Feb 12, 2019 - 4min read
At Tonik, we’re in love with the technologies that can make your home sustainable. But it’s not just gadgets that help cut down on energy consumption; architecture can go a long way towards making buildings extremely energy efficient.
Whether we’re talking passive heating, sustainable materials and building practices, or intelligent ventilation systems, architects have been developing an eco-arsenal of ingenious innovations to reduce the carbon footprint of new buildings.
You don’t have to look far to find one of these beacons of efficient design. In fact, some of our favourites are pretty much on our doorstep...
Zero Carbon House
Not only is architect John Christophers our hero, he’s basically one of our neighbours too. He has designed - and lives in - the Zero Carbon House in Birmingham, having devoted every ounce of his ingenuity to retrofitting an 1840s red-brick terrace house to generate more energy than it uses. It isn’t even connected to the mains power supply!
It’s not just the 30-degree angled roof fitted with 35 square meters of solar panels making a difference here. The floors and walls contain an airtight membrane that prevents draughts and retains warmth; skylights are positioned to reduce the need for artificial lighting; the toilets and washing machine use rainwater collected from the roof and stored in an underground tank.
The retrofit made use of 14 reclaimed materials, including red clay from the foundations of the house that was flattened and polished to make the floor, recycled newspaper for insulation, and recycled glass for the kitchen countertops. On top of all that, it looks absolutely amazing.
Heelis, National Trust HQ
An unassuming building from the outside, the National Trust’s Heelis headquarters proves that sustainability doesn’t have to be flash. One of the greenest office buildings in the UK, the roof features ventilation ‘snouts’ made from recycled beer cans that silently draw air through the building and, of course, an array of solar panels generating 30% of the building’s electricity.
Sustainable design even extends to the soft furnishings; the office’s snazzy carpets are made with wool woven from the National Trust’s very own flocks of Herdwick sheep. FUN FACT: ‘Heelis’ is the maiden name of Beatrix Potter, the first woman to be elected head of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association, and who worked with the National Trust to acquire land and farms for long-term preservation.
Officially the most sustainable office building in the world (according to BREEAM, the Building Research Environmental Assessment Method), the London headquarters of the Bloomberg company opened in 2017, costing £1bn to build and providing a staggering 1.1 million square feet of sustainable office space (quick maths check: that’s approximately £1000 per square foot).
Petal-like ceiling panels combine air supply, cooling and acoustic baffling with 500,000 LED lights rather than energy-hungry fluorescent bulbs. The building is intelligent bordering on sentient, with bronze blades on the outside that open and close to create natural ventilation, and CO2 sensors inside to determine where people are in the building and adjust the smart airflow system accordingly. With an on-site Combined Heat and Power (CHP) generation centre, the building has earnt itself a so-far unbeaten 99.1% BREEAM energy efficiency rating.
The Library of Birmingham
Another entry close to our home as well as our hearts, the Library of Birmingham’s intricate facade is not only eye-catching but functional; there are ventilators built into the complex pattern of concentric circles, drawing air into the building and out through exhaust panels on the roof. This passive cooling minimises the need for mechanical ventilation such as fans.
The construction process was innovative, too; 95% of the waste materials produced when erecting the library were recycled rather than sent to landfill, and the brown roof of the building was covered with rubble from construction in order to provide a natural city habitat for wildlife. Meanwhile, the Discovery Terrace on level 3 and the Secret Garden on Level 7 provide city-centre green spaces for humans!
The Macallan Distillery
There’s nothing quite like a drop of whisky to warm you up on a winter’s evening, and The Macallan is one of the most renowned single malts in the world. With a heritage dating back to 1824, however, it may surprise you to learn that their new distillery is distinctly modern in terms of its technology and design.
Its undulating roof is made from 380,000 pieces of timber bearing the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification’s sustainable seal of approval. The roof was then covered with local grass and wildflowers to create a series of manmade hills that blend beautifully with the surrounding landscape. Native stone and wood was used extensively in production, and the distillery is powered with 95% renewable energy from a nearby CHP generator - which also feeds enough energy to power 20,000 homes back into the grid. We’ll drink to that!
One Angel Square, Co-operative Group HQ
Until the Bloomberg Building came along, the Co-operative Group’s HQ at One Angel Square was the most energy efficient office in the country. The 16 floor building boasts a “double skinned” facade that provides natural heating and cooling, while the top floors arranged like staggered amphitheater seating in order to let in the largest possible amount of natural light.
The light floods a giant indoor atrium which is reflected by the white-painted concrete floors, significantly reducing the amount of artificial lighting needed inside. Meanwhile, an on-site CHP generator is fuelled with pure plant-oil grown on the Co-operative Group’s farms, producing most of the building’s heat and electrical energy, as well as exporting energy back to the national grid. Now that’s what we call being cooperative!