Fran’s strawbale house
The AECB conference 2016 was held at the UK’s greenest building – The University of East Anglia Enterprise Centre designed by Architype. The most exciting thing for me was that the walls are clad in thatch (a vernacular material) and that all materials were sourced as locally as possible. When designing buildings, there is a lot of focus on keeping energy bills low, but not so much on keeping embodied energy low. Embodied energy is the energy required to manufacture and then deliver the product. Today we can import materials from anywhere, in stark contrast to the vernacular builders of the past who would have been limited to their local area. The latter is far more sustainable, but often overlooked as a necessary part of eco-building. The Enterprise Centre also achieves Passivhaus levels of comfort and air quality. It is a beautiful building, proving that eco design need not be ‘wacky’, it can fit well if it is well designed.
I learnt a lot from Bill Butcher of Green Building Store’s talk about their latest deep (meaning very eco) retrofit of a house in Cumberworth, West Yorkshire. The owners had been paying £3000 a year just on heating (not including wood burning stoves) and were freezing, on this exposed Yorkshire hillside. Having come into some inheritance, they decided if they wanted to stay put, something had to be done. So they enlisted GBS who have achieved a 67% reduction in their heating requirements. GBS used a combination of capillary active Tectem insulation, fibreglass and a new product called Diathonite, all internally. The airtightness result (2 air changes instead of 1) was not as good as they were aiming for. Bill said this was because they should have treated the partition wall as an external wall.
David Gale and Tomas Gartner from Gale and Snowden Architects launched the new Building Biology course in the UK. This teaches practitioners how to mitigate the effects on human health caused by radiation, dust, off-gassing from synthetic materials such as MDF and plastics and alternative materials to use in construction that will not create problems. Our indoor environments have a huge impact on our health including allergies such as asthma.
Fran’s straw bale house
A great highlight of the AECB conference 2016 was a visit to Fran Bradshaw (of Anne Thorne Architects), house in Norfolk. It is Contemporary Vernacular Design at its best, with locally sourced materials (even the reeds for the thatch which due to poor water quality in the UK, often has to come from abroad), and a design that is a contemporary interpretation of a thatched cottage. Using renewable and low embodied energy materials (timber frame, straw bale walls, roof insulated with thatch, cellulose (recycled newspaper) and wood fibre board) it is also an eco-house in the truest sense. The house also very nearly achieved Passivhaus, showing how energy efficient this way of building can be. it is a brilliant example of how to achieve a beautiful house and an eco-house. All of the AECB visitors agreed, this is the way forward.
I can’t wait to build my own straw bale eco-house!
Hemp prefabricated construction
I also attended a seminar by Greencore Construction on hemp and timber frame prefabricated construction. This was very fortuitous and perfect timing as my blog about a CNA visit to one of their houses describes.
Gary Wilburn, Director at HPW gave a talk about some of their larger projects, including a Peppa Pig tourist attraction and a shopping centre with restaurants at Rushden Lakes. While a bit controversial at an event about eco-building (do we really need another shopping centre/tourist attraction to enjoy these natural environments?), Gary’s message about methods of persuasion to clients not yet sold on the benefits of building sustainably was a good one. After all, these types of commercial projects are going to happen whatever we at the AECB might prefer. At least if there is a green architect whispering in the client’s ear, things such as miles of extra cycle paths, wind-catchers providing passive ventilation and removing the need for air-conditioning, use of renewable energy sources and renewable materials as well as wildflower roofs will mitigate the overall environmental impact.
August 30, 2016
Hemp, lime and timber frame prefabricated panels are an exciting way of creating eco-homes. I recently visited a ecohouse (that doesn’t look ‘eco’) completed in August 2016 and built by Greencore construction and was given a guided tour by Julia Bennett and Ian Pritchett.
Prefab or craft, can you have both?
Having written a book on Contemporary Vernacular Design, I am very keen to retain craft skills as much as possible. However, as part of my book research, I interviewed architects Alan Dickson of Rural Design and Neil Stevens of Dualchas, both situated on the Isle of Skye and both producing beautiful contemporary vernacular dwellings, well suited to the tough conditions in the Highlands. What was intriguing to me was that both firms provide their own pre-fabricated dwelling options (coming under R-House and Hebridean Homes respectively) in addition to their usual bespoke dwelling design. These still look beautiful, and as Alan Dickson explained; there are 101 ways to get timber cladding wrong and one way to get it right, pre-fabrication is a way to get it consistently right. These prefab houses look beautiful and crafted.
Inspired by this, I have been keen to explore pre-fabricated construction to reduce time and worry on site (especially with Passivhaus builds). Which is why I was so pleased to attend the Greencore seminar at the recent AECB conference in July 2016. (strange how you have to go all the way to Norwich to discover what you need is only on your doorstep in Abingdon!)
Having provided the hemp construction system for The Triangle, Swindon (link), which was not prefabricated and built on-site during the cold and wet winter of 2010-11, Ian Pritchett could see that prefab, where panels are built in a dry factory, had to be the way forward (having been a doubter himself).
The natural prefab panels
Greencore offer a timber framed, hemp-lime filled, factory-made panelised system. But this is not SIPS – which is high in embodied energy, not breathable and studies in America have highlighted issues with poor airtightness detailing causing internal rotting. The hemp and lime lock up carbon and are both renewable and breathable offering a superior living environment. Greencore offer a bespoke design, working with architects at an early stage to ensure that design and construction are in synergy and there will be no surprises on site (or at least they are vastly mitigated – there are always surprises on site).
Ian is keen to point out that although you can use clay or lime plasters internally to complete the full breathability of the wall (and therefore a lovely atmosphere as well as very low environmental impact). You can also use standard plasterboard and emulsion paints and that these more commercially viable materials will still offer a pleasant living environment when combined with an MVHR system. I was surprised to discover a lack of fresh paint smell and assumed eco-paints had been used, but no, standard emulsions and an MVHR ventilation system delivering constant fresh air allowed smells to disperse very quickly.
The house is simple in design, with an attractive L shape, lovely open plan spaces, lots of light and beautiful vaulted ceilings with large rooflights in the bedrooms and bathrooms.
Simpler to achieve Passivhaus detailing…
Unlike the wide masonry cavity wall Passivhaus construction that I have previously used, the hemp-lime timber frame construction is easier to build in many ways. Windows are best situated in the middle of the insulation to retain best thermal performance and this can be achieved by sitting them on plywood boxes in masonry cavity construction, however stone reveals are not possible and aesthetically clients are not so keen on the deeper external reveals. The hemp-lime system allows you to position the windows centrally without ply-boxes as that is where the timber frame is situated. However, to fulfil client expectations (and this house is a commercial project), Greencore have used pure-nit boards to cantilever the windows closer to the external face of the wall. Purenit® boards, though more expensive than plywood offers much better thermal performance.
Using PHPP (Passivhaus Planning Package) software as standard they are able to predict heating requirements and always beat the predictions of the software on site. This means that the performance of hemp-lime beats the predictions of the PHPP and the heating demand is lower once built than was predicted by the software. This is very advantageous and defies the industry norm of as-built energy performance being lower than predicted in SAP (the industry standard for assessing energy performance of building as required by building regulations for all new buildings).
I am looking forward to working with Greencore on future projects.
August 30, 2016
My new Contemporary Vernacular Housing Book is out in November!
After two years of visiting case studies in the UK and Europe, my Contemporary Vernacular Housing Book has finally gone into production with RIBA Publishing. These two years were challenging because the research involved visiting case studies, interviewing residents, architects and developers or housing associations as well as writing and editing. During this time I was also running a busy practice and teaching a day a week at Oxford Brookes University. The book also contains 5 case studies from further afield, researched as part of my masters thesis. Julia Phillips (architectural assistant at CNA) helped me with editing and organisation of the book and Katie Reilly (architectural assistant at CNA) gave me useful feedback prior to submitting the manuscript when I was too tired to read another word!
The research has been hugely rewarding and I have met some wonderful architects as well as inspiring housing associations and developers. This research informs our work at the practice and is very much a part of our ethos.
I am also excited to announce that architect Piers Taylor (of £100k house: The Final Fix TV series and founder of the Invisible Studio Architects), is currently writing the foreword.
August 20, 2016
Clare Nash’s first housing book talk 24/11/15
I was pleased to give my first book talk to the RIBA East Midlands Housing Group and the Northamptonshire Society of Architects. I will be giving more talks all over the UK in future months and it was really useful to receive feedback from my audience on ways to improve.
November 25, 2015
I recently received a phone call for Grand Designs asking if I wanted to be an expert judge on their panel. How fun to be a Grand Designs architect, I thought! They wanted me to appear on a new programme about eco-self-build projects happening in Bicester. They were interested in me as I am a female architect with a specialism in sustainability. They came and did a screen test which went very well. I received very good feedback following the screen test. Unfortunately they decided that the panel would be too architect heavy with two architects on it in the end. But how nice to be asked!
The programme will be about 10 self-builders who are building on the 1000 new self-build plots, at Gravenhill, south of Bicester that Cherwell District Council are offering. My job as an expert panelist would have been to make a shortlist of 10 from 20 potential self-builders for the 10 Grand Designs allocated plots.
October 25, 2015
At the RIBA Role Models launch event at Portland Place, London, June 2015
Why an RIBA Role Model?
I became interested in becoming an RIBA role model for two reasons. One, because I am a female architect and I have noticed for some years that there are very few of us! And two, because I studied Part 2 part time, a route that is not well publicised but makes studying architecture more feasible and less daunting financially.
Here is a link to my RIBA Role Model Profile
The only female architect in the office
I was fortunate to work in a roughly 50/50 male/female office for 5 years (after previously working for a practice of 14 staff where the only other female was the receptionist) and really enjoyed having female senior architects to look up to. Previously all my architectural role models were male (and most still are). There is nothing wrong with that. I have received a lot of support from everyone in the industry whether male or female. To me, it is a wonderful place to be, full of highly intelligent creative, witty people. But when you are sat in a boardroom with 10 other men, all of them at least 10 years your senior, but you are the architect and expected to chair the meeting, it is rather nice to have support from a female colleague who understands what that is like. Women, even those with high intelligence, lots of qualifications and experience, suffer from imposter syndrome (when you wonder when people might find out that you don’t really know what you are doing!). They talk themselves down, where men would usually talk themselves up. This can lead to higher stress levels and high levels of conscientiousness. The first one is unhelpful but can be relieved from feeling you are not alone, the latter one is a highly valued skill in any employee.
None of this of course, has prevented me from being an architect and starting my own practice. I am passionate about architecture and can’t imagine doing anything else. This is what has got me through, but also I have been very fortunate in the quality of experience I have had. I have never experienced sexism directly, but unfortunately know of many others who have.
While writing my book I have had the privilege of meeting some of my architect heroes which has been fabulous, but perhaps disappointing that more couldn’t have been female heroes on my bucket list.
Why do women drop out of architecture school?
I also have the privilege of teaching technology to architecture BA students. At BA level there are roughly 50% female students, this drops off to 20-30% at Part 2 level and even less qualify at Part 3. It made me think that something is happening in that year out that is putting off female students, but not male ones. I hope by being a role model I can encourage more female students to continue to pursue architecture which is a wonderful career.
Architecture has to be long hours and inflexible?
Architecture is famous for long hours and inflexible working patterns. However I have been fortunate to see another side to that. While working at a large practice and studying for Part 2, I worked 3 days in the office term time and 5 in the holidays. I was running 3 jobs on site, the experience of which fed into my course (technology was no bother whatsoever). It was usual for me to check emails when at university and if there was anything urgent from the builder, I could ring the office to send things for me. It made me realise that flexible working was possible in architecture. I was also famous in the office for leaving on time. It was rare for me to work late unless there was a very important deadline. I was concerned this would make me appear uncommitted. But I knew that my life outside of architecture (triathlon, gardening, gigs) left me refreshed for the following day. Because I wanted my life so much, I was very efficient in the day times to ensure I could have both – architecture and a life.
It is now part of my practice culture that people work flexibly for me. In the winter I enjoy a run or a trip to the allotment in the afternoon in daylight and work in the dark evenings to catch up. Why shouldn’t my employees also be able to do this?
Part 2 Part Time
As I have mentioned above, studying part time gave me the opportunity to gain really valuable experience while studying. I studied for an extra year (Part 2 is 3 or 4 years studied part time, I chose 3), but I went straight through to Part 3 as I already had enough experience, so it actually saved me a year of practical experience. It also meant that when I lost my job in the recession, I had enough experience to set up my own practice, something that would not have been possible for me, had I studied Part 2 full time. Because I worked full time in the university holidays, my salary was enough that I could pay all of my living expenses and pay my own university fees. University fees are much cheaper when you study part time, even taking into account the cost of the extra year. I therefore only have a small student loan from when I studied my BA full time. This may not be the right route for everyone but at least if more people know about it, they have a choice and at least financial reasons should not put them off architecture.
Here is a link to my RIBA Role Model Profile
August 2, 2015
I am pleased to have been selected as one of the 12 RIBA role models to encourage future architects from all kinds of backgrounds and to make it a more inclusive profession. I had great time at the launch event last night and it was lovely to meet the other role models. Not enough time to chat to all of them personally but hopefully we’ll chat at future events. The RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) and RIBA president elect Jane Duncan put on a great event that brought up a lot of useful ideas for how we can make the profession more diverse and inclusive.
RIBA Role Models Project
RIBA Role Model Clare Nash
June 3, 2015
Barns Permitted Development
RIBA news shows Barns Permitted Development guidance for conversion to dwellings has had further clarification on what exactly is ‘undesirable’. Previously, this was undefined giving councils the right to refuse all kinds of applications because it found the proposed development ‘undesirable’. I have not found this to be a problem so far with any councils that I have worked with. But the need for this clarification shows that some councils are not of the view that barns should be converted to homes. However, one South Northants council officer did say to me “It seems the government wants barns to be converted into dwellings”, so perhaps more councils will be taking this viewpoint in future. It does also seem that overall, it is looking favourable for barn conversions to dwellings for the foreseeable future. The government has taken the time to produce this guidance, which it wouldn’t have done if this was a short term trial. However what happens following the election is as always, unpredictable.
For more on Barn Permitted Development see the following blog posts:
A recent barn conversion to dwelling project that received planning permission see here
If you would like to know more about the change in law for permitted development barn conversion to dwellings, then please see my blog here
March 20, 2015
In addition to existing staff, Clare Nash Architecture is looking for a Freelance Vectorworks 3D Architectural Assistant / architectural technologist or technician. Based in the UK, ideally not too far away from South Northants/Oxfordshire area so occasional meetings are possible. Clare Nash Architecture is very focused on energy efficient design and you would be working on predominantly rural projects; farm building conversions, listed farmhouses, rural self-build, extensions and alterations to existing buildings.
March 5, 2015
The training that leads to becoming an architect
As many of you will know, I have experienced a huge surge in workload over the last year. Because of this I have employed an architectural assistant, Lucy Holland. She is working on a variety of architectural tasks with me from Pinterest to building control drawings, all in a days work at a small architectural practice! I thought you may be interested in the the training that leads to becoming an architect and the sort of useful experience Lucy has gained before working with me.
Lucy Holland on one of many architectural projects she has worked on
I am in my final year of Masters in Architecture at Oxford Brookes University (Part 2) and have previously had a range of practice experience in North Devon, Bristol, London and Rome. I have worked on residential, education and healthcare buildings and enjoy the challenge of creating bespoke projects for individual clients.
I grew up on a working farm, which has helped with my knowledge of rural buildings and I am used to surveying and creating proposals for listed houses and agricultural buildings. In my first year of masters I specialised in vernacular architecture and regeneration, which helped my knowledge of adaptive reuse of existing buildings.
Working in Rome was a great experience that helped me to learn Italian and gave me the opportunity to work on beautiful Agritourism projects that re-appropriated farm buildings into new diversified uses.
Working in London gave me a great insight into working on large-scale high-rise residential projects and how to effectively use space on restricted sites.
Outside of studies and work I enjoy playing netball, keeping active and travelling whenever possible!
March 5, 2015