An exclusive fourth excerpt from 'Design to Value: The architecture of holistic design and creative technology' book by Mark Bryden, Professor John Dyson, Jaimie Johnston MBE and Martin Wood. Published by RIBA Books.

The Benefits of Design to Value: To the Environment

As society’s awareness of its impact on local ecosystems grows to a realization of the global impacts of climate change and the continued and rapid destruction of habitats, diversity and the planet’s interdependent networks of life, Design to Value offers the opportunity to respond with purpose and adequacy. Although the green agenda has been around for a couple of decades, the response has been piecemeal, discreet; some would say derisory. The focus on meeting standards or gaining accolades has at best stifled major impact and at worst has lulled the industry and society into the idea that we were making great strides and further action was not necessary.

The facts are becoming increasingly clear: putting grass on roofs or achieving a gold plaque changes almost nothing; we need ambitious and holistic solutions at every level.

In the past, shifting a project to prioritize the environment was often and easily rejected or written off as something that could be and needed to be sacrificed on the altar of cost. Design to Value naturally seeks wider and synergistic value, leading, supporting and embracing these needs as an opportunity to innovate: the environment is not an encumbrance, but a space for crucial change through design.

Thinking beyond standards, Design to Value can look at absolutes and even further can look for redemption. The most significant and perhaps difficult question needed to be addressed in every project is: how can we not build things we don’t really need even if they have a financial return? A factory in Japan was due for closure and demolition as it no longer met the requirements for withstanding an earthquake after rules were changed following the earthquake and tsunami of 2011. Studies to look at remediating the buildings had suggested the need to cease operations for 18 months, meaning the solution was unviable. Although the client was looking for the most efficient replacement factory, the Design to Value approach – combined with clever thinking and seismic modeling – came up with a solution to support the existing building. This eradicated the need to replace or shut down the operation, saving the client more than £120 million – not to mention tonnes of embedded and emitted carbon in the construction of a new asset.

If building is the only option, then the hard questions need to continue:

What would a zero-carbon building look like across its whole lifespan? There is a pressing need to reduce carbon emissions in the short term, so although having an efficient building over a 50-year period is a good outcome, it is insufficient if it causes a huge emission of CO2 in the next few years. There are technologies being developed that extract CO2 from the atmosphere to incorporate into building materials. These ideas offer the opportunity to make the construction of an asset carbon negative.

How can we build and not just protect diversity (e.g. move a threatened species) but provide the foundations to increase natural habitats? This is not just putting money aside to plant trees, it’s about working with environmental groups – not to seek reluctant acceptance but instead enthusiastic support and ideas. We know that green spaces are a positive influence on our well-being. Studies have shown that contact with nature has a significant impact on mental health. This is another example where multiple value drivers can be augmented in tandem; increasing diversity, improving well-being, supporting productivity and creating educational environments.

How can we reduce waste materials, and, moreover, incorporate them into the built environment, reusing plastics and other potential throwaways?

How do we look at all these things together to find the best business, aesthetic and environmental solutions?

The answer is simple and difficult. Thinking more broadly with the widest purpose, giving the right culture and encouragement is easy for a time. Creating the space, the willingness to change, requires a great deal of energy. There is an opportunity to work and think differently; no longer do you have to assume that working for and with the environment will push a project over budget or make it untenable.

While form might follow function, function is much more complicated today. And this will only increase over time. As the environment changes and technology shifts, more – and more complex – gears emerge. Design to Value seeks to future-proof modes of design to create a more agile space in which accelerated and increased challenges can be adapted to. With this we can better anticipate and care for future generations and beyond.


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