by Katie Thornburrow

Grantchester Meadows

Granta Architects works with private individuals, corporate clients, and public sector bodies to produce sustainable developments fully compliant with the requirements of conservation. We are always sensitive to the architectural and natural environment as well as to the needs of the client.

In our work, we pride ourselves on our sensitive treatment of historic properties, particularly in helping our clients to make them more sustainable. In our new-build work we bring the same attention to detail, focusing on sustainability across the life of the project, from siting to construction to operation.

Our philosophy is that conservation and environmental design are two sides of the same sustainability coin. An engagement with the historical, cultural and material context is equal to ensuring that the environmental performance of our projects — in terms of energy use, thermal comfort and sensory delight –achieve the highest standard.

A building is only a vibrant space when it is occupied by people living and working in it. A home is a space for families, and must work with the needs and desires of the family members. A workspace must be conducive to safe and productive work. The uses and occupants of a building are always foremost in our minds.

Architecture puts boundaries around open space; every building is a captured space. Dividing that space into rooms should reflect how you want to use it. It’s important to avoid restricting how a building can be used, and to keep it as flexible and adaptable as possible.

It matters less how many spaces your building has than the quality of the spaces — how well suited they are to your needs, and how flexible they are. A space may serve a specific, single function, such as providing a place for sharing meals together, or it may serve many functions, meeting the needs of several people.

The kitchen, or kitchen/dining area, is often the hub of the modern house, as it has been of traditional houses for centuries. When a kitchen is the centre of a home, it must have good access to and views of other areas — to see anyone approaching the house, and to keep an eye on children playing in the garden, for instance.

Adults’ bedrooms are used relatively little and can generally be quite small — adults have other spaces to occupy. Children use their bedrooms more, and for more activities, so they need to be flexible and — if possible — spacious. Children’s rooms need plenty of storage space or they quickly fill with mess!

A communal space may need to accommodate the interests of different family members, provide a space for relaxing, working or socialising. Living rooms may be under-used if other areas, such as the kitchen/dining room and children’s bedrooms, are successful. You may need less space for communal activities than you think.

Movement through spaces is an important aspect of the dynamic of a building. Clear, uncluttered pathways between functional spaces increase the efficiency and comfort of a building. These pathways are best established by analysing how a space will be used and designing the layout of the building to suit. We will discuss your lifestyle or work-style and develop a plan around your needs.

Storage is vitally important for the effective and flexible use of space. Rooms must have enough cupboards (of the right type and size) to store what is required. It is impossible to make the best use of space that is cluttered and untidy. Sometimes, small rooms can be used effectively as storage spaces — old toilets or coal stores, for example.

Careful design of spaces in a new or adapted building can play an important part in reducing the carbon footprint. Transition spaces — spaces that are halfway between indoors and outdoors — can make very effective use of solar light and heat while benefitting from the shelter of the house.

The walls and roof keep out the natural light that would otherwise flood the space occupied by a building. In constructing a new building or renovating an existing one, we try to make as much use as possible of natural light. Natural lighting is not only free and environmentally friendly, it is more flattering and restful than artificial light.

Making the most of natural daylight creates a pleasant environment within a building and cuts both costs and carbon emissions. We retain and use original windows whenever possible, adding double- or triple-glazing and insulating to the highest possible standards.

Careful use of windows and skylights can maximise natural light. Positioning of mirrors and reflective surfaces can make the most of all available natural and artificial light. Skylights produce much more light than normal windows for the same area of glass. A skylight can let in up four times as much solar energy (light and heat) as a window the same size. High levels of light are not necessary in all rooms. Bedrooms — particularly adults’ bedrooms — do not need bright central lighting.

Even a tiny space can use natural light from windows. Natural light is the best choice for a workspace. To appreciate areas with natural light, it is important to have contrast, with some areas less well lit. Usually, natural light sources must be augmented with artificial light sources for use in hours of darkness.

Background lighting provides ambient light for a whole room. One central light that provides a good level general lighting is the best economic and environmental choice. Task lighting provides a pool of light in a small area to highlight a feature or illuminate a work area, and adds atmosphere to a room.

Lighting homes accounts for 6% of the electricity used in the UK. Making the maximum use of natural light helps to save money and cut carbon emissions. A single central light is more energy efficient than many recessed lights. Using energy-efficient bulbs gives significant savings in cost and carbon emissions. For further information, download our lighting guidelines.

The choice of materials used in a building affects its atmosphere and the way people feel in the space. It is soothing to see the boundaries of spaces, defined by a change of material. There are many aspects of materials to consider: the temperature, the sounds they make in use, the texture, the durability, the ease of cleaning, impact on health and the impact on the environment.

Some materials are warm to the touch while others, such as metal or concrete, are cool. The tactile experience and the sound produced by walking over a wooden or carpeted floor are very different from those produced by walking over a polished concrete or stone floor. A durable surface such as concrete allows children to lay out toys, spill paint and play ball games.

We choose materials with low environmental impact wherever possible, including FSC-certified timber, low solvent finishes, zero ozone-depleting materials, and those with low embodied energy. If locally produced materials are available, these are chosen above imported materials. Reclaimed or recycled materials are preferred.

Bricks have high embodied energy content, as their manufacture takes a lot of energy. However, they have a long lifetime and can be reclaimed and re-used. Bricks have a high thermal mass, making them a good insulator, and produce healthy, low-maintenance structures. We use local and reclaimed bricks wherever possible.

Stone has been used as a building material for thousands of years. It has a high thermal mass, is durable and low maintenance. Stone is rarely used now for new buildings, except in flooring, but may be used in the conservation and repair of old buildings. Stone is easily reclaimed and re-used.

We use FSC-certified woods, which are harvested from forests that are ‘managed to meet the social, economic and ecological needs of present and future generations’. We will always use wood in preference to artificial materials wherever possible, and will never use uPVC windows or doors.

Different metals have different properties suitable to various functions in a building. Steel is used for reinforcement and support and may provide the structural framework. Copper has been used for roofs, and oxidises to a distinctive green colour. Metal window frames are common in buildings from the mid-20th century.

Metals are commonly used for small components such as piping (previously lead but now commonly copper), wiring, door and window fittings, and flashing to hold tiled roofing in place.

Published by Granta Architects Ltd, 12D Kings Parade, Cambridge, CB2 1SJ

For further information please contact us. Email or phone +44 1223 565656

Granta Architects is an RIBA Chartered architectural practice based in Cambridge, UK.

Granta Architects is an RIBA Chartered architectural practice based in Cambridge, UK.