Right to Low Carbon

This week all attention seems on rights to light. A proposal has been made that the historic right to occupy your home without needing to turn the lights on during the hours of daylight could be brushed away in order to permit more dense urban development.

Surely this is another example of legislators failing to consider the consequences of their actions. We are driving forward with national legislation to force all new buildings to become zero carbon in an attempt to meet our carbon budgets. Meanwhile, work by the Green Construction Board indicates that we will need to work just as hard, if not harder, to cut carbon emissions from the existing building stock. Now we have a proposal that will force an increase in energy consumption on the neighbours of new development that is deemed desirable. I have no doubt that the desirability of the new developments will be based on their energy efficiency credentials, so who actually stands to win from this situation?

However, in the sustainable urban future, we will find that other rights become just as important as rights to light. Our plan to decarbonise the UK presently relies on the pervasive use of PV in the urban environment to supposedly offset carbon emissions at other times of the year. As taxation falls more heavily on carbon emissions I believe that we will see more and more legal disputes over someone interfering with neighbours attempts to cut energy consumption. This will not be just over rights to daylight, but I predict disputes over rights to unpolluted fresh air for natural ventilation and access to renewable energy sources such as the wind and sunshine.

Photo of PV shaded by taller building

This PV installation was an exemplar when installed, until the neighbours built higher.

Since Government is presently considering changes to legislation on rights to light, now is the time to look to the future that we want to build for ourselves and implement broader and better informed legislation that protects building owners rights to comply with carbon emissions legislation in the manner that suits them best.

Sharanam, India

Last week I had the privilege of working with a couple of architects in India who have given up a substantial portion of their professional lives to work voluntarily for an NGO, the Sri Aurobindo Society, on a new centre for village development and education.

Jateen Lad and his assistant, Trupti Doshi, have constructed a building of great beauty and power which will act as a focus for education and enabling activities by the Society, but they have done so much more than simply designing a building. Sharanam, as the building is known, is a village development project in its own right. Over the last seven years Jateen and the team from the Society have used the construction project as a vehicle to train and empower local villagers.

Sharanam has been made by hand by the villagers who will use it.

Sharanam has been made by hand by the villagers who will use it.

Men that would previously have only been able to get work on building sites as unskilled labourers have become masons with valuable skills to sell. They have used hand made, compressed earth bricks to create an expression of architecture far removed from the vernacular from which the brick making evolved. The bricks manufactured at Sharanam actually exceed the strength of conventional kiln fired bricks in India (which admittedly are of very poor quality). Jateen has also taught the masons how to design and make pre-cast concrete elements which, being hand finished have a quality we cannot find in the UK.

I was in India as I had been commissioned to work with Jateen and his team on a sustainable masterplan for a residential management training centre, to be located on a farm far from conventional services and facilities, and so would need to be virtually self sufficient in energy, water and waste management. However, whilst I was there, I was also able to make the next step in revitalising indigenous construction skills and prepare the Sharanam masons to contribute to future construction projects. With a design for a precast T section beam I demonstrated what we in the UK know as a beam and block floor and the local masons totally got it. This method of construction is unknown in modern India where all construction is now in-situ concrete and therefore dominated by large contractors.

Making a beam and block floor Sharanam style.

Making a beam and block floor Sharanam style.

However, a beam and block floor of this design can be manufactured and installed largely using manual labour, not machines. This gives the underemployed villagers of Southern India a method of constructing high quality buildings for themselves with local skills and materials as well as a new found self esteem and employment opportunities.