On site with Sykes

Two major benefits, surprisingly, have come along in the wake of Coronavirus. These are a greater awareness of the community (the wartime spirit) and greater awareness about keeping healthy, active and interested (both personal and public). The best architects and designers have always realised that these factors are fundamental to the success and appreciation of well-designed public buildings.

Christopher Sykes

is an Architect who trained at the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London. After he qualified, he worked in both London and Sweden. Having widened his writing and journalistic skills, he subsequently started his own publishing company specialising in building magazines and events. As a hobby, he used to write sitcom for the BBC.

Wellbeing and sustainability encourage healthy town centres

What is changing is the capacity of a building to function in many different ways over its life. For example, designing a building with a modular and integrated approach to infrastructure delivery and interior systems allows it to support multiple uses and multiple futures. This is certainly true in Europe. With cities having less space to build on, new solutions have also emerged to integrate sport and movement inside the built environment itself. Good examples are running tracks in schools and gardens in hospitals.

The essential characteristics of a good public environment are accessibility and flexibility, inviting and comfortable, separate zones and movement areas which are sustainable, comfortable and green. Apart from their aesthetic appeal, public buildings – such as hospitals, schools and leisure centres – must recognise and exhibit basic physical performance which is essential to their success and the appreciation of users. They have to be designed with a quality of invitational warmth and health. This is often lacking when many are built with too little insulation and breathability. In other words, their thermal mass must be used to best effect and insulating products and special measures incorporated. Not only do these reduce running costs but the comfort and health of occupants are improved.

Equally, and not always appreciated, is the importance of good acoustics. With so much hard surfacing and lack of absorbent materials, such as curtains and carpets, it is vital to address the subject of sound reverberation. The degree to which sound is absorbed will vary greatly between quiet social and study leisure areas to crowded shopping places racked by the noise of the masses and jubilant children. A good solution is the installation of acoustic panels on ceilings and walls, such as 100% Troldtekt natural wood-wool panels. These, widely specified throughout the UK and Europe, have vital benefits which include high sound absorption, high durability, natural breathability, low cost life cycle performance and sustainability.

Also important is natural daylight which most people love. This should be invited into public buildings to maximise diffused daylighting and thermal insulation. A good example of how this is achieved is translucent Kalwall cladding. This allows for diffused daylight to be cast deep into the interior without the irritation of shadows and glare and the stark contrasts of light and shade. This product has a unique ability to distribute large amounts of usable light with relatively low levels of solar heat gain means less radiant energy transmitted. Coupled with excellent diffusion, it eliminates hot spots and glare. Importantly, energy-consuming artificial lighting and air conditioning costs are dramatically reduced.

Clearly, the indoor environment has a significant impact on occupant health, comfort and productivity. Among other attributes, a sustainable building maximises daylighting, has appropriate ventilation and insulation, optimises acoustic performance and avoids the use of the wrong materials. In addition, sustainable design allows for a building to adapt to different environments and conditions.

Let’s see more designers putting all these principles in practice and enjoy how town centres will adapt and change in the future.

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