The new Enterprise Centre at the university of East Anglia is an exemplar low carbon building that delivers several impressive sustainability objectives, achieving ’BREEAM Outstanding’ and full Passive House certification through its use of locally sourced materials and renewable energy sources.
Volume 24, No.08 - August 2016
The new world
of bio-based construction materials
Something is changing in the world of architecture and construction. Long considered the stuff of eco-warriors, a whole range of bio-based materials are beginning to be employed on some very sophisticated buildings. Sophisticated, that is, in their low energy, carbon storage and life cycle credentials rather than the conventional use of that word as an indicator of complex technical specifications and high-tech components.
Yes, we’ve all seen the worthy types on Grand Designs self-building the homes of their dreams from straw bales and mud with all the attendant imperfections in construction that can often conflict with the technological apparatus that now surrounds us 24/7 and which are deemed to be an essential part of modern life, but a number of recent developments in architectural thinking are likely to radically alter our perceptions in this area.
And it is not only in the world of domestic buildings that we are seeing change: large projects too are making greater and more effective use of bio-based materials. But having maligned Grand Designs, I need now to give some credit to Kevin McCloud for putting his money where his mouth is in establishing the Hab development company to provide what are known as Custom Build (an expanded form of self-build) eco-homes around the country. The Triangle project in Swindon, a joint venture between Hab and West Country housing agency Green Square to create 42 housing units around a central landscaped area is a good example of a low-energy, bio-based approach being applied at scale.
Designed by Glenn Howells Architects, a firm with outstanding sustainability credentials (having been responsible for the construction of the remarkable gridshell roof of the Savill Building in Windsor Great Park from trees grown within 600 meters of the site), this multi award winning housing project is built using Tradical Hemcrete, a bio-composite material made from hemp shiv (the woody core of industrial hemp) and a lime-based binder. Aside from its ability to lock up significant volumes of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the material provides high levels of thermal insulation and thermal inertia which, in combination with lime-based renders and plasters, delivers a stable internal environment.