Developing a Sustainable Masterplan – Don’t forget the spaces between the buildings!

With sustainability having historically been focussed on the assessment of buildings, has the industry been missing a trick by not maximising opportunities offered for sustainable performance by the spaces between the buildings and the intrinsic role they play within the overall development and its long-term function?

For years we have known how to design a sustainable building that considers a broad range of issues including energy and water efficiency to materials with low embodied carbon and ecological enhancements. We have measured our success at doing this through various certification schemes, the most common being BREEAM and LEED.  This work has expanded further in recent times due to the growth of the Health and Wellbeing agenda in sustainability and the implementation of the WELL Standard. This has resulted in the construction of sustainable buildings which also consider the health and wellbeing of their user. The next step must therefore be to not only build sustainable and healthy buildings but to build sustainable and healthy communities.  To do this we need to consider the space between the buildings as well as the building themselves.

Greengage are working with a number of clients to ensure that these spaces are designed with consideration of the full scope of sustainability considerations and integrate issues such as green infrastructure, active design opportunities, local food production and sustainable transport methods. What Greengage propose is not to reinvent the wheel, but instead to provide a framework within which sustainable design can be implemented on these spaces in a manner that is most appropriate to the scheme and its surroundings.

Initial consideration of the project context, industry best practice, the local policy framework and relevant stakeholders provides the basis for identification of the key demands of the site. This can include a variety of Environmental, Social and Economic factors and include well known issues such as pollution prevention, social inclusivity, safety and security or play space provision. With commitment from the client and design team, the intention is that these factors form the basis of the Project Sustainability Plan and are key considerations throughout the design phase, thereby ensuring that these project specific issues are integrated into the masterplan.

Healthy Lifestyles

A key component that is common to a number of schemes is that of active design and thereby the promotion of healthy lifestyles. Including specific features such as fitness trails, food growing spaces and opportunities for safe and accessible cycling have significant potential to assist in the promotion of active lifestyles.  Associated cardiovascular benefits of increased activity are well understood and if features are incorporated into a masterplan scheme that have potential to achieve this increase then the opportunity exists to try to quantify this benefit. In addition, recent research surrounding the potential mental health benefits associated with ongoing exercise and an active social life are harder to quantify but should not be ignored.

Significant research exists in the quantification of cardiovascular benefit resulting from increased levels or intensities of activity. A recent scheme on which Greengage provided sustainability services included the provision of new sporting facilities within a mixed-use redevelopment. Based on the anticipated increase in intensity of activity, and associated improvements in cardiovascular health, NHS savings were calculated to have a financial value of between £81 million and £144million. The science behind the calculations is sound, however the key challenge exists in the robustness of the data and in particular calculating the uplift in activity from a baseline level. Greengage are therefore actively investigating opportunities in which this information is accessible for interrogation.

Tools such as the Sport England Active Design Checklist provide an existing framework for monitoring the inclusion of these features within the design of the built environment. Similar to the overarching Sustainability Plan methodology detailed above, this checklist does not propose fundamentally new ideas but provides a framework to ensure that relevant considerations such as accessibility for all users, connected walking and cycling routes, and multifunctional open spaces have been made in the design.

Building specific assessment methodologies such as BREEAM and LEED are well developed and provide a recognised framework within which designers are challenged to develop innovative solutions to achieve sustainable performance. In order to develop sustainable, healthy and active communities and create places that people prefer, it is imperative that opportunities presented by the spaces between the buildings are maximised. The ability to innovate should not be restricted, however considering the key issues specific to the scheme at the earliest opportunity surely provides a basis for achieving the maximum benefit.

By Rob Miller – Associate, Greengage