling it simply ‘responsible design’ instead.

We try to take a pragmatic approach, but we really do introduce things to try and make a significant difference. We’re less focused on the right number of shelters for cycles than with making sure that the building is properly insulated or doesn’t require huge amounts of energy to make it work. We also peel right back to basics, for example ensuring that a masterplan is designed flexibly and sufficiently future-proofed to ensure that it won’t have to be knocked down in ten years’ time. Sustainability has to be built into design principles right from day one.

NOI Techpark has LEED v4 Neighborhood Development Gold sustainability certification.

How do you work with external consultants to achieve sustainability aims?

The majority of projects that we work on involve the appointment of an environmental consultant who will carry out an environmental assessment according to the guidance of a scheme such as BREEAM.

We can provide information which helps the client, aiming for the appointment of someone who is knowledgeable about the particular type of building and who also understands what makes a difference and what aspects are most important.

Espacio Coruña is the first Spanish shopping centre to receive a BREEAM certificate for sustainability. It is mostly built underground and includes a green roof which allows the building to cool down naturally.

What key differences have you seen as a result of the Group’s work?

We have achieved a number of key things at various stages. In our earliest form, we eliminated a lot of in-house material waste, and we then made a difference to how building projects were approached – educating ourselves and educating clients.

A major achievement was achieving ISO 14001 accreditation, which demonstrated that we had a suitable environmentally responsible design management system, in turn allowing Chapman Taylor to bid for projects with higher requirements. There weren’t many architects with this at the time, so we had to produce our own guidance. It was a big victory for us, but we only did it because we wanted to help ourselves and our clients.

Goito58 in Rome is a careful renovation of a 19th century building to create a modern office scheme. It achieved Gold LEED Certification and BREEAM Very Good status, a first for a historic building of this type within the city.

Where do you go next?

The group is now at a turning point, where we need to re-orientate our focus towards what clients’ aspirations are. ‘Sustainability’ is not the buzzword it once was, because of the success there has been in making environmental concerns an automatic design focus. Building regulations, planning requirements and clients’ own aspirations now set the agenda – many clients have their own corporate responsibility policies, including environmental targets and ethos. We regularly meet our clients’ sustainability directors to learn more about what it is they want.

We also need to examine how we can adapt environmental sustainability principles to growing sectors such as the Build-to-Rent market, and ask how important sustainability principles are to people who rent, or to the people who develop and manage those schemes.

Ultimately, it is a common sense approach – it makes sense for buildings to be easier and more efficient to run. Clients enjoy working with us because we understand them. Clients need us to deliver sensible built environments which suit their needs in every way, not just the environmentally responsible features. It is our task to achieve all of these things.

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.

Ashford Designer Outlet, which is under construction, includes Europe's largest green wall.

Nick Thursby (BA (Hons) Dip Arch RIBA)

Director, Bristol

Nick joined Chapman Taylor’s London studio in 1999 and worked on the award-winning Princesshay, Exeter scheme before joining the UK concept design team.

He was jointly responsible for establishing Chapman Taylor’s Bristol studio in 2013 and as a UK Board Director is now responsible for the ongoing development and management of this part of the UK business. Nick also leads Chapman Taylor’s Sustainability Group responsible for researching best-practice environmental design initiatives and innovation.

He has 20 years’ experience spanning all project stages.

Areas of expertise:

Retail / Residential / Mixed-use / Concept Design / Detailed Design  / Sustainability

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