Full and open engagement with the client and building users to test and challenge the environmental requirements for the proposed activities can reduce carbon emissions from structural design and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC). This includes investigating equipment isolation, zoning activities by the intensity of their performance and optimising space through interrogation of uses. In one of our projects, redesign of adjacent traffic calming measures was a more cost-effective measure to help control vibration rather than focusing on the performance and specification of the building structure.
The most obvious solution to reduce carbon emissions from construction is to build less. An interrogation of potential synergies between scientists and areas where facilities could be shared offers opportunities to optimise space requirements. When defining the brief for the Ray Dolby Centre (Cavendish Laboratory) at the University of Cambridge we facilitated workshops with all cleanroom users to determine the benefits and challenges of a large, shared, centrally located cleanroom suite. Beyond embodied carbon reduction this increased space encouraged collaboration and simplified operational and technical support.
We are currently working on proposals for the largest zero carbon laboratory in the UK, the Next Generation Infrastructure (NGI) project at the John Innes Centre (JIC), in conjunction with BBSRC at Norwich Research Park. We investigated the content and context of the zero-carbon agenda and applied present standards of measurement to all elements of the project, taking account of the embodied and operational carbon impacts. The TM54 analysis to evaluate the operational performance of the building was undertaken at stage 2, rather than stage 3 or 4, which identified areas where energy use could be reduced earlier in the design process.
John Innes Centre, Norwich Research Park, UK
Simply selecting materials that have low embodied carbon is not enough to create low carbon buildings and infrastructure. The engineer instead must creatively merge a range of materials together in a way that unlocks their potential and plays to the strengths of materials, geometry, technology and assembly; then demonstrate the levels of performance that can be achieved by implementing bio-based materials and alternative methods of construction. For the NGI project, we adopted an optimised structural approach to the superstructure with a fully timber solution for the office areas and a hybrid timber and concrete frame for the labs. Combined, this offered a significant reduction in embodied carbon while meeting the specification vibration requirements for this particular laboratory.
Defining future requirements is fraught with uncertainty. Scenario planning to achieve future increased performance requirements is important, as is devising an energy plan. This is as essential as a cost plan in setting targets from initial inception through the design and construction process, and, ultimately, as a building in use. Once the plan is agreed, it should be regularly reviewed to ensure it stays on track and highlights areas for improvement using evolving technologies.
As designers it is imperative that we collaborate to meet the global goal to halve emissions by 2030 and reach net zero lifecycle emissions for all buildings by 2050. Through meaningful consultation with scientists and clients we can take this opportunity for laboratories to make a significant difference.