Sustainable Design of the Built Environment

The Centre for Sustainable Design of the Built Environment is a joint venture between the Building Research Establishment (BRE), the Welsh Assembly Government and the Welsh School of Architecture in Cardiff University.

The BRE and WSA are both recognised as centres of excellence for research in the built environment and have both been contributing to the body of knowledge about sustainability in the built environment for many years. This Centre brings the two organisations closer together and creates a focus for continued collaboration to promote sustainable design in Wales, the UK and internationally.

Current projects include: the development of a low carbon 'early' design tool, the Climate-Lite energy model (£160,000); and (with DRU) Modern Methods of Construction (£450,000), a Design Guide for Sustainable Housing in National Parks in Wales (£80,000), and Developing Knowledge Exchange Mechanisms to support Welsh Low-carbon Housing (£50,000). The Centre also receives PhD studentships through BRE Trust.

The Centre is developing research in three key areas of sustainable design:

Improving the performance of existing buildings

New buildings form the central focus of most research on the sustainability of the built environment. However, most of the buildings we will be using in 60 years from now have already been built. Many of these buildings embody precious resources and can be seen as important assets for future generations. Many, however, are also wasteful in their use of energy and potentially harmful to their occupants. The prevailing emphasis on new build solutions, perhaps because they offer fewer obstacles and are arguably more exciting, diverts attention from the problems of making our existing stock more sustainable. This is a neglected area of research, which C-SuDOBE proposes to address in future research.

Human interaction with energy systems

Technical innovation and understanding are clearly essential to creating a more sustainable built environment. But they are not enough.

The Centre will address the problems of enabling and encouraging users to operate buildings in ways that will reduce their impact on the environment. This research will apply the concepts of affordances and naïve physics to develop a body of theory that can be used to inform the design of energy systems within the built environment.

Dissemination and knowledge transfer

Poor communication is often cited as a major obstacle to transferring valuable research results to those who make the best use of them. The Centre will develop projects under this heading to increase the effectiveness of research on sustainability in the built environment. The Centre is currently investigating the application of open source methods (as used in software development) to designs and construction details. This will result in a Web-based system that will allow multiple users to retrieve, adapt and apply examples of good practice that respond to different geographical, climatic, economic and cultural contexts.

The Centre will develop research projects within the above themes, ranging from technical studies of building materials through to social studies of energy services, but will also serve as an integrator for results from these projects and others within the Welsh School of Architecture. We are critically aware of the need for more holistic research paradigms than can combine multiple viewpoints to develop more sustainable solutions to the challenges within the built environment. Our research places assesses the sustainability of materials, components, systems and buildings within the context of their proposed application. This is intended to avoid, for example, the problems of 'green sprawl' which can be seen in many European cities, where citizens are moving out of the city centre to energy efficient -- but often larger -- houses in the suburbs and then commuting to work in the centre. This underlines the need for the contextual and integrated thinking which is a hallmark of the Centre's approach.