Ecobuild 2014

My hours have been significantly reduced since the Christmas peak and I’m pretty much down to weekends and the occasional weekday. Good news is that I got to take a trip down to London for Ecobuild 2014, also taking a look at an exhibition at The Architecture Foundation on the way back.

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Ecobuild is a three-day event that brings together those interested in sustainable building practices. There were lots of interesting stands and features of varying sizes. Some promoting generic environmental and sustainable organisations looking to build networks and launch campaigns with other like minded people in the field, others were there to sell their stuff; solar panels, green roofs, living walls, eco-concrete, rainwater harvesting systems, electric cars, you name it.

 

One of the seminar arenas marked out by wooden pallets; a popular building material for upcoming up cycling DIY-ers

One of the seminar arenas marked out by wooden pallets; a popular building material for upcoming up cycling DIY-ers

Then there are the seminars, and talks with appearances from celebrities, MPs, and ‘starchitect’ leaders in the industry. Exploring and debating issues such as fracking through to the Green Deal initiative. One talk I didn’t manage to get to (I’m hoping to find a recording released soon) explored what we need to do to build resilience for future water management. Floods AND droughts. A very current issue given the record breaking floods we’ve seen this winter.

A selection of some of the many stands

A selection of some of the many stands

It is absolutely massive, so much so it took up both halves of the ExCel arena and would have been impossible to fully engage with everything there in one day without a bike! I joined for the second day and the morning of the third.

Main themes

Whilst there could have been many other focus areas for my trip (green energy, Building Information Modeling (BIM), refurbishment and retrofitting etc.) My primary interest was the biodiversity pavilion, and that’s where I made a beeline for. However, there were a few interesting talks on adapting towards a ‘circular’ building economy that caught my eye and I ended up also spending a bit of time there too. I went to two separate talks for each area and will post about them more later.

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Designing for Nature

Man-made environments don’t usually bring good news for wildlife and biodiversity, yet when we incorporate nature into our buildings there can be multiple benefits for both man and beast (and plant!) alike. Did you know, for example, that some bees do better in cities than the open countryside? Neither did I. There were plenty of nature-friendly green roofs, living walls and nature bolt-ons one could add to their ecobuild such as integrated brick birdhouses (pictured) and these basically took up the majority of the south arena.

I really think our future cities will literally be a lot more green if they truly are to be sustainable. There is a massive potential to make the most of our ecosystem services and in combination with the longer term economic benefits their value is still unrealised, in my opinion. Imagine a housing estate that INCREASES the biodiversity!

Circular Economy

There is a transition occurring, amongst industry, from a linear way of thinking (extract → produce → use → throw away) towards a more circular approach, diverting ‘waste’ from landfill and championing “reduce, reuse, recycle” attitudes, and pretty much any verb that starts with ‘re-‘; recycle, remodel, recover, rethink…

Sustainability proponents of course have long been campaigning for this, and it is interesting when we take those considerations to the scale of entire buildings. How can we make our buildings more ‘circular’? Should we build for longevity, so the time until end-of-life is prolonged for as long as possible; or easy deconstruction, so materials can be easily recovered after a building’s change of use?

“Building for the end, from the beginning”

In the corner of the South Hall was RESOURCE. An entire sub-section dedicated to the circular economy. This area was much bigger than before, if not completely new, indicating  the scale of how important this really could be. The theatre held talks about how we can incorporate the circular economy into the designing of our products and really how far this thinking has got.

Programme schedule for day 2 at the resource theatre

Programme schedule for day 2 at the Resource Theatre

Sir Ian Cheshire, the Chief Executive of Kingfisher gave really good insight into industries such as retail and commerce. Kingfisher owns home DIY store organisations such as B&Q and Screwfix and are one of the leaders in bringing sustainability to retail – B&Q are now able to trace 100% of its wood to source and are developing the market for renting tools and equipment to people (rather than the customer wasting products that are only used for a relatively short time).

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Another one of the main exhibitors, I’m not sure if they were a sponsor, was Interface; now these guys were really exciting to talk to as they are the leaders in sustainably designed carpets. They were one of the first companies to take up cradle-to-cradle manufacturing and have used biomimicry (my favourite thing) to eliminate the toxic dyes and glues in their products producing high quality, fully recyclable, environmentally safe solutions for hundreds of customers worldwide. Take a look at their Net Effect range, inspired by the ocean, and see how they’re getting fishing nets out of the ocean and into a usable resource cycle. The Ray C. Anderson Foundation, re-launched after the death of Interface’s chairman in 2011, is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to create a brighter, sustainable world through the funding of innovative projects that promote and advance the concepts of sustainable production and consumption.

A great place to be!

Ecobuild 2014 was a fantastic place to be. If there were any negatives I would say that amongst the smaller stands I felt slightly overwhelmed at the choice there was on offer. It really was too big at times. Clustering similar fields together was a good idea but you could walk past dozens of solar panel fitters or green roof ‘solutions’ then find yourself asking “what really is the difference between all these companies?” “Why should I bother with any of them?”. There was quite a trade-fair feel to it but my overall experience was one of encouragement and optimism. The positives were knowing there are thousands of others who share our passion for a more sustainable world and that real, proactive solutions are out there for people to get stuck into, I used my two days as a giant careers fair – finding out what is going on in the industry and whats out there. Its a great place to be; for graduates, for designers, for builders, for thinkers, for consultants, for students, for change makers. Did I mention its free?! See you there next year.

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