The New Wave: The Environmental Studio

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Roots Design Workshop visiting a community energy development © Roots Design Workshop

The New Wave: The Environmental Studio

The Scottish architecture profession has long been proactive on environmentally sustainable issues. There have been many champions of sustainability in architecture going back at least 20 years such as John Gilbert Architects, Howard Liddell with the GAIA Group, Gokay Deveci and, even in the corporate world, Bennett’s Associates.

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Gokay Deveci. Lotte Glob House 2003 © Andrew Lee Photography

Scotland’s first Housing Expo held in 2010 in the Highlands demonstrated a clear collective commitment to sustainability. With work from over 25 architect practices and masterplanners from across the country revealing a diversity in approaches to sustainability and a clear depth of expertise across the profession. 1

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Scotland’s Housing Expo 2010. Image courtesy of www.highlandhousingalliance.com

The Scottish Government supported the Housing Expo recognising the economic benefits of a low carbon economy and “are working towards an overall ambition that all new buildings in Scotland will be zero carbon by 2016/17 if practicable.” 2

With government policies driving sustainable issues there are opportunities opening up for architects with environmental credentials on every scale from designing large Biomass Plants to supporting households to become more energy efficient.

Furthermore, Scotland’s ancient architectural heritage has always been sustainable by its very nature. Outside our cities in small towns and villages and rural areas we can find the ruins of an ancient structures alongside a more recent vernacular architecture still inhabited. Typologies such as the Broch; Turf House Blackhouse. Long House; and the varying forms of cottage have provided much inspiration for contemporary Scottish Architecture.

In fact many of the examples in the Housing Expo of 2010 make direct references to these past typologies. It is therefore an irony that many of Scotland’s more remote communities no longer have access to the expertise needed to produce quality sustainable architecture.

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Nord. Stone House 2010 at Housing Expo. Image courtesy of www.highlandhousingalliance.com

The challenge to house the majority of our population in sustainable accommodation therefore remains if we are to meet the targets set out by the Scottish Government.

One practice that is changing this is Roots Design Workshop. Michael Holliday the company Director, who grew up on Tiree, and fellow Director Chris Hall explain:

Michael Holliday: “We became interested in sustainable building design while studying through the Building Design Engineering course at Strathclyde University where environmental engineers worked alongside architecture students. We realised that this joined-up way of thinking about buildings led to better design but that it was unusual to work in such an integrated way in practice, especially when working on smaller projects.”

Chris Hall: When we set-up we consciously decided to integrate architectural and environmental design. However, we believe that good architecture needs to go beyond this and consider everything, from how the structural systems work to how it’s built on-site to how the client can get involved in the design process. This approach defines how we practice.

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Nord. Stone House 2010 at Housing Expo. Image courtesy of www.highlandhousingalliance.com

The challenge to house the majority of our population in sustainable accommodation therefore remains if we are to meet the targets set out by the Scottish Government.

One practice that is changing this is Roots Design Workshop. Michael Holliday the company Director, who grew up on Tiree, and fellow Director Chris Hall explain:

Michael Holliday: “We became interested in sustainable building design while studying through the Building Design Engineering course at Strathclyde University where environmental engineers worked alongside architecture students. We realised that this joined-up way of thinking about buildings led to better design but that it was unusual to work in such an integrated way in practice, especially when working on smaller projects.”

Chris Hall: When we set-up we consciously decided to integrate architectural and environmental design. However, we believe that good architecture needs to go beyond this and consider everything, from how the structural systems work to how it’s built on-site to how the client can get involved in the design process. This approach defines how we practice.

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Community workshop on the Isle of Tiree. © Roots Design Workshop

Michael Holliday: “We think there is great merit in doing the simple things really, really well. There’s a traditional Gaelic saying: “Cùl ri gaoith, aghaidh ri grèin… An ear ‘s an iar, an dachaigh as fheàrr”. It translates as “Back to the wind, face to the sun… East and West, the best home”. I think that neatly summarises our approach to environmental design.”

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Chris Hall and Michael Holliday visiting a potential site. © Roots Design Workshop

With their proactive approach of reaching out to communities Roots Design Workshop is challenging the traditional procurement path and demonstrating that there is work for architects if we are motivated enough to go out and find it.

Roots Design Workshop only formed in 2009 and have already gained RIBA professional membership with Micheal Holliday passing his Part 3, proving to any doubters that it is possible for the start up practices to satisfy the ARB criteria.

In the process Roots Design Workshop is helping to revive a tradition of sustainable building design in remote settings that doesn’t fetishise environmentalism, rather it is simply inherent in what they do. Surely this is what we should all be aspiring towards as a profession.

1 Architecture + Design Scotland Scotland’s Housing Expo 2010

2 A Low Carbon Economic Strategy for Scotland: Transforming the Built Environment

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