Tilbury Douglas breaking ground for the Department of Education
We’re all well-used to hearing about environmentally responsible, sustainable and even carbon-neutral buildings. But how about ‘biophilic architecture’? Although it’s not exactly common parlance just yet, we believe it’s an idea whose time has come – and the construction industry is going to be talking about this a great deal over the next few years, as we count down to the net zero goal. But what is it?
The concept of biophilia was first outlined by Harvard research professor E.O Wilson in his 1984 book of the same name. Basically it’s all about humans’ affinity for nature and our tendency to ‘emulate its processes and structures in everyday life’ – when applied to the design of buildings, it’s all about making people happier – about our emotional interaction with the natural environment.
So, while compatible with sustainable and very possibly a subset of it, BD isn’t the same thing. Richard Louv in 2008 summed up the difference:
‘Sustainable or green design is essentially about conserving energy and leaving a small footprint on the earth; BD is about conserving energy and producing human energy’.
In any event, it’s refreshing to see the Department of Education putting the concept into action in the construction of the UK’s very first purpose-built primary school with Reading-based Tilbury Douglas bringing architects Hawkins Brown’s biophilic design to life. The pilot project is the replacement for Derby’s St. Mary’s Voluntary Academy, which burnt down in October 2020.
Since this is a public building, built to serve the community, it’s reassuring to find that while those BD aims to connect the building’s users with nature and encourage biodiversity are admirable, if perhaps a touch idealistic, the architects are clearly just as focused on hard-nosed economic and environmental cost limitation. With that in mind the design promises to ‘deliver a building that is net zero carbon in operation’.
Tilbury Douglas Engineering will be providing all the electrical and mechanical engineering required for the school’s five interconnected single-storey buildings with all-natural ventilation and air-source heat pumps augmented by renewable energy sources, including photovoltaic panels. All of the buildings are to be made using structurally insulated panels, almost all of low-carbon timber – and although some of the roof space is bound to be occupied by those PV panels, a good proportion of their area will be seeded with green wildflowers in keeping with the project’s BD ethos and aim to boost local ecology and biodiversity.