Great Buildings

Great Buildings

In pretty much every aspect of life there are some great, brilliant, inspiring examples, but also some downright awful, depressing versions and of course, everything in between.

The same applies to buildings, and when you look at the importance of buildings the stakes are incredibly high. Buildings help define humanity and without them we would never have flourished as a species as strongly as we have.

If you then throw sustainability in, you can see that buildings and construction projects can have a huge positive or negative impact.

So what makes a truly great building? Arguably the most important element is that it is absolutely fit for purpose. It is a building that people love. They enjoy being in it or around it, or if it is for an industrial or commercial purpose then it allows that function to be delivered to the maximum. If it is a work-space, then it is a pleasure to work in and this will ultimately see greater creativity, productivity and engagement from those working there. For any business this will add to the financial bottom line as well as the social. Such buildings are memorable.

Whenever I have reason to visit the one company’s headquarters in Bath I always come away with a positive feeling. I know that although a lot of that is down to the staff and company overall it is also partly down to the building. It is light, welcoming, open plan, they have a street feel café, where staff can meet, plan and progress. It is a space that says: “You can!” Its high specification environmentally and socially, and says a lot about the company.

The same obviously applies to homes and other residential buildings. They can help residents be healthy in mind, body and spirit. The benefits of happy homes are huge in terms of societal gains. Simple things like green or blue space being close can help improve education, reduce crime and health costs. The interaction with the natural environment is key, and it can be simple and very inexpensive.

I know one residential property development for the retired population, where everyone has bird tables and feeders on their balconies or window-sills, yet there are no birds. A simple lack of understanding resulted in there being no trees or bushes planted in the central quadrangle. As such there is no safe staging post for birds to be able to fly to, before they approach the bird tables. So a lack of attention to the most simple of details on this big project, lets it down for the actual users.

Longevity is another element that I think helps define a truly great building. I sometimes find it scary that some projects have a design life of 25 years. That’s nothing! On a house, will that result in second or third owners being unable to secure a mortgage, as there will be insufficient guaranteed life in the building to leave an asset by the end of the mortgage?

When you look at some buildings they are in their second, third or even fourth manifestation. Old harbour side warehouses are classic examples. Firstly industrial, then commercial offices and now homes. That loose fit internal infrastructure within a time proof outer shell is true delivery of sustainability.

Now it’s true that we have different materials, criteria, demands etc. in our fast moving and ever-changing world. It is also true that labour costs are proportionately higher, but I would argue that sometimes spending that bit more up front would deliver greater efficiency over time. Efficiency of the world’s resources and of our time are underpinning principles of a more sustainable approach.

By Chris Hines, WWA’s Sustainability Consultant