Constructing buildings is complicated. From the outset we have to deal with regulations that are designed to control what can be built and how it should be made, covering more or less every aspect of designing and constructing a building. Planning legislation exists on both a national and district level, with each local authority having its own Local Plan that interprets the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). There are also many Supplementary Planning Guides covering aspects such as car parking provision or conservation areas that need to be considered. A robust planning application needs to consider all legislation in order to increase chances of success; knowing the planning authority is less important than delivering a well-considered scheme that responds to their Local Plan.
The Building Regulations are in place to ensure that all buildings are built to specific minimum standard. We have enjoyed working with many clients who have ambitions of excellence, and in terms of energy use are used are intent on exceeding these standards. Nevertheless there are Building Regulations that also cover aspects such as structural integrity, fire strategy, drainage, disability access and so on, all of which need to be considered at the appropriate time. We frequently work with specialist consultants who advise on aspects of the design as we progress, as well as structural engineers and M&E consultants who are integral to the design process.
Buildings can be constructed by different methods and there is no one way that is better than another. Each has both advantages and disadvantages, from a decreased time to get on site on the one hand to greater cost certainty on the other. We have worked in many different ways with clients of vastly differing backgrounds, and can advise on the best approach to a given project. Needless to say, the goal of the lowest price at the shortest time with the greatest quality is the hardest to achieve! There is no one-size-fits all method of working; people have different attitudes to risk and control and this can be reflected in the way the building is procured. Our main concern is to ensure that the process is clearly understood, and that the right things happen at the right time to avoid difficulties as we progress.
We seek to make buildings that perform better than the regulatory minimum, especially when it comes to energy conservation. Many of our buildings as a consequence have targets that exceed the Building Regulations, and conform to other codified standards such as the Code for Sustainable Homes, BREEAM, or Passivhaus. There’s plenty of ways that design can be used to make buildings use less energy, and be much nicer to live in at the same time. A ‘fabric first’ approach is now understood to deliver the best value energy savings; putting money into conserving energy prior to considering how to generate it. The basis of Passivhaus (we use the PHPP software) design is getting orientation, openings and fabric right so as to minimise heat loss and maximise heat gain from the sun. Many of our buildings work well from getting this right from the beginning. Whilst the geeks amongst us can catalogue the energy use and calculate whether we are hitting targets, other more balanced people can simple enjoy living in a light-filled environment that feels warm in the winter.