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Till Scherer is an Associate and Architect at AWW inspired environments where he champions sustainability, with a particular emphasis on the integration of sustainability within the commercial environment. He is a regular speaker at conferences and events relating to sustainability in architecture. In 2013 he co-hosted the Smart Green Building Showcase at Ecosummit and was a speaker at the Building magazine webinar ‘How will architects influence the future of sustainability?’ We spoke to him about what he sees to be the key challenges and future direction of sustainability in architecture.

What do you think will be the main topic concerning Sustainability in Architecture in 2014/2015?

‘Sustainability’ has become a catchall word that means either very little, or something too complex or too vast to engage most people. Aside from keeping up with the on-going push from various new legislations and guidance’s that are continuing the attempt for the UK to meet its environmental targets, this year there is a real challenge to ensure the term ‘Sustainability’ becomes more than a buzzword. As the economy shows signs of recovery the challenge is to ensure sustainability becomes a mechanism that helps deliver real tangible benefits relevant to our client’s priorities, without adding cost to projects.

What do you think the challenge is as a designer having to incorporate sustainable concepts in your design?

Sustainability tends to be associated with increased project costs, sometimes to attain a certificate that doesn’t always deliver tangible benefits to end users. This has understandably resulted in the majority of the construction industry to approach sustainable solutions with caution, often doing the minimum to meet industry standards rather than striving for true innovation. Designers need to listen to a client’s priorities, finding out what makes them tick and what their business priorities are, as opposed to delivering a scheme that we might believe is considered ‘green’, when ‘green’ refers to the environment.

In the past few years, some of the world’s most celebrated architects have publicly dismissed sustainability. Frank Gehry responsible for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Dancing House in Prague, called it “bogus” and climate change a “political issue”. National Design Award winner Peter Eisenman also joined the debate, insisting that it “has nothing to do with architecture.”

AWW believe that sustainability is an integral part of the design process, not a standalone addition. Our first priority is to ensure compliance with the client brief, but we also have a responsibility to the environment.

We approach sustainable design so that it delivers tangible benefits to our clients, which often in turn reduce adverse impacts on the wider environment. This approach, which we call Performance Driven Design, enables us to assess a client’s real objectives and use environmental modelling and BIM as tools to help us understand the impact is of our design decisions from the earliest design stages. This results in solutions that benefit both the client and the environment, whether it is related to carbon reduction, energy efficiency or lower running costs. Sustainability should be considered as an opportunity, not a hurdle in the approach to design.

What are the challenges as an architect in getting the client to embrace sustainable design?

The overarching challenge is an issue of perception; that sustainability isn’t relevant to a business’s day-to-day objectives. Complying with the increasingly onerous sustainability targets is perceived as a problem, rather than an opportunity. People should ‘want’ to embrace sustainable solutions, rather than being forced to adopt them.

The quicker the industry realises that the sustainability’s currency is Sterling and not Carbon, the better we can focus to delivering design solutions that benefit those who commission projects. German research suggests that by 2050 energy demand could be reduced in Europe by two-thirds, just from energy efficiency alone, where energy savings in Germany are being driven by market forces (and market participants), not just regulation.

Savings, be they financial, carbon, energy or any other currency, are possible through innovative and intelligent designing methods, resulting in both good business sense and good news for the environment. Informing clients’ about the relevant benefits that can come from early design decisions is only part of the challenge. Providing robust evidence that quantify the benefits is the real key in helping clients to realise that tangible opportunities, relevant to their priorities, are possible through sustainable design. Our Performance Driven Design is supported by in-house performance modelling software that quantifies project relevant improvements as the design develops -we are therefore able to provide evidence as to why design decisions have been pursued, demonstrating the case for successful sustainable schemes.

What future sustainable technologies are exciting you right now?

Although renewable energy technologies and its continued development in reducing carbon in ever more efficient ways is an interesting topic to follow, reducing energy demand in the first place is even better and far more interesting! The powerful software and simulation technologies now available have the ability to redefine the industry, helping architects to better understand why buildings behave in the way that they do, in more accurate and dynamic way than before. However, it not just about having the software and technology… it is having the ability to use it also about how you use it. At AWW we have implemented Sefaira Concept (a building performance modelling tool) into our daily workflow. The ability of the software to provide real time feedback enables us to explore concepts that address the brief, consider the budget and deliver quantifiable best performance. The need for costly ‘bolt-on’ sustainability measures are therefore reduced or negated completely, resulting in more cost effective and robust end solutions.

What is the future of sustainable architecture?

The philosophy behind sustainable architecture is problem solving in a relevant and robust yet creative way. Sustainable targets, whether they are carbon reduction or energy efficiency targets, should follow the example of other European countries and be driven by the construction industry through innovation, rather than through regulation, standards or policy. This is the future to successful sustainable architecture in the UK – it is the industry itself who is able to best solve problems in the most imaginative and competitive way.